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Are politicians, media and the population at large able to work together to better control Australia’s “Muslim” stereotype?
One question a group of Australian Muslims is asked in a recent ABC iView series is “Have you ever been abused for being a Muslim?”. Of course, to this question there is a resounding and unified answer of “Yes”. The series is called You Can’t Ask That, wherein each episode groups of misunderstood Australians are asked questions submitted by the public. In the Muslim episode, several people from differing backgrounds and ages are asked a number of questions all relating to their religion and all highlighting one fact: that Muslims – devout, well-meaning, traditional (and sometimes not so traditional) Muslims – have been the biggest victims of the 21st century. It is clear our society hasn’t been able to separate these people from the atrocities being committed in Syria, Iraq and, indeed, throughout the world.
When – shamefully – the interviewees hear the question “Do you secretly agree with terrorists?” many laugh, but you can sense the cover up of embarrassment. An embarrassment that their religion, something that many of them hold dear and, indeed, steers a majority of their life choices, has somehow grown to link them to extremist groups and small portions of society raining down terror and fear on the rest. “When I look at those atrocities, I – and most Muslims – don’t think it’s Islam at all”, says Ali Kadri in response to the question, something he seems to have explained more than once before.
Of course, terrorism has more than spread intermittent mayhem throughout parts of western society; it has fundamentally ripped apart many Islamic countries. With a real sense of loss in his voice, Ali Kadri again remarks, “Look at Syria, look at Iraq, look at all those Middle Eastern countries. They were beautiful.” The aftermath of this destruction has resulted in countless families having to flee – flee their communities, the places they’ve grown up, their homes – for safety. It’s a reality many of us will never be able to fathom. And it’s not just whole societies that have been ruined; up to 97 percent of terrorism-related human casualties over the past five years have been Muslims, a fact some politicians rarely bring up, especially when debating Australia’s intake of Muslim refugees and asylum seekers.
We can only hope that this rhetoric around Islamic Fundamentalism too, will pass. Sadia Khan puts it succinctly; “We focus so much on the Middle East and the terrorist because the West has to always be scared of something.”
It is comments about this exact topic – Muslim immigration – from our own public figures and politicians, which give value and fuel to our own kind of patriotic extremism found in individuals and groups like Reclaim Australia. It is these rash and hateful public remarks too that spread misinformation and fear, especially to those in Australia who may never have had contact with someone who is Muslim. This misunderstanding is clearly shown in another question the ABC program asks; “why are you bringing Islam here?”. “I’m not really,” says Abdul Abdullah, “I was born here.” He was born here, in Australia, is an Australian citizen and yet receives “hate mail”, is “randomly” selected at airports and experiences problems trying to rent a house with his own name.
Our media outlets alike are using language that constantly perpetuates unease of the “other” and sensationalises Islam’s merits of good and evil, something that has been publicly debated since the eve of 9/11 with little input at all from those who actually follow Islam. The why and how we got to this stage of blaming Islam for the majority of the woes and worries in the world is a long and well-worn road with enthusiastic debates on both sides, which is not only damaging for Islam as a religion but takes the focus away from the real issues of the world and emboldening discussion. Interviewee from You Can’t Ask That, Jamila Hussain, perfectly describes our media’s ability to elude the real tragedy, with discussion of whether the perpetrator follows Islam: “When a non-Muslim person commits a criminal act, religion is almost never mentioned; it’s only Muslims that get their religion put up in lights and blamed for whatever they have done.” Just like the Germans and the Soviets were once public enemy number one, we can only hope that this rhetoric around Islamic Fundamentalism too, will pass. Sadia Khan, another interviewee on the series, puts it succinctly; “We focus so much on the Middle East and the terrorist because the West has to always be scared of something.”
The series You Can’t Ask That is a step in the right direction and actually does a great job of breaking down these barriers, which have been manifesting for years, and works towards a greater understanding between these misunderstood groups and the rest of society, striving to make them no longer marginalised. We should be surrounding ourselves and our communities with differences; differences in dress, in race, in food, in traditions, in gender and of course in religion and all that it entails. At the end of the Muslim episode of You Can’t Ask That, Ali Kadri turns the questions on the viewer: “What sort of country do we want Australia to be?”, one that is afraid of people who migrate here, who might not be the same, or “do you want to be a country were you get to know your neighbour, get to know fellow Australians, know about their culture, learn good things about their culture and teach them good about your culture, and then build a nation which has got good from everything and bad from nothing?”
It’s something to think about.