Our values define us not our race or religion
It is said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.
Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.
Today we have many reasons to be watchful. All of us are rightly
disturbed by the prospect of terrorist acts on Australian soil.
Counter-terror raids in Sydney and Brisbane, and the shooting of
teenager Numan Haider in Melbourne, have heightened community concern.
Yet we must also be vigilant on more than one front. We must
be united in countering terror. We must not allow fear and suspicion to
Unfortunately, there are elements that would like to see
nothing more than social division. Nothing would please ISIL extremists
more than to see Muslim Australians being alienated or ostracised. Were
this to happen, ISIL's job becomes easier – it would help them recruit
disaffected Muslims to their heinous cause.
Race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.
opportunity to spread their messages of hate. Muslim communities have
reported an increase in hate attacks. There has been abuse of Muslims on
streets and graffiti on mosques. There have been violent threats: last
week a man armed with a knife entered an Islamic college in south-west
AdvertisementAnti-Muslim bigotry is now contaminating community harmony at
large. For example, Sikh Australians say they are becoming targets of
racial abuse because people are linking turbans to terrorism.
Bigotry has no place in our society. There is no right to be a
bigot. Every person in Australia should be free to live without being
subjected to harassment or humiliation. As a liberal democracy we uphold
the freedom to practise your religion.
These tenets of our public life usually require no repeating.
They are simple expressions of fairness and decency. But at times of
community anxiety we should remind ourselves of our most basic values.
In the weeks and months to come, there will be further debate
about national security. Already we have seen some ill-judged
statements that have inflamed sentiments about Muslims and Islam.
There is a special responsibility for our elected
representatives to set an example. No one benefits from ignorant
rabble-rousing. Social cohesion mustn't be sacrificed for soundbites.
The tone of leadership matters. One message in particular
must get through: Let's not judge entire communities by the actions of
extremist minorities. ISIL and its supporters are not representative of
Indeed, while a small number subscribe to their abhorrent ideology, the overwhelming majority of Muslim Australians do not.
Why would they? Of those lives claimed by ISIL's cultish
aggression in Iraq and Syria, the majority have been Muslim. More to the
point, ISIL's aims are incompatible with Muslim Australians getting on
with their lives. Why would they support a group whose actions are
certain to make their life more difficult?
It makes little sense to define the many by the actions of a
fanatical few. It's not only misguided, it's also deeply unhelpful. It
does nothing to aid the efforts of moderate Muslim community leaders to
stamp out the embers of radicalism.
Muslim Australians are entitled to a fair go. The vast
majority are law-abiding citizens who are committed to this country.
Earlier this month in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba I attended a
community barbecue organised by Lebanese community leader Dr Jamal Rifi.
Thousands from the community attended under the banner of "Muslims Love
Australia". They are evidently patriotic.
The patriotism I saw in Lakemba was a particular kind. It's
the patriotism of migrants, a love of country that comes not from
ancestry but from citizenship. I know it well as a first-generation
Australian who arrived as a child of migrants. For those who seek to
make a new life here, there is no stronger aspiration than to become an
Australian – for their children to become Australian.
Such patriotism is typically a pride that lies within. But
it's the right kind of pride for a multicultural Australia – a modern
Australia that has been built on immigration. We are a country that is
today defined by our values, and not by race or religion.
Multicultural Australia involves a compact. Everyone should
feel relaxed and comfortable in their own skin. Everyone should enjoy
the right to express their heritage or practise their faith.
But multicultural Australia has its limits, too. Rights come
with responsibilities. Everyone should be committed to parliamentary
democracy, the rule of law and an Australian national identity. Where
religion or culture clashes with any of these things, the demands of
citizenship must prevail. Our civic identity is paramount.
This bargain is written in the oath that every migrant takes
when they become a citizen: "I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its
people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I
respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey."
These are terms all Australians can abide by. At a time when
our liberties and security are being rightly debated, it is only right
that we return to our social contract.
Most of all, we must remember that national security can
never be divorced from cultural harmony and social cohesion. And we are
always better placed to combat threats when we are united rather than
Tim Soutphommasane is Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner.