The great environmentalist David Suzuki has spoken of the shame he experienced when as a Canadian of Japanese descent, he and his family were incarcerated in their homeland during WWII. Being of Japanese heritage they were viewed with suspicion, so untrustworthy they had to be locked up. This experience was so damaging that Suzuki spent his teenage years saving for a plastic surgery operation to have his facial features made more Caucasian.
Seven decades on fear is once more driving hurtful and damaging responses to our fellow citizens. Three men of Middle eastern appearance were attending a football semifinal last week when they were removed from the crowd and questioned for forty minutes after someone reported they were suspicious of the men because they were talking on their mobile phones.
Then we have senator Jacqui Lambi doing her best to reincarnate Pauline Hanson in declaring anyone adhering to sharia law has no place in Australia. Given sharia refers to the teachings of Islam, asking a Muslim to abandon sharia law would be like asking me to abandon the teaching of Jesus. Lambi’s assumption seems to be that a person cannot be a good Muslim and a good Australian.
We need to resist fear driven responses to the current round of terror threats. The essence of political fundamentalism is to demand that individual freedoms be surrendered to ideology. We see this in extreme form in IS, but must make sure our response isn’t a milder form of the same. Our response to terror must not be the limitation of genuine freedoms but to celebrate them more than ever.
So at the same time our authorities must exercise vigilance in fighting crime, we must not allow the “terror” mantle to justify denial of human rights and freedoms. Yes, let’s investigate those who plan to commit horrific crimes, whether these be participation in murder at the behest of IS, men who commit violence and even murderous violence against their spouses, and those who wield violence in any other illegitimate form. Yet let us also insist we will do so in ways that uphold the very freedoms we seek to defend.
And at a time when our Muslim citizens are feeling marginalised may we declare loudly and proudly that we welcome their presence in our communities; value the faith, love and wisdom they have to share; and that we will not allow our commitment to each other and to freedom of religion to be degraded by fear.