We need labels. We need to hallmark these actions as racist and bigoted and wrong.
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BY: Meghan Dansie
- “Let’s just talk about the facts.”
- “Let’s just take the emotion out of it.”
- “Let’s just stop using the race card for a moment.”
The trifecta; the holy trinity (though, not the HSP sauce type); the three responses that some of my close friends – friends that happen to be Muslim – endure on a regular basis. These responses are silencing, damaging and quite frankly, dangerous – gaslighting at its most passive.
Indeed, it is high time for this collective ‘us’ – all of us – to share in a fair, honest discussion about the facts of Islam. But we cannot talk about the facts when the facts are seemingly irrelevant.
Sticks and stones may not be present, but it is when words cause psychological and physical harm to people because of who they are, or what they believe in, that fighting words with words is valid.
It is when comments like those of Sonia Kruger, Pauline Hanson and Andrew Bolt saturate the public discourse regarding Muslims, immigrants and refugees that retaliatory words are needed. Because, if these harmful voices continue to silence those they are targeting, without substance and credible evidence, is that not democracy for a select few? Or indeed, a select majority?
But, let’s get the facts straight.
Yes, radical Islamic ideologists and the complexities this small minority presents to the modern world are deeply concerning – whether you’re Muslim, Christian or non-denominational.
Yes, Sonia Kruger’s comments do represent a large number of Australians, but this does not mean that their content is justified – it means that we should denounce it and label it for what it clearly is.
And yes, everyone should have the freedom to form their own opinions. Indeed, if history is the gateway to the present, if it has taught us anything, it is that dangerous situations arise out of uncontested ideologies. But, it has also taught us that this freedom of speech must work both ways. It has taught us that democracy is healthiest when all of the threads in its rich cultural tapestry are represented.
You can watch the entire exchange here:
So, it is when opinion is used as a weapon of populist fear, ignorance and hatred that we must contest it. It is when public figures such as Kruger, Hanson and Bolt continue to vilify, to disrespect and to marginalise the existence of others that their public soapbox should be removed. It is when they are repeatedly given the theatre of mass media to express their unjustifiable opinions that healthy dissent is truly in trouble. Because, how do you dissent, if you do not have a voice?
Yet, Muslim people continue to try.
Australian Muslim leaders and spokespeople have publicly condemned terrorism and Islamic State again and again and again. And yet, the phenomenon that is Pauline Hanson – a figure that forms the antithesis of her “One Nation” catchphrase – continues to be listened to when slamming home that “the Grand Mufti won’t even come out and condemn the terrorist attacks that happened overseas”. This is not dissent. This is not freedom of speech. This is a muffled cry against a megaphone.
Moreover, it is when this popular public discourse spawns such widespread racial tensions – federal MPs leading Reclaim Australia rallies, the acceptance of only 2% of our annual refugee quota, A Current Affair airing its own version of “How to Spot a Terrorist” – that we know that our definition of dissent is not healthy.
It is when my Muslim friend’s mother felt more nervous about showing up to her work the day after the Sydney Siege than she does about performing emergency caesareans, which we know our dissent is not healthy. It is when the local Imam and his wife, a wearer of the full burqa, admitted they hated shopping because of the stares that we know our dissent is not healthy. It is when a severed pig’s head is placed inside of a local mosque that we must realise hateful words beget hateful actions.
And, when no one is listening – when your respect, tolerance and rationality continues to be shouted down with hate, fear and ignorance – labels become the last form of resistance. Passionate language becomes the only cry that will be heard from the abyss. Labels are what make the news when no other form of condemnation will.
Yes, Waleed Aly’s recent calls to #sendforgivenessviral are positive, needed, and constructive. However, if this goal is to be achieved, we need everyone to forgive. Waleed Aly may recognise that Sonia Kruger is “scared and trying to make sense of her world,” but Sonia Kruger does not recognise this.
Watch Waleed’s plea here:
Those being persecuted may be trying to construct and unify, but those who continue to hate, vilify and persecute are not going to forgive. Because you cannot forgive something that has not been done.
Too often these hateful actions are forgiven, condoned through inaction, excused. So, we need labels. We need to hallmark these actions as racist and bigoted and wrong. This is not oversimplifying what is a complex issue; this is not being “intellectually lazy” – this is showing that we cannot construct a unified Australia without a little deconstruction, renovation, change.
What’s more, it is not up to us – the Caucasian, straight, Cisgender, able, and more often than not, male demographic of this nation – to decide when Muslims should, or not, be able to label the people vilifying them.
Because, have we not learnt that policing what people should, or should not, take offence to, is the type of control that constitutes systemic persecution and marginalisation in the first place? For systemic oppression means the institution of popular opinion just as much as it means the law.
It is hard to rebut arguments that contain no substance, only the hot air of hatred and ignorance. But, hot air has the potential to burn, and its victims need to be able to call out a boiling steam engine when they see one. It will only be when we include those actually affected by discrimination, in the discussion of discrimination, that we will truly be discussing the issue. It is only when we label the unjustified, destructive comments of Pauline Hanson and Sonia Kruger for what they are – racist and bigoted – that we can recognise our own faults, and move towards a proper conversation concerning radicalisation and terrorism. They may be nice people, they may be scared, but so are the Muslim people they are racially targeting on a public platform. The labels will only end when we stop gagging rational, in-depth discussion.
‘Fact’ may not be ambiguous by definition, but it is the latest buzzword of those twisting it to guard themselves against their own fears and misunderstandings.
Deeming the comments of Kruger, Hanson and many other Australians ‘racist’, aligning myself with those that are using what is one of the only forms of expression heard in this sea of anti-Muslim opinion, may be at my own peril. But, if this peril is because I am briefly glimpsing the silent powerlessness that Muslims in this country face on an increasingly regular basis, then I will willingly jump off that cliff. And, I will be taking life jackets for all of my allies fighting to stay above the waves – we are going to need them.
Meghan Dansie is the 2016 Youth Member for Whitsunday.