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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.

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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