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Syed Atiq ul Hassan: Oz Needs Social Reform

Australia Needs More Social Reform


By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney

The process of transformation from white Australia to multicultural Australia has not completely shaken off the racist attitudes of the nineteenth century which led to the elimination of White Australia policy in 1970s, in Australia. However, the policy of 'open for everybody' motivated the people of every race, religion and nationality to migrate to this land down under to enjoy the freedom of practicing their faith and culture. Large number of people migrated into Australia from Middle East, Africa, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Today, Australia is a mixture of people from different backgrounds religiously and ethnically. In the 20 million people about 400 thousand are Muslims among them significant volume is of Arab and Turk (Muslim) Australians.

As the nation is still going through the process of unification as 'one Australia' - the Australian born generation of immigrants are still identified by their immigrant background. Disregard the 2nd generation of Asians, Arabs and Turks even the 3rd and 4th generation of Greeks, Italians and others are still identified by their immigrant background of their forefathers. The process of integration and transforming the society into one nation is still not complete and in this process where the Australian government promotes and spends huge funds on promoting nationalism within the multicultural society, the politicians and leaders are also required to address everyone as an Australian. Arab background Australians have been living in Australia for the last 4 decades. Their 3rd generation has been born & grown-up here who look no different than any other Australians. Yet, the Australian politicians including the Prime Minister always address them as the "Arab community". Muslims are the religious identification of the people of Islamic faith same as Christian, Jews, Hindu, Buddhist or anyone else live in Australian mix society, yet, the leaders including Prime Minister call them as the "Muslim Community".

However, should it be a matter to identify people on their ethnicity and then should religion be considered as an ethnic identity? When the police identifies suspect as "Lebanese Muslim" - does it means to identify others, for example, police would call them as Lebanese Christian or Lebanese Jew, Vietnamese Christian, Vietnamese Bhudist and so on. These are the practices which are required to be resolved. An Arabic speaking can be a Muslim, Christian or Jew. It is absolutely a discriminating act to identify people on their faith. Stating religion as an ethnic background of any person, naturally, hurts thousands who believe in that religion.

The leaders take decisions with the vast vision taking into account the long term impacts on the country and the nation. Australian leadership also has to be extra prudent while making policy on Australia's relationship and engagements with the rest of the world. In the times when even many developed nations were blamed for racial and religious discrimination Australia remain carried the reputation of being a non-political non-violent and a nation of different colours. During Sydney Olympic 2000 Australia received highest reputation being the supreme sports-loving nation in the world. Nevertheless, Australia will continue to enjoy this reputation in the world as long as it would carry its neutral part in the world politics.

One can hardly disagree with the fact that Australia cannot afford to have enmity with any country especially with the Muslim world. Australia's next door neighbour, Indonesia, is the largest Islamic nation. On the other hand, Australia has never been targeted by the radical Islamic groups until recent time when Howard's government, one after the other, from the issue of Tampa refugees (in 2001), the plight of refugees at the detention centres where majority are Afghanis and Middle Eastern and supporting US's war on terror and sending Australian forces to Afghanistan and Iraq ignoring the will of the majority of Australians.

Certainly, there is no apparent link between the reasons of the recent racial violence and the Howard's government decision to support US's war in Afghanistan and Iraq on the name of 'War on Terror'. Nevertheless, the ongoing inflicted media reporting the bloody images of torture and killing either by terrorists or allied forces in action, for the last four years, have generated negative perception among both those who either ethnically related to the victims or those who consider themselves the only true Australians in this diversified society.

The Arab background Australian deeply and wordlessly are feeling that Australian troops are fighting against their brothers in Iraq. On the other hand, Anglo Saxon Australians are absorbing the impression that Australian troops are fighting against terrorists who are obviously Arabs and Muslims.

At least during my 20 years in Australia I never saw the incited ethnic violence that has shocked the majority in Australia few days ago. The recent incidents of racial violence, fighting, damaging public properties and putting the places of worship on fire in Sydney suburbs have exposed Australia very adversely in the international media.

In the recent Cronulla beach incidents the youth of Anglo-Saxon background Australian were raising the Australian flag in one hand and attacking tools in the other hand and chanting "ozi ozi oy oy". They painted slogans on their shirts "We grew here you flew here", "ethnic cleansing", "no multiculturalism" etc and behaved as though they are going to fight against aliens. On the other hand the group of Arab background Australian youth were calling themselves as "lions of Lebanon" as though they are still living in the country from where their parents or grand parents came from. This behaviour of Australian youth clearly indicates that they have been getting what we have been feeding them. This dangerous attitude and divided thoughts in Australian youth can be a critical message for the Australian leadership.

No doubt, Australian government agencies like NSW Community Relations Commission and Australian Immigration & Multicultural Affairs are doing beneficial job with deep interest and sincerity. However, more is needed on priority basis.

This is the time when Howard's government is legislating strong anti-terror and sedition laws on the name of protecting Australia from terrorists and terrorist activities; his government must also attempt extra ordinary efforts to provide people of all backgrounds a definite security of their social rights.

Australia is among only those few countries in the world who don't have a 'Bill of Rights'. It is time now that Australian leadership should initiate steps to introduce the 'Bill of Rights' in Australia' to legislatively protect the basic rights of every citizen indiscriminately. Recognising and protecting basic human rights of all Australians by legislation would mean that one could expect the reasons for those decisions to be given and that wrong decisions could be challenged in the courts. It would simply be setting agreed standards and providing an ethical framework for consistent decision-making where citizens' rights are affected. This will provide a fair balance between the rights of individuals and the rights of the society. (The Writer is a Sydney-based journalist and a media analyst).

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Concluded: Saturday, 13th of December 2005


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