Dealing with difference in a divided world

JULY 28, 2016


By Andrew Hamilton SJ and Samuel Dariol


When the bullying of one unpopular group in a school is tolerated it quickly spreads to targeting other disfavoured groups.  It is true also of societies. That is why Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum is of concern, not just for the persons affected, but for the humane character of Australian society as a whole.

For that reason those of us who are concerned at the treatment of people who seek protection in Australia should also be perturbed when hostility to minority groups grows in Australia. Such brutality will inevitably make people less sensitive to the plight of people seeking protection, with the result that there will be little interest in the plight of those held on Manus Island and on Nauru.  The indignity and diminishment they suffer as human beings will seem to be of no account because humanity itself has been discounted. So if we support people who seek protection we must also defend the humanity of people who suffer in other ways.

After the Federal Election attitudes towards those of Muslim faith, often conflated to all those of Arab appearance, seem to have hardened. This reflects in part the almost daily highly publicised killings in Europe and the Middle East, most recently of Fr Jacques Hamel In Rouen. Many of the perpetrators showed evidence of mental illness, and sometimes, as the media so fervently enjoys splashing across front pages, of ideological attachment to extremist groups. They are then easily portrayed as the face of Islam.

In fact, much of the mainstream media of late, have so enthusiastically reported on attacks of so-called terror, that they mistakenly cried wolf on a car bomb driven into Merrylands police station. Disappointingly for them, and many conservative politicians such as George Christensen, this attack was perpetrated by a white male who had no connection to terrorist organisations. This clearly raises the question – if the perpetrator had have been brown or Muslim, would this have been considered ‘terrorism’?

The recent Election, too, has introduced a number of Parliamentarians who are opposed to immigration generally, and in particular from Muslim nations. As a result, people opposed to Muslim immigration and express prejudice against Muslims, have a public voice. The publicity given to their views can harden the bigotry against people who seek protection from persecution, many of whom have fled from Muslim nations.

It is particularly concerning, that a few political leaders have fudged their support for Muslim immigrants, articulating an equality with other Australians.  Many have tacitly licensed discriminatory views, by saying that they understand why people hold them.  Although such smarminess may be politically advantageous, it makes vulnerable the minorities who are attacked. It is an abrogation of the responsibility of political representatives for fostering the unity of the nation. For Catholics of Irish descent, whose forefathers were similarly targeted in the early days of the European occupation, it is particularly galling to see others treated in the same way.

The connection between prejudice against Muslims and against people seeking asylum can be seen in the instinctive conclusions so many people draw about people who seek protection.  They instinctively connect the dots: Asylum Seeker…Muslim…terrorist, as a recent University of Melbourne report shows. Those of us who defend the human dignity of people seeking asylum, Catholic, Muslim or otherwise, must stand together and work hard to disconnect these words.

People who seek protection are first and foremost people who have been persecuted. Our humanity calls us to show compassion to people in dire conditions. This should be the case regardless of gender, skin colour, nationality and of course, religion. Ultimately we are all human beings and must treat one another so.

In a world of increasing fear and uncertainty, solidarity and unity, are what will spread hope in people’s hearts. This starts by putting down our newspapers, turning off our TVs and listening to those, who are all too often, ignored.