“Lebanese Muslims contributions to multicultural Australia are not less than the other Australians”

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney Australia

When a politician speaks, his speech is measured, prepared.  When a minister speaks in a parliament session, his speech is thoroughly reviewed by his staff, thereby negating any excuse for a “slip of the tongue” or a “sudden reaction” to someone’s question. And from an Australian immigration minister who represents all Australians – a nation composed of over 150 unique ethnic backgrounds – people don’t expect inflammatory or discriminatory remarks against a sector of society who are at the core of a multicultural nation such as Australia. People should not be asking Mr. Dutton for an apology regarding his outrageous remarks against the Australian-Lebanese community, but should demand and explanation as to why he focused such racist comments towards a community which is such an integral part of our multicultural Australia.  Mr. Dutton must have his own justification for delivering such incendiary remarks, as such comments do not provide any benefit to anyone in Australia except certain political elements whose agendas might benefit from creating divisions and promoting hatred among Australians.

Mr. Dutton spoke about the Lebanese who came to Australia in 1970s, then he linked them to some trouble makers who were allegedly tied to terrorist activities currently in Syria or Iraq – which means after forty years, suddenly the same people, or their children who migrated forty years ago, are the same people involved in terrorist activity – this is total nonsense. He made this leap of logic solely based on race, nothing else.  And if he is against refugees as a whole, then as minister he should be against all refugees – not just Muslims from the Middle East. Why only the Lebanese who came in 1970s?  Long before Lebanese refugees came to our country – in 1930 – more than 7,000 refugees fled Nazi Germany, to make Australia their new home, their new refuge.  Then in 1938, 200,000 European refugees settled in Australia from war-torn Europe. Between 1974 and 1982, thousands of Vietnamese refugees-of-war were welcomed to Australia.  According to 1991’s national census there were over 120,000 Vietnamese-born residents in Australia.

My background doesn’t belong to the Lebanese community, but for the last twenty-seven years – since I came to Australia as a professional, as an immigrant in 1989 – I have spent most of my life living in the Lebanese-populated suburbs of Sydney. I have seen firsthand how committed the elders, fathers and mothers are to raising their children and strengthening their families.  I have seen how hard they have worked – day and night – to build up their family businesses.  I have seen how much parents have sacrificed to ensure that their children are highly educated and that they grow up to become professionals – contributing members of our Australia. I have seen the teamwork they have demonstrated in building their community needs like Islamic schools, community centres and mosques. If we peer into the vibrant business markets and CBDs of major towns and the suburbs of metropolitan cities like Sydney and Melbourne, we see major contributions from the Lebanese-Muslim community. Perhaps Mr. Dutton has never been to Brunswick, Coburg, Fawkner, Broadmeadows in Melbourne, and in Bankstown, Punchbowl, Lakemba, Parramatta, Fairfield, Liverpool in Sydney or to any of the suburbs of the major cities of Australia – otherwise he would have thought twice before he disgraced the parents and grandparents of Lebanese Australians who, through deep hardship and great adversity, were compelled to leave their native land – a land that their families had lived in for thousands of years I might add – and decided to make Australia their home once and forever. These people –  these Australians – are some of the most vibrant, visionary, hardworking, cultured and family-oriented proud Australians. They are just one of the many bright colours of our multicultural Australia. Therefore, Lebanese Muslims’ contributions to multicultural Australia are not less than the other Australians.

Equally shocking is that our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull opted to remain silent on Mr. Dutton’s comments.  Such silence is tantamount to tacit approval of Mr. Dutton’s inflammatory remarks in the parliament.

Our history shows that Muslims in Australia, especially those who came from South Asia and the Middle East, have been among the greatest contributors to Australian society. Australian Muslims have been constructive, proactive and affirmative in building a unified and harmonious Australia. Muslim professionals, both male and female, are found in every walk of life. They are successful doctors, lawyers, technologists, journalists, educators and so much more.

Australian Muslims – especially the Lebanese Muslims who have been targeted by Mr. Dutton – have always demonstrated their full commitment to maintaining harmony and unity with other Australians. Even when our Indonesian neighbours were in the streets waving portraits of Osama Bin Laden and lighting American flags – demonstrating against the US-led attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq – Australian Muslims showed their full solidarity with, and loyalty to, Australia. From the 9/11 attacks in the US to the Bali and London bomb blasts, Australian Muslims loudly condemned all acts of terrorism.

It is sad that time and again we see someone from among our political elite conveniently soft-target the immigrant community for the sake of their own vested interests.  And yet every time it is the immigrants themselves who have to again demonstrate their patience and maturity for the sake of maintaining a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. Now is the time for our anti-discriminatory and anti-racist laws to be applied to those who, utilising their power and platform, are trying to create disharmony in our Australia.

It wasn’t too long ago that our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in his speech at the UNO, was trying to secure an Australian seat on the UN’s security council, yet today we find his immigration minister abusing our immigrants, those who came to this country over four decades ago as well as their third and fourth generations – now complete Australians.

(The writer a multicultural campaigner and winner of NSW multicultural harmony award 2014. He is Sydney-based journalist, editor-in-chief Tribune International (Australia), an international speaker, and an organiser of large multicultural award winning Islamic multicultural events).