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Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

A little over seven years ago I did something that many of those also from the north and western sides of Brisbane would scoff at – I moved to the southside of Brisbane. Oh, the horror of being just that little bit closer to the bogans, apparently, aside from the fact there are people from all walks of life across this city.

But there was something else about moving to the southside that I began noticing and thinking about, not long after finding my first home away from home with a couple of friends. Pasty white young me was in the minority – even in my own little 3 bedroom townhouse in Mount Gravatt East, as well as in the wider complex.

My friends and I spent a year-and-a-half in that wonderful little spot. We were situated nicely between two big shopping centres, which we would frequent more than just about any other place during that time.

When our time was up, we moved to another townhouse complex a little further out, in a suburb called Wishart. The place looked almost exactly the same as our previous residence, yet somehow was not connected.

After having our application approved, and upon meeting with the complex manager, he asked us if we wanted to put a pin on the world map in his office to signify where we came from. I looked at the map and noticed plenty of drawing pins in the Asian countries, but none on Australia. We all shared a laugh at this.

It was a thriving little community and the sights, sounds and smells were indicative of families enjoying their time together, and at peace. I would go on to spend five years there, while the same two housemates completed their studies.

Then, in 2015 came a little bit of a shock. My housemates, international students from Malaysia and Nepal had to return back home. For the first time in my adult life I would have to contemplate living on my own.

I searched and searched for a one bedroom place. The constant disappointment at the cost and poor state of most of these places was frustrating, and perhaps hastened my balding process.

In the end I settled on a one bedroom duplex. The most annoying part of this was that I went from paying $130 a week for a room in a house, with access to a kitchen and living area, to paying $275.00 per week for basically the same privilege. And this time I would not be splitting the electricity or internet bills three ways.

But the most eye-opening part of this journey was moving to within cooee of a mosque, at a time when debate was increasing about the place of Muslims in Australian society. My neighbours in the duplex are also Muslims, from Somalia. We have different schedules but pleasant interactions when we do cross paths.

I have never felt unsafe living in this area in all of my time here, despite living alone. That is, except for one occasion when an overly aggressive neighbour from up the road, who was closer to me in appearance, baled me up and angrily demanded that I get him to mow my yard. I did not give in, and thankfully I have not seen him in a very long time.

At this point I can imagine that some will be thinking about ghettoisation, and that has been something that I have considered over the years too.

There can be little doubt that different ethnic groups do tend to congregate in certain areas of cities across Australia, and that is certainly the case around Brisbane, and I have lived it. We must however give more mature thought as to why different ethnic groups tend to stick together.

Is it not the case that if immigrants were back in their homeland, they would tend to live around people of the same background? Don’t we, the people who were born here, do the same? If you moved to a different country, or as is the case for immigrants in my little area of town, were forced to move elsewhere, wouldn’t you want to be closer to people with whom you have some kind of natural connection?

Perhaps too, part of the problem is us? If we could venture out into these areas more, aside from the occasional culinary journey, we would see that these so-called ghettos are not impenetrable. Australia is not quite like the United States of America, where divisions are so much more entrenched and lead to more widespread conflict.

My experience over the last seven years has been somewhat transformational. I have always accepted difference to a degree, but through my experiences, that willingness to embrace diversity has expanded.

To paraphrase Jimmy Buffett just a little bit, or perhaps not at all, when people seek changes in latitude, perhaps we can respond with a little bit of a change in attitude?

Sorry Mr Husic

Yesterday the Rudd ministry was sworn in by the Governor-General Quentin Bryce. It contained a number of familiar faces, and some new ones who made their way to the frontbench to serve under the returned Prime Minister. But yesterday was also notable for the presence of Ed Husic, a young man rewarded for his loyalty to Kevin Rudd. It was his faith (he’s a Muslim), that propelled him into the headlines as a positive display of Australia’s multiculturalism.

Today however, Mr Husic’s appointment was in the headlines because of the way some sub-optimal Australians responded to the way he chose to swear the oath of office. Some Australian bogans, no rednecks, chose to show their disrespect and toward the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister on his Facebook page.

