Editor’s Note: Mohammad Al-Khafaji is the honorary secretary of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia. He is the former chief executive officer of Welcome to Australia, a national movement welcoming refugees and migrants. His family moved to Australia as refugees in 2003 from Iraq. The views expressed here are his own.
Australian politics hit rock bottom this week and, for the first time in my 15 years in Australia, I am experiencing fear because of my faith.
We are not Muslim Australians, Jewish Australians or white Australians. We are all Australians and it is time to unite and put an end to politics of hate and division.
This week, Fraser Anning, a senator from the Australian state of Queensland delivered his maiden speech to parliament in which he called for the “final solution” to Muslim Immigration in Australia.
Senator Anning’s speech was condemned by the government and the opposition in parliament, with both sides reaffirming their bi-partisan support for a non-discriminatory migration policy.
In a radio interview shortly after his speech, Senator Anning voiced his support for the deportation of some Australian-born Muslims. Then Bob Katter, the leader of the party Anning represents, sent a direct message to Muslim Australians: “Get out of this country, you’re not wanted here.”
Anything short of absolute rejection of their words is not only dangerous and irresponsible, but it threatens the very fabric of our cohesive society.
Australia is arguably the most successful multicultural nation in the world thanks in part to our non-discriminatory migration policies that have provided safe haven for so many people who have now called Australia home.
My family and I fled Iraq from the ruthless regime of Saddam Hussein who executed 12 members of my father’s family because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.
We were lucky to be resettled in Australia in 2003 thanks to the United Nations Refugee agency and we had the most beautiful welcoming experience that anyone could hope for.
With the warm welcome I received I know that Australians are openhearted, inclusive and fair people.
However, there are small, vocal, sections in our society that hold racist views due usually to either or a combination of ignorance or fear.
They are very small group, but sadly I feel like that group is growing, especially as their voices are given peak air time by the likes of Sky News, and now, they have a voice in parliament. Senator Anning was elected by 19 single votes, giving him an extremely disproportionate voice in parliament.
I have traveled extensively and have visited concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau and there have sadly witnessed the horrific consequences of radical and racist policies.
My partner’s grandfather, a Polish soldier, escaped from one of those concentration camps and it was that horrible war that made him bring his family to Australia in the 1950s.
Liberation of Auschwitz
The concentration camps were the final result of years of vile, racist hate speech against the Jewish people. We cannot afford to ignore the proven consequences of the spreading of hate and fear. Legitimizing this speech gives license to hate and only serves to breed it.
In times of fear, you look around you for reassurance by your neighbors, and when they’re silent, you know you’re not safe anymore.
We should not become bystanders on issues of discrimination and inequality because it affects us all. We should learn the lessons from history and should not be silent about the things that matter.
I stand in absolute solidarity with the Jewish Australian community, other ethnic groups, and all those affected by these remarks. I can only imagine the hurt and fear that so many people from the Jewish and Muslim community are feeling today, however I know this will only make us stronger as a community as we support each other and come closer together.
Our political leaders and media have an important role in setting the tone of the conversation in our nation. Views do not reflect our community and should not be given the platform to spread their dangerous and extreme ideologies.
Today we have seen Muslim and Jewish communities targeted, yesterday it was Asian Australians, and who knows whom it will be tomorrow.
Australia is unique, with a rich and diverse culture. We have proved that you can build a successful multicultural nation and should be proud of that and continue to build on that success.
As a Muslim Australian, it is exhausting to have to respond to hate and negativity every day. I hope that one day we do not need to defend ourselves as Muslim or Jewish Australians, but see our community defend us as Australians.