Eritrean youth perspective on Australia’s multiculturalism


 Mr. Saeed A. Saeed

The Australian way of life is meant to be, in fact, a celebration of life. It should allow us to celebrate our identity and lift our sense of self worth. It is supposed to enable people of different backgrounds to go to any society as themselves and enjoy the diversity of this great nation with out being frightened or wary of it. All of this is anchored off course within that legendary Australian notion of ‘fair dinkum’ and ‘fair go’ which most people take as simply as a figure of speech. But to the refugees, especially us young Eritrean Muslim refugees, it is more than a simple statement. It is a creed that encourages us to be the best that we can be.

It is this belief that forms the cornerstone of Australia’s vibrant multicultural society. However, events such as the atrocities of September 11, the Bali Bombings and most recently the riots in Cronulla are threatening to destroy the ‘fair go’ attitude that is the very fabric of Australia’s colourful multicultural society. Young Eritrean Muslims feel that if urgent dialogue and proactive initiatives are not conducted in the near future then we as a society are hurling ourselves into an abyss of intolerance, racism and fear. Labels which years ago Australians would deem unthinkable if labelled to our own country.

The riots in Cronulla were a devastating blow not only to our multicultural society but to Australia’s national prestige. Australia has always been held in the highest regard by the international community because of our ability to embrace people from different nations and integrating them into our society. Cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have appeared regularly in the lists of most liveable cities in the world. But that image has been tarnished when the images of angry Arabic Australians and Anglo Australians clashing with each other beamed all across the world and featured on the headlines of many news broadcasts

The Eritrean Youth Group is very concerned about what is happing in, and to our religion: Islam. The recent rise of anti Islamic rhetoric and intolerance towards our religion has been unprecedented and we as a community are still reeling from the after shocks. Muslim females have been verbally assaulted in city streets, train stations and schools. All on the account of wearing the recognizable head garment, the hijab. This shameful situation has reached to such a desperate state that during the height of this turbulent period the government was stunned into action and intervened by creating special police task forces to defend Australian Muslims and financing a toll-free help line where they can call and lodge their complaints of systematic harassment.

Anti Islamic rhetoric has also not been limited to lawless groups and individuals. The Australian media has been having a field day with Australian Muslims and instead of presenting unbiased reports based on facts it spared no opportunity in criticizing Australian Muslims. Thus increasing the level of animosity between Australian Muslims and non Muslims and further destabilizing our society. The most shocking aspect of this appalling situation is that some of this insensitive and potentially dangerous reportage comes from a number of our most respected and highest selling newspapers. The Melbourne Herald Sun senior columnist Andrew Bolt wrote a defamatory piece on the 3rd June 2002 where he criticized Islam’s most significant prophet, Mohammed, and declared him a murderer, an anti-Semite and not to mention a child molester. It does not need too much knowledge to understand that an article that is as defamatory as this, being published by one of Australia’s largest newspapers, will not help in uniting our society. Instead, it further fans the flames of hatred and potentially destroy our multicultural society.

We believe that if this situation escalates it will eventually lead to young Muslims feeling permanently victimized and thus increase the likelihood of negative forces within these communities exploiting young Muslims weaknesses and lead them astray from the basic teachings of Islam and eventually the Australian legal system.

The Eritrean Youth Group believes that there is a way to create a better environment for young Muslims and all Australians. But the only way this can be achieved is through open and honest dialogue and a more clear representation of our multiculturalism in the media and everywhere.  To achieve this Herculean yet very achievable task we as young Muslims of African descendents have to educate non Muslims about the true meaning of Islam which revolves around the supreme realization that it is our duty as Muslims to love, tolerate and offer compassion towards all human beings regardless of race, color or creed. We also have to take a good hard look at ourselves as young Muslims in Australia and ask the disturbing yet necessary questions: Are we fulfilling our duty as Muslims? If not, what are the reasons and what actions can be immediately taken to rectify this imperative situation?

The Eritrean Youth Group believes that young Muslims need to be more open and more active in our local communities. At the same time we have to also involve ourselves whole heartedly and proactively in mainstream society. Unlike the Vietnamese and Chinese communities, Muslims are not effectively involved in the political and community life of mainstream Australia. This has to change. In order to achieve this Australian Muslims must convey to the government the many advantages that come with a more robust and active Muslim community. We believe that Australia can benefit greatly from Muslim participation in mainstream society. Muslim political participation will strengthen Australia’s democracy, economy, environment and more importantly help preserve Australian multiculturalism.

Muslim participation also provides Australia with a wide array of talents, skills, and expertise in dealing with international trade, diplomacy and the war on terror. With such a great degree of benefits right under our own fingertips it seems absolutely senseless to destroy this vast pool of talent by alienating communities. Instead we should be uniting and strengthening these desperate communities through honest communications, planning initiatives and taking action.

The key word here is ACTION and we have a number of initiatives in the planning. One major initiative that we as the Eritrean Youth Group fully support is the creation of a mentorship program where we use existing role models from our communities and assist our youth in taking advantage of the opportunities offered by mainstream programs and services. We believe that this is a vital step in rebuilding these shattered communities and more importantly hope with in those communities. We believe that a synergistic approach and constant dialogue between the Muslim communities and the government is the best and only way to over come this situation. Also, this vast talents and skills have to find access in Australian media to contribute to the robust Australian democracy in social, economical, environmental and political debates.

If we fail to do this, Australia’s many Muslim communities will instead become failed communities, a result that is guaranteed to be nothing short of calamitous for every one involved. The current situation and the negative ramifications that have just been outlined in this report does seem grim but we as young Muslims still harbor a great deal of hope and faith in achieving an even better and more understanding Australia. We understand that we have a great responsibility on our shoulders to actively maintain the spirit of ‘fair dinkum’ that has been established through the generations before us.

Multiculturalism in Australia is not dead, nor is it a failed experiment. It has in fact reached a crossroads. We could choose a path of intolerance, ignorance, fear and hatred and destroy the main quality that makes our country so unique and enviable by so many. Or we could take this golden opportunity to cooperatively review the situation and help fashion a path that will preserve multiculturalism and help it evolve to the great benefit for Australia’s current future generations.

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Posted by on Mar 3 2006 Filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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