You see, Ed Husic decided that he would swear the oath of office, not on the bible, but on the Muslim holy book, the Quran. And what a crime that turned out to be according to these small-minded pinheads who arced up on social media with all manner of hysterical, stupid and downright wrong and baseless claims.

Oh my gosh, someone of a faith other than Christianity decided that swearing on another religion’s book would be wrong and therefore decided that he would be true to his belief system. How awful that is? Not. Seriously. What a pathetic response from some people who would think pre-1960’s Australia would be a glorious era to relieve in the 21st century.

One of the most absurd claims from these douchebags is that the choice the Parliamentary Secretary to the PM made was “un-Australian”. Um, hello, multiculturalism has been an explicit government policy, largely supported by both major political parties, albeit in varying degrees and sometimes only if political expediency permits.

Okay, so some of you dimwits might not have been alive all that long, but hey now you know of this policy you can attempt to get your small heads around it. For the others, you’ve had decades to vote in people amenable to your beliefs but have not really managed to do so. I guess that’s just bad luck for you then.

Guess what – we decided very early on here in Australia to celebrate religious diversity too. Our founding fathers thought it so important, that religious freedom is one of the few express rights in the Constitution of Australia. That means that Ed Husic, that Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd and everyone else can place their palm on whichever religious tract they choose.

You might want to check out s116, then again, perhaps you will want to wilfully ignore it because it does not suit your narrow-minded, isolationist political beliefs.

Australians who reach high office can and should be able to take the oath of office holding any book they like. You could even extend it to include such examples of modern-day religion like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. And you can choose no book whatsoever and deliver the affirmation.

I want to say sorry to Ed Husic. Sorry that some noisy ratbags have put a bit of a dampener on your day. They do not represent me and I hope they do not represent the vast majority of us. I am pretty sure they do not, but sometimes I worry. Yesterday was your day Mr Husic and comments of the kind you were exposed to were completely unwarranted.

The way in which you responded to the comments on your Facebook page when you spoke to the media was full of class. They were indeed “extreme” comments. And the way you chose to refer to them as “democratic” is a measure of your maturity, though I would imagine they were deeply troubling to you. They were also dumbocratic, propagated by the dumbocracy which gets a little bit of oxygen here and there from some willing pollies.

Some of us need to grow up and get out more. A little bit of reading might help too.

You may not like other people for one reason or another, but you must respect them and their legal and constitutional choices.

A Day For Remembrance and Unity, Not Division

It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since what people have called our 9/11. This was our great loss of ordinary, everyday Australians enjoying holidays and end of season sporting team excursions. It is the worst terrorist attack that our nation has had to cope with, 88 Australians dead out of a total death toll of 202 with more than 200 injured.

Last year the United States of America had the 10 year anniversary of their own mass tragedy, 2752 killed in a different place, but for the same unjustifiable lack of reason.

What must be said too, is that it is not just our loss today. While a great number of those murdered were Australians, families around the world, whose loved ones ventured to Bali are also going to be grieving today. It is as much their loss as it is ours. Their grief is no less than ours.

What could have easily split our region, but also our world along rigid religious and cultural lines has actually brought us together in a common bond, a shared belief in decency and respect for all human beings based not on religion, but humanity. The small number of terrorists that have tried to tear our region and world asunder because of hateful and warped ideology are losing and will continue to lose.

Two nations that had experienced a long and troubled relationship, including the split over East Timor just a matter of years before, could quite easily have further parted ways. Instead the leaders of both our nations managed, from the ashes, to piece together arguably a stronger relationship than we have ever had with Indonesia.

Survivors, families and friends have had to endure the full gamut of emotions over the last 10 years. From the initial anger and sadness felt by them, by all Australians back in late 2002, we have shifted to a point in time where, for many, all but the deepest of psychological wounds, the awful memories of devastating scenes, of people dying and dead, people injured remain. Many of the victims, their families and friends have truly reached a level of acceptance, that nothing can bring those they lost back. But the thoughts, the memories will remain forever.

