Like many other Australians, my first reaction to the news of the attack on September 11, 2001 was shock, empathy, and uncertainty over what the future might hold. Suddenly, for the first time, the idea that Australia could very well become a terrorist target entered my mind, considering our close relationship with the US and the fact that our closest neighbour, Indonesia, is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Ironically, just one year later a hotel bomb explosion in Bali claimed the lives of 202 people, including 88 Australians. What then ensued was Australia’s almost inevitable involvement in the “War on Terror,” a war which I protested against along with 5000 of my fellow citizens, and the gradual vilification of Muslims, including asylum seekers.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, politicians and the media have played up the fears of ordinary Australians, portraying Muslims as “extremist” and “un-Australian,” although the vast majority are clearly peace-loving. In particular, asylum seekers from Iraq and Afghanistan have been used by both major political parties in a humanitarian “race to the bottom,” exaggerating their security threat and justifying their mandatory detention and offshore processing. This is the policy that angers me the most and makes me feel ashamed to be Australian, considering that for so many years we had earned ourselves an international reputation as a truly multicultural society and defender of human rights. Unfortunately, it seems, there will always be an “other” to vilify and use as a political target, whether it be Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation, Greeks and Italians during the post-war migration, Asians, Africans, and now Muslims.
It is time our leaders started demonstrating the values that we are proud to call Australian, such as “mateship” and giving everyone, including Muslims, “a fair go.” In no way do I condone any act of terrorism, regardless of religion. What I do condone, however, is genuine dialogue and cooperation, and the opportunity to work together to address the issues that lead to resistance in the first place. For any problem to be solved, we must make an effort to understand it as thoroughly as possible, especially its origin. For example, as demonstrated by the breakthrough independent television series on asylum seekers and refugees, Go Back to Where You Came From, it is possible to achieve a shift in consciousness, simply by presenting the public with the opportunity to truly get to know the “other,” rather than the stereotypes usually portrayed by politicians and the media.
On the 10th anniversary of September 11, the question still prevails, are we any safer for our efforts? Has it been worth the countless innocent lives that have been lost? No amount of outside intervention (especially by force) is going to create long lasting peace. As has been demonstrated by the Arab Spring, genuine change takes place from within, and the roots of democracy will only take hold when civilians themselves demand it. Let each of us commit to playing our part in defending human rights, including those of asylum seekers, and creating a more tolerant and peaceful world.
Get the real facts on Asylum Seekers here (Short video by GetUp!)