Stepping Over the Fence

Over the weekend there was a huge Muslim riot in Sydney.  Bottles were thrown and tear gas was used. In this matter, I am torn.  I am a Muslim, a practicing, but liberal one and living in Sydney. Hearing people say that “Islam is a violent religion,” followed by a rhetoric on what these people have done here and there has become very normal. To me, it makes them no different from the people who are protesting without really knowing what they are protesting about, and people who say things like, “it is stated in the Quran…., “without ever having actually read the Quran.  When you get down to it, what’s written in the Quran, Bible and Torah do not differ by much in principle.

Personally, I agree that it seems like religion can be the catalyst for violence, but to be completely honest, I think Australians are generally rather ignorant about different cultures and religions, especially “non-Western” ones.  From the outside, it looks like Australia is a multi-racial and established country, but when you look closer it is in fact culturally, a very young country. Unlike the UK where almost everyone would know someone from a different culture or background, or even Malaysia where having a neighbour of a different race and visiting them during festivities is a common thing, different races are still very segregated over here.  There seems to be a barrier between the cultures that has yet to be broken.  And to be honest, protests to me denote a problem that is bigger than just what the protest is about.

Go back to the Occupy moment and their series of protests. They were not doing it for fun or to create a stir for no reason. There was some form of injustice being done and a protest was how they felt they would be heard.  They were protesting oppression, unfairness, unjust treatment of a group, and discrimination.  Unfortunately, it is very easy for a protest to become a riot. It is like a forest where all the trees are dried up and a small flicker could easily ignite the entire forest.  People don’t protest if everything is all good.  They protest to be heard.

The question is what is not being heard?

I know for a fact that for a few white Australians, I am the only Muslim person that they personally know, and it’s more than likely that the same people would not know any Hindus or Chinese Buddhists personally either.  Or if they do know some, they have not had the privilege of being part of some of the amazingly beautiful practices like a Pooja or a Chinese Tea Ceremony.  It is only a very small minority that has mingled to that extent.  I’ve been questioned about my beliefs, and to be honest, a lot of the time, the questions are posed as a challenge instead of an enquiry, there is a tone of “how could you believe….?” People (religious protesters, Occupiers, your friend who lives next door) have reasons to believe what they believe in, and just because they do not subscribe to your logic doesn’t make them stupid or any less than you.

One of the things I am thankful for is that I have friends from all walks of life, and friends who make me question things. Had I not had this, I would be one of the many believing everything that is said in the newspapers.  We forget that newspapers have a business agenda.  They are “selling” news, and with that in mind, although they are a good source of information for things that are going on in the world, they will tell a story from an angle that is most “saleable.”  If I believed the newspaper, I would think that the Occupy movement was made up of lazy jobless, homeless people with a grudge against the rich, but having friends who were part of it gave me an “inside story” so to speak. I was able to understand the motivations for their actions if not completely agree. If I didn’t know any firemen, I would believe that they were heartless for going on strike when they should be saving lives.

The thing about people is that they sympathise with things that affect them.  If you work in a bank, you’d think that the Occupy movement was made of a bunch of idiots, but should the bank make you redundant, you might end up right there in Martin place with them.  As a parent you might think that teachers have it easy, but if your sister was a teacher and she came home telling you stories of ill brought up children, you might have a different view altogether.

It is the same with religious/cultural protesters.  As part of the majority you might not understand the anger of the Aboriginal community or the Islamic community, but what happens if one day, you end up in a place where you are a minority and people discriminate against you everyday? We think that tear gassing, arresting and scaring people is a good idea, but we forget that the protest could have been many things. It could have been an act of fear, or an act of saying, “I’ve had enough!” or a few people deciding to take a stand. Either way, there is a lot of passion involved for someone to put their lives in a situation where they could be in danger.  And the thing is, passion, deep seated and fiery passion, could be silenced for a while, but until someone is listening, until there is fairness, it will keep burning.  If any of you know my friend Vicki, you would know the kind of fire and passion that exists here. It’s not one to die down easily. It’s all well and good to call people “un-Australian,” losers, social outcasts and trouble-makers. It’s not as simple as saying that these things have to stop. There is something deeper here. Bigger.  But it takes two sides, and the thing is, nothing will be solved unless both sides decide to step over the fence and listen.

Note: this is a gross simplification of what’s going on as the problems are definitely bigger and rooted deeper in society.

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