Since publishing my article “He’s my brother’, I’ve been inundated with responses. Many, especially from the Muslim youth, have been incredibly supportive. Many others have also expressed gratitude at the attempt to open up a space for meaningful dialogue, rather than more empty rhetoric, while of course there were plenty who disagreed as well; some very strongly.
This is good. For the one thing the ensuing debate has exposed is the fact that so many people – on all sides – have unanswered questions and are experiencing feelings of anger, confusion, anxiety and frustration. There is an opportunity here which many seem to be missing; some wilfully. Rather than seeing the events of the past week as having created these feelings and hostilities, instead we should see them as simply having exposed feelings that have been simmering for so long.
There is an opportunity here for discussion. Not the superficial type where everybody comes to the table in the full knowledge that they are absolutely correct and that everybody else must therefore be wrong; not the type where we fill our minds with hysteria about the other side prior to attending the meeting. No. What’s required here is precisely what has been missing for so long in these discussions: honesty.
Honest, sincere, and genuine discussion is required in times of crises; not more propaganda and incitement which serves only to inflame the situation rather than quell it. For too long our society has been in denial about some of the problems which face us. ‘Keeping the genie in the bottle’ is what has led to this problem, not what will fix it. We should be happy that the genie is finally out, that the denial has stopped, and that we now need to grapple with all that remains.
Leaders on all sides have been articulately playing down the genuine tensions and anxieties which exist between different communities in an attempt to maintain an image of social cohesion and harmony. This has not worked. For many years since September 11, Muslim leaders have been trying to convince an anxious public that ‘Islam is peace’ and that ‘Muslims are peaceful law-abiding citizens’. Many have thus lashed out at protesters for ruining their years of hard work and relationship-building. But we need to ask a question here: if ten years of hard work and relationship building can be undone in a single day, we need to seriously question the effectiveness of that work and the strength of that relationship.
When the public constantly hears that ‘Islam is peace’, only to switch on the news moments later and see violent protests, they not only become confused, but they rightly question the honesty of such statements. The public has seen through such empty rhetoric; it was never going to work in the long term. Rather, this denial and refusal to engage with the problems leads to greater anxiety on the part of the public, and greater anger on the part of an already-frustrated Muslim population. For example, many denounced the protesters as psychotic mindless radical ape-like thuggish criminals ready to kill in a heartbeat. It’s little surprise then that many in the community were petrified, and neither is it surprising that others called for a violent counter-protest. If, however, it had simply been explained to the public that here were a bunch of youth who are angry at certain governments – and not the public – for carrying out oppressive policies, the anxiety would have likely subsided. These facts illustrate that we need to change course. We need to engage with the problems rather than deny them. We need dialogue.
Leaders across the board have ignored the very real questions which are raised by events such as the Cronulla Riots or the Sydney Protests, and have instead chosen to condemn.
But once condemnation begins, the discussion ends.
When we choose to condemn, we are logically pushed towards particular questions, such as: “how heavily should we punish the protesters?”, or “do we need more police on the streets?” The problem with such questions is that they focus on the consequences of the problem, rather than the problem itself; they deflect attention away from the very real questions which need to be asked in such scenarios, and instead have us focusing on the by-products of the problem.
The questions which have emerged from recent events are serious and require genuine consideration. Rather than denying the obvious, we need to ask: what are Muslims so angry about?; why have Muslims chosen to express themselves in this manner?; and what exactly is making the public so anxious?
These questions will lead us towards a greater understanding of the confusing situation we find ourselves in. So rather than perpetuating the cycle of shallow knee-jerk reactions, we should step back, and take a fresh approach; one which is incredibly simple:
Stop condemning. Stop deploring. Stop apologising.
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