Joseph Wakim is a friend and an inspiration. He’s a sincere Christian man who has been in the forefront of upholding the rights of the Muslim community for as many years as I can remember. His depiction of the current plight of Australian Muslims is spot on! Whether or not public condemnations are made in response to every terrorist act, they are damned if they do and dammed if they don’t!
Mind you, the problem Wakim highlights not only affects Muslims in Australia but Arabic Australians of all religions and none! After the recent ‘Sydney Siege’ I received a press release from the “Arab Council of Australia” (nb. not Wakim’s “Australian Arabic Council”) condemning the actions of the gunman. Why a secular Arab organisation should feel the need to distance itself from a self-appointed Sheikh who was not an Arab illustrates the degree to which this country has come to accept the equation ‘Arab = Muslim = Terrorist’.
There are deep currents of prejudice and fear running across Australian society. Thank God for men like Joseph Wakim who confront these diseases of the public mind with clarity and wisdom.
Condemnation by Muslim leaders of atrocities is now expected to be said even louder, without delay
by Joseph Wakim
If they are silent in the face of atrocities that incriminate their faith, they are seen as complicit. Their silence is construed as consent and they are treated as collectively guilty by association until proven innocent.
If they condemn the atrocity, they feed into an unquenchable hunger for submission, as if their condemnation does not go without saying.
Does the condemnation guarantee that their equal citizenship status is restored? On the contrary: it guarantees they will be condemning forever.
It guarantees that their loyalty remains in question because they continue to answer that question.
This is exactly how the bullying cycle is perpetuated. The bullied know their place and recite the mantra on cue, every time, as soon as the bullies flex their muscles.
The cycle runs along these lines. A crime