'Team Australia'? Only if it’s for all of us

2014-08-24 22:38:31 | Al Muslim News
'Team Australia'? Only if it’s for all of us


Modern Australia is a success story of multiculturalism. Gone are the days when people felt awkward about the word “multicultural”, when people doubted the benefits of immigration. We have grown more comfortable in our own skin, whatever colour that may be. And we are relaxed in knowing that there is more than one way you can be Australian. For all of our multicultural success, we must remain vigilant of bigotry and racism. Racial discrimination remains in many forms. Take the recent incident involving Nilson Dos Santos, an Australian citizen originally from Brazil – told by a Sydney café owner he would not be offered the job because he was black. Earlier this month, we saw nasty racist violence, when a gang of youths threatened Jewish schoolchildren on a bus Sydney, in an abhorrent anti-Semitic attack. In our federal politics just this week, we have seen intemperate outbursts of xenophobia. There are also more insidious challenges. One concerns the reporting and commentary about Australia’s Muslim and Arab communities, in light of armed conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Australians – of all faiths and backgrounds – have every reason to be troubled by these developments. In particular, we have every reason to repudiate Australian citizens who are fighting as militants overseas. But if you were to read the letters pages of our newspapers, tune into talkback radio, or scan the comments sections of news websites, you would be mistaken for thinking there were no “moderate” Muslim-Australians prepared to repudiate domestic extremism. This is far from the truth. While there are very serious issues with “home-grown terrorism”, we should not be casting aspersions on Muslim and Arab Australian communities at large. Not when so many of its leaders and members have unequivocally condemned terrorism. Not when even the Director-General of ASIO David Irvine has commended Muslim community leaders for the positive role they have played in countering domestic radicalism. We should not be judging entire communities, whose members are law-abiding citizens, on the basis of a very small minority of extremists. The issue has been complicated by another thing. It was unfortunate that the government’s recent abandonment of changes to the Racial Discrimination Act were explained as necessary for bolstered counter-terror measures. As far as I am aware, there was never a suggestion, from any community, that retaining racial vilification laws was necessary for fighting domestic extremism. It also makes no sense to say that the dumping of section 18C changes was motivated by special concerns about Muslim Australians. After all, the law doesn’t protect religion as an attribute. The argument for retaining section 18C was always rather more direct. Namely, if Australian society is committed to racial tolerance, this commitment should be reflected in our law. The law should set some civil standards of acceptable behaviour. The law should provide remedies for public acts of racial vilification. There should be no legal right to be a bigot. It is understandable that many Muslim Australians, and also Arab Australians, would have felt bitter sweetness about the announcement on 18C. This hasn’t eased during the past fortnight. There has been sustained talk about the need for a commitment to a so-called “Team Australia”. I have heard from many Muslim and Arab Australians a serious concern that their communities are being singled out. That they are having their national loyalty unfairly questioned. For those who have migrated here, there is rarely any question about loyalty to Australia. Making the decision to start a new life in another country is not one that is taken lightly. There is no more powerful aspiration than to be a citizen. It is an act solemnised by the pledge taken when someone naturalises as a citizen: “I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.” In those four clauses we have writ the contract of citizenship in this country. This contract is central to the success of Australian multiculturalism. We have a robust form of multiculturalism. One with its foundations in liberal democracy, and one which has never shield from rejecting cultural beliefs and practices that are inconsistent with our civic values. One where diversity is entirely compatible with patriotism. In a multicultural Australia, we have a love of country that is founded not on race or ancestry, but on citizenship. If “Team Australia” is simply shorthand for an Australian liberal democratic community, for a community of equal citizens, I don’t think any of us would have an issue with it. Signing up to this is already part of the contract of multicultural citizenship. All of us are already signed up. We are all proud to be Australian. But if “Team Australia” is meant to suggest something else, we are entitled to ask for an explanation. Manufacturing patriotism can sometimes do more to divide than to unite. Genuine civic pride comes from within; it is not something that others can command us to display..

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