Most of us would not be able to begin to imagine the loss incurred on a human, a familial, a personal relationship level. This is not because many people haven’t experienced death, many of us have. But what the vast majority of us have not experienced is the untimely loss of a loved one, a family member, a friend, a teammate. Nothing could prepare us for such an abrupt and unexpected loss. Nothing could have prepared anyone with any direct involvement for the mode of loss either.

Today is a day that has to be about remembrance, one that we can share with each other. It is a day for quiet reflection, for empathy. Supporting others is something that we as Australians do remarkably well, whether that be through charity, or just providing a shoulder to cry on, calming words and thoughts.

Today is also a day to remember what, because of September 11 in the first place, we are actually fighting for. For some we are fighting a whole religion and that is a misplaced thought, we simply are not. We are not because of the attacks on the western world, fighting mainstream Islam. In the main, what we are fighting is a warped, a truly ugly interpretation of the religion. Yes, we may be hoping to change some of the practices through our efforts in Afghanistan, such as those that see women as second-class citizens, but the primary objective of our mission is to tackle terrorism.

Despite what some people may think, Islam taken as a whole is not dominated by people wishing to do us harm. If it was, we would have been defeated and subjugated across the world by Islam a long time ago. Nothing is to be gained by ascribing the same label to all Islam because of a small sect that hold a particularly obscene belief based on a misinterpretation of the Qur’an which fans hatred and intolerance and leads to gratuitous violence.

Let today be a day of further healing within the families of victims, of their friends and of Australians. Let it also be another day of maintaining and further repairing ties between faiths and cultures and also the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. What today must not be is one of hatred and intolerance toward Islam as a homogeneous group. If we were to do that then we would be surrendering not just to reason, but also to those who perpetrated the horrific acts and those that still want to inflict death upon us.

Could Senator Bernardi Have Been Sacked for Something Sooner?

So, South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi overnight said something incredibly dumb and offensive, the second time in just a couple of days in fact. He’s been hauled into the office of the Leader of the Opposition and offered, or was perhaps in reality nudged, to offer his resignation as Parliamentary Secretary to the Opposition Leader himself and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families. That would be a huge relief to a great majority of the party who might share some of the same general beliefs on the matter of marriage equality, being against it, but not for the frankly both hilariously stupid, but at the same time downright offensive reasons offered up in the Senate last night.

Senator Bernardi in speaking on marriage equality, which has just been through the lower house where it was soundly defeated, last night said that allowing marriage equality would lead to polyamory and bestiality. This echoes some of the more insane and hurtful thought-bubbles that people from the Australian Christian Lobby and the like offer up as pseudo reasons for masking, though not successfully, their downright bigotry and hatred of same-sex couples.

If Senator Bernardi had not been sacked for this latest indiscretion, the outcry would have been massive. These were not only highly discriminatory comments, but as many have pointed out before and indeed after this entry into the debate by Senator Bernardi, they were also based on fairy tale assertions, they are urban myths. No government is going to ever, no matter how progressive, legalise bestiality and even the lesser of the two evils, polyamory. Those changes to marriage simply will not be tolerated by anyone in the Australian community, let alone those that represent or will ever represent us in the parliament.

But this whole matter raises another interesting question, a question that could have been answered with the sacking of Bernardi prior to these remarks, though he certainly would have made them as a lowly backbench MP too. The question that is raised is of vocally condemning what is largely bipartisan policy, though the extent of the agreement from time-to-time faces small tests and the policy does face questions, however brief.

Multiculturalism, since its official adoption as government policy in the 1970s has been largely bipartisan policy though the strength and depth of that commitment has come into question briefly, particularly in response to violent events like the Cronulla riots and the scenes in Sydney at the weekend as well as in the ongoing asylum seeker debate. But largely and broadly, that commitment to continuing a policy of a multiculturalism in a broad sense has never really disintegrated.

