Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Us vs them: Where does an Aussie Muslim fit in?

Image: Supplied

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 Peshawarthe 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…?

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin Abdel-Magied is the president and founder of Youth Without Borders, an organisation that empowers young people to positively change their communities. She serves on various boards and councils and works as an engineer on oil and gas rigs.

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  1. Michael Burrill said:

    They are plenty of non-Muslim terrorists(in fact if I’m not mistaken they are far more non-Muslim ones). What about Anders Breivik?, What about Larry McQuilliams? What about the plethora of groups with varied aims that have used terrorism as a tactic? Maybe you’d be less scared if you actually did some research?

  2. Rainer the cabbie said:

    Which media house Kylie? Could it be the one that drives Muslim xenophobia, totally disregarding that 99% of Muslims are totally against what is happening in the name of their religion? Never forget that the policeman gunned down in Paris was a Muslim, ready to protect “free speech”.

    My parents and ancestors were German, does that automatically make them Nazis? My Australian wife is a Catholic, does that make her Opus Day?

    It is time to take spin and judgement out of the debate and see things for what they really are. On the one hand you have criminals, even ISIS is a criminal organisation that has the operational structure of one, on the other you have business interests that welcome a devision in society to further their interests. Oh and I forgot, it does sell papers as well.

    Don’t be frightened Kylie, do voice your opinion against intolerance and acts of violence but do keep the big picture in mind. There’s manipulation everywhere, the only way to bring peace about is to recognise that most of us want to live together in harmony and freedom.

    Condemn those that oppose this idea.

    P.S. Tell your hubby that paying taxes in Luxembourg will rob your children of their future.

  3. Kylie said:

    All those examples are fictional though Rainer the cabbie. What we are witnessing as a nation is a full on attack of our ideals by only Muslims. Catholics don’t storm Lindt cafes, Jews don’t kill randomly in halal deli’s and Buddhists don’t cut off journalists head. I am just scared and not sure if our tolerance is a bit misguided. I am so sorry to offend anyone I just feel very frightened. My husband is an accountant for one of the biggest media houses in the world and I would hate him to be hurt becase he works for places that promote freedom of speech.

  4. Rainer the cabbie said:

    Hi Kylie

    I admit to have raked my brain as what you would say to your child. Terrorists are criminals taking matters into their own hands without any regard to human value? Yeah, just like the baddie you see in the westerns. Like The Joker in Batman. Or like Monty Burns in the Simpsons. The Witch in the Lion and the wardrobe.

    Sadly though your comment, as nice as it is, illustrates Yassim’s point, so whatever you do, keep your kid away from the Tele.

  5. Kylie said:

    I completely agree with you Yasmin but i would love a muslim to comment on the idea that ‘not all muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are muslims’. I would love to understand especially as a parent how to have these conversations with my child that does not cause fear but also shows them what is happening in the world in what seems to be a more rapid pace.

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