Image for Bitter Harvest ... ignorance in Tasmania

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Leunig, with permission http://www.leunig.com.au/

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Niqab, top, Brett Whiteley, above, and Jacqui Lambie, below

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Burqa

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Hijab

Something ugly is happening in Australia.

I was too young to give a damn when this last happened, when thugs of all creeds attacked each other in Cronulla.

Watching the footage now, I can hardly believe that it was filmed here: a group of inebriated Australians storming onto a train and beating and kicking innocent people until the attackers are beaten back by police

Ugly, ugly stuff. And I am scared it is staging a comeback.

Over the last week, The Examiner has opened a number of their stories regarding the banning of the burqa and niqab for comment.

As Tom Ellison put it recently on Twitter; “scratch the underbelly of our society and prepare to reap a bitter a harvest”. Bitter it was indeed.

The stories and the comments that followed highlight for me that in our community, our otherwise wonderful community, hide individuals with views so outdated that you wonder how they have been remained hidden for so long.

That there are people in our community that do not agree with the literal word of the Koran does not surprise; there are people who disagree with the Bible too.

What saddens me is that there are people in our community who cannot see that the person behind the veil, so to speak.

In response to Jacqui Lambie’s, supported by Brett Whiteley, call to ban the burqa Launceston’s Muslims Student Association Spokesman, Abdul Majeed, came out with a calm and considered statement. Very few people wear any full-face Islamic garment, and that existing laws already navigate the issue of identification while still allowing for the religion freedom Australia, as a modern democratic country, affords our citizens. There is no need for a ban.

This is in addition to statements made the week before by the Imam of the Hobart Mosque, Sabri Samson, to the broader issue of anti-Muslim sentiment. The Tasmanian Muslim community have ‘no interest in imposing religious guidance on anybody else’. On ISIS? ‘Ignorant crooks and extremists who use our religion’s name in vain to push their political agenda.’

It seems such statements have fallen on the dear ears of those who have already made up their mind.

The comments they left behind should be a wake up call to us all. There is an urgent need for increased cultural awareness and global literacy, and for some Tasmanians to spend time outside of their bubble before they take to the internet to spread their own version of ignorance.

Writing this from Java, Indonesia, I am literally surrounded by Muslims. There are more Muslims living here in Indonesia than there are in any other country. And they share much in common with Australians; family, friends, work and leisure are the centre of their lives.

None of that should surprise you. Muslims are people too.

The diversity of the Islamic faith is not unlike any other religion. Since arriving here less than a week ago I have experienced but a small taste. I’ve drunk tea in mosques with with Imams. I have been propositioned by hijab clad young professionals on the bus. I was bought a beer by a young Muslim couple in a bar, and I bought them both one in return. An Islamic Defender’s Front protester asked to take a picture with me, before telling me to be careful of pickpockets on the train.

I am sure a handful did not take kindly to the sight of me, a foreigner in their land, because just like in Australia there is a minority here too that would rather be bigotted and aggressive than be accepting of others.

My anecdotes serve as nothing more than that, and they do little to counter the anecdotes (true or otherwise) of those who believe Muslims to be evil and ‘un-Australian’.

This is why we need the leaders of our community to speak up in defense of our cherished multiculturalism. Our leaders, be they politicians, business leaders, academics or community representatives, should take a united front to dissolve unfounded and divisive community tensions. To let hatreds simmer, or indeed fan the flames as some of our leaders are doing, is folly.

We as a nation should be better than that.

Tasmania should be better than that.

Danny Carney is an anthropologist whose research focuses on power and decision-making in multicultural settings. He has degrees in Indonesian and Cultural Studies and is currently doing fieldwork in Java, Indonesia on a Prime Minister’s Asia Award. Having seen the ugly side of humanity, he seeks to contribute to the lofty ideal of making the world a better place. He suggests you do too.

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