Early in the week, along came Cory Bernardi with ill-thought out comments, lacking any critical thought as he often does, about multiculturalism. He used the events in Sydney at the weekend, the truly horrific and disturbing actions as proof that there is a problem with the official government policy. This is plainly not the case and as has been pointed out by a number of commentators, it is a problem with society and human nature. His was, as argued yesterday, a crass generalisation, painting a violent few as representative of the whole of Islam and the Muslim community in Australia.

So could Senator Bernardi have been sacked over his insensitive comments in relation to government policy, a policy that mostly enjoys some level of support from the Coalition? The answer is yes. Generally, you could sack someone that didn’t agree with party policy, even if commitment to that policy within the party is a little iffy. It is especially the case that he could have been sacked or forced to resign on this matter alone for making those views known publicly in parliamentary proceedings, official government business. This is especially the case as Senator Bernardi  was effectively a junior minister in a shadow portfolio.

Certainly, as Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and responsible therefore for sensible commentary in the area of familial relationships, his decision to stand aside was the right one. This is true whether he was quietly pushed to save what little face he had left or made the decision for himself.

Again in politics, the question is asked- ‘did it really need to come to this first?’. The answer is at worst, not really and at best, definitely not. But then parliamentary processes and traditions are well and truly blurred now.

Generalisations Flowing and Critical Thought Lacking Over Riotous Actions

The events on the weekend in Sydney and those in the days preceding them, across the world, were horrific. There are no nice words that can be said about the protests, riots, call them what you will, that have taken place in a number of countries, both in the Middle East and across the Western world. A small portion of the Islamic community in Australia, less than one thousandth of the Muslim inhabitants of Australia took to the streets of Sydney with violence and mayhem in mind. This was met as well with the urge for a small number to parade with disturbing placards, one in particular held by a young child.

These protests provoked strong reactions from the public, the traditional media, social media and politicians all rising to condemn the divisive actions of a small proportion of people hell-bent on causing trouble and being divisive. Those speaking out against the raucous and over-the-top actions quickly included leaders in the local Muslim community which is quite sizeable in and around Sydney.

The actions of the protesters, demonstrators, rioters, call them what you will show a complete lack of understanding of the thoughts of people in relation to what they themselves say was the issue- that is, the tacky, poorly made video by an American that wouldn’t even be considered good enough and tasteful enough for a Saturday Night Live skit. This tends to indicate, as some thinkers have pointed out over the last few days,

The reactions of those responding to the scenes on Saturday, in particular on social media- read Twitter, tended toward heavy generalisations and at times showed a complete lack of critical thought and comprehension.

The protesters, if the film was the issue, fail to realise that governments all over the world, including ours and more importantly, the United States of America, had roundly condemned the mean-spirited movie. That is to say, they didn’t like it one bit either. The film wasn’t even put together by the government, just one or two intellectually vacant people, one of whom is of questionable character.

But far from just the lack of realisation that most of the West and its governments had said that the film was horrible and at the very least in poor taste and at the most, downright offensive to Islam, the actions themselves were well out of proportion to any amount of offense caused.

As for the Twitter and other social media commentary in the wake of the events of the last week, again a vocal minority blew events out of proportion, trying to link the messy visuals to the whole Muslim population. Clearly that’s not the case.  If any critical thought whatsoever was used by those who, frankly are frightened by difference in the first place and seek to cause fear when a small number of people representing a particular group they despise, then they would have realised the acts were not representative.

If the social media commentary wasn’t bad enough,the perennial Senator for divisive communities, Senator Cory Bernardi engaged in crass generalisations himself. The politician from South Australia, no fan of multiculturalism, attempted to argue that the protests of few, while yes, extremely awful and necessarily despised, signalled a problem with multiculturalism.

The problem in this case, as a number of commentators have pointed out, is not a problem to do with multiculturalism. It is, first and foremost, a problem more to do with human nature than anything else. As those same commentators, like Waleed Aly have pointed out, it is also partially down to disaffection, but again this does not mean that the actions of a small minority can be justified, even for a millisecond. But it does raise the need for greater cross-cultural dialogue.

If we are to truly understand each other, some of us must first learn to critically think, not give in to emotional reactions to events in the world around us. Generalisations do us no favours either.

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