Another day, and another bad news day for Muslims in Australia.
The tragedy of it.
There are people in Australia who don’t like us.
To which I say: what’s new?
And also, to use the popular ‘Strayan vernacular: who gives?
Last week, amid the ongoing hum of hate that is spewing out of a newly invigorated subset of bigoted Australians, the Australian populace was dealt a heavy blow: nearly half of Australia doesn’t want more Muslims entering the country. At least, according to a survey that vaguely confirms something that many of us have known our whole lives: Muslims are the current bogeyman.
Forget scrutinising the methodology, the substance and the very limitations of any type of survey. Media outlets reported it in grave tones, while self-appointed spokespeople criticised the bigots who don’t want to eat halal snack packs. The results gave people more of what they want: something to be alarmed about, and a confirmation that a lot of people share their views, because even hatred likes company.
Let’s get some perspective first: the survey interviewed 1000 people. In a nation of 24 million, it called on the opinions of 1000 people, in an online survey that is not very random, and which seeks, if you consider its questions, to confirm already-held bigoted beliefs, based as it is on the current news cycle.
Hardly a reliable barometer for Australians’ sentiment towards Muslims.
Every time we act like or are painted as victims, our contributions to Australian society are diminished, and those of parents and grandparents who came before us.
But here’s the thing: even if I took the results seriously (and I don’t), I wouldn’t be mad about them.
Actually, I’m amused. Because at some point in this sorry decades-long battle for a multicultural paradise, an impression has been formed that Muslims, or any minority really, (a) need the permission and approval of Anglo-Australians to be here, and (b) that we really need you to like – nay, love – us to feel at home.
Meanwhile, Muslims have somehow been bunched together and made to look like victims, despite the continuous assertion that we’re not some conglomerate. Every time we act like or are painted as victims, our contributions to Australian society are diminished, and those of parents and grandparents who came before us.
While it’s human to feel like a victim at times, and there are certainly social problems that affirm the difficulties of navigating cultures in Australia, it doesn’t have to be the definition of our existence. We don’t need the approval of people who hate us without distinction: the way forward is with the people who don’t see the differences or feel the need to label us.
I create my own narrative, not the bigots. I’m not defined by the labels others try to impose on me – and believe me, in every aspect of my life, people have tried.
As executive officer of the United Muslim Women Association, Maha Abdo, neatly puts it, in response to yet another silly poll around fears of marrying into Muslim families: “Everyone had a right to be concerned about things that they don’t know about. I can’t take away the fear of other people, but all I can do is, wherever I can, provide a balanced perspective of Australian Muslims.”
What makes me Australian is not culture, but character.
We have a multitude of resources, and news stories, that confirm there are problems, like an unforgiving earworm. Most of us have personal experiences that remind us that we “don’t belong”. But I feel no compulsion to take on ideas, activities and emotions others believe make me worthy of being Australian. I don’t need permission to belong here. Australia is my home.
What makes me Australian is not culture, but character. I am a law-abiding citizen and I get on with my day. That means giving energy to the ordinary things: work, home, time with family and friends. These things matter to me, these things shape me. Acceptance into a club does not motivate me: I certainly don’t crave approval from people who will only accept me on condition.
So let’s rewrite the narrative, rather than empowering the hate-filled ones that only inspire more fear.
Try something new: forgo the hysteria and acknowledge that connection is not something achieved by victimhood and anger – this only weakens us further. Rather, it’s in the workplace, in community groups, in your neighbourhood that ties are created and strengthened. It is in these places that we are normalised.
Sorry to break it to you, Pauline, but we’re here and we’re not going anywhere. And while I wish you a path of greater enlightenment and self-love, I won’t be having you over for tea anytime soon, and I’m certainly not going to energise your campaign of fear by sharing your diatribes against people you believe yourself superior to.
I mean really, I’d rather mingle with the so-called ‘51 per cent’.