Malcolm Turnbull is breaking my heart. Why are all citizens equal, but some are more equal than others? It was only a few months ago that we broke bread together. He talked about how much he valued the Muslim community. I was so proud of what I hoped were changes in the attitude of the Australian government — it was the first ever Iftar (which is the ending of fast during Ramadan) held at Kirribilli House — that I wrote an article supporting the event, following criticism it received in the press. I had thought there was real potential Australia could be welcoming a prime minister that valued all Australians as equal citizens in Australia, despite all the global hatred and rhetoric. I looked forward to Australia being led by someone who cared.
Perhaps, I naively thought, we would see a changed approach to the threats of terrorism in the country, a change of approach to processing refugees and asylum-seekers and maybe (with my fingers really crossed), we Muslims might soon start to feel truly equal in Australia.
But it wasn’t to be, was it?
I have sought to have empathy for Turnbull’s position. The man, caught between numerous boulders and many a hard place, doesn’t seem like he has much room to turn. He seems stuck trying to please everyone, and in doing so pleasing none and allowing the marginalised in the country to bear the brunt of his dithering.
And for what? To allow the allies Australia so dearly dedicates itself to an opportunity to shut itself down and humiliate its people? It’s embarrassing. The Australian government seems to think the nation’s history and tacit support of the xenophobic policies of the United States is the best option for its national interests — but I beg to differ. These are policies and positions that have been proven time and time again to make countries less safe and to play right into the hands of those we are all trying to fight. What will it take for one of Australia’s leaders to show values-based leadership and to live the principles that Australians claim to build their country on?
“Our commitment to multiculturalism and a non-discriminatory immigration system is well known,” Turnbull said a few days ago. If multiculturalism means we can all get great Vietnamese, Turkish and Brazilian food all within a few blocks of each other, sure. If it means we will all know to say “Happy Lunar Year!” to a colleague, I’ll agree with the prime minister. If it means that someone like me, a Sudanese-born Muslim woman, can be sent to countries overseas as part of a public diplomacy programme to show people that “not all Australians are white” (or racist, as I am constantly asked) then I can see where that statement comes from. But that’s not really what being committed looks like. Being committed looks like not “supporting” a ban that discriminates based on birth country and faith, because we value inclusivity, and we want to heed the lessons of history.
For more than a decade, Muslims in Australia have been made to feel like our citizenship and Australian-ness are conditional. Being committed looks like not continuing to support terrorism laws that are not-so-subtly aimed at young Muslims, and are shown to further marginalise young people. Being committed looks, sounds and feels like not violating the refugee convention by indefinitely locking up those seeking asylum.
I thought we had boundless plains to share? (Boundless plains, mind you, that aren’t even ours.) The irony is that last year, the federal government of Australia funded me to travel to Sudan — one of the countries on Trump’s banned list — with the Australian Embassy in Cairo, which is also accredited to Sudan. We reached out to universities, not-for-profit organisations and entrepreneurs. I waxed lyrical about the benefits of Australia, the opportunities afforded and what we could all learn from the Australian example. I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to bring my countries of birth and breeding together. It was the first ever public diplomacy programme that the Australian government ran in Sudan. It was a huge achievement and one that has begun an ongoing relationship. But how much is that relationship valued?
Why should Australian-Sudanese dual citizens, or any Australians from marginalised cultural or racial backgrounds, continue to support this government’s federal policy when it is so clearly further marginalises us? An attitude that feeds into an us-and-them rhetoric, that dehumanises and ostracises us, that makes us feel like we’re not equal? The reality is that for more than a decade, Muslims in Australia — myself included — have been made to feel like our citizenship and “Australian-ness” is conditional. That we have to constantly prove how dedicated we are to this country that doesn’t value us. That we should be “so grateful” for all the opportunities, to the point of grovelling. Yet, no amount of apologising for the actions of others seems to make any difference. It’s time that the prime minister and his government put their money where their mouth is. Follow the examples of international counterparts who have actively condemned the policies of governments that are clearly discriminatory — America’s allies or otherwise (and perhaps, fix our discriminatory policies as well) — because Turnbull has done so before .
Respect Muslim communities enough to not treat us like an “other” and dehumanise us, day in, day out. Show us the commitment to multiculturalism so often talked about, a line used as a shield against any criticism or accusation of bias. Show me that all humans are equal, none more than others.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a mechanical engineer, social advocate, writer and is the 2015 Queensland Young Australian of the Year. She founded Youth Without Borders.