Yassmin Abdel-Magied grapples with the “us vs them” mentality in terms of her being an Australian Muslim – is she “us” or “them”?
It goes without saying, but should be said anyway. The various violent events that have dominated our media over the last few days, weeks and months have been heart wrenching atrocities. Lives have senselessly been lost, bringing the precarious nature of our comfortable lives into sharp relief. It is almost exhausting in its relentlessness, and bizarre to step back and realise that we live in a world where violence has taken on a gross normalcy; terrible, yet no longer completely out of the ordinary.
After the Sydney Siege, there was little I felt I could add to the public lament.
Yet after Sydney, the violence didn’t let up. It was followed by the slaughter of innocent children in Peshawar, the grinding, endless deaths in Congo, the murders in Paris and an unimaginable massacre in Nigeria, only a few days ago.
The easy option in dealing with this barrage, this constant reminder of the cruelty of humans, is to switch off.
Stop reading the commentary.
Stop engaging in the debate.
Stop critically analysing and regress to black and white, to binary thinking, to “us vs them”, “them” being whoever you deem as broadly evil or uncivilised, depending on your colour and place of birth.
That cannot be our response.
Yes, in the midst of the mourning, there has been a troublesome vein of hatred that has bubbled beneath the surface. Glints of these perspectives and attitudes are epitomised in the language and expectations surrounding the media and commentary around the violence. Listening to my favourite news podcasts for example, or even to our own Tony Abbott, there was a constant reminder that “they” hated “our” freedoms, “our” civilisation, “our” liberty.
Who are “they”?
“We” have to stand against the extremists, people say. It’s “us vs them”…and we can’t let “them” win…
The problem being that entire groups are demonised, dangerously so. The framing makes someone like me – thoroughly, visibly Muslim and fervently Aussie because well, this is home – almost ask myself the question in the “us vs them” debate: Am I “us” or am I “them”?
Of course I know…right?
Yet, there is a constant implied expectation for justification. There is a whisper of accusation in all the tones, forming seeds of doubt fertilised by ignorance and lack of exposure to anything but the dominant discourse…
The nuances are oh-so-subtle.
This language polarises, forces us to choose sides without realising what we are doing. It frames our conversations in ways that moulds our thinking: classical, grade 10, critical literacy stuff.
It’s obvious to those paying attention, but how many of us truly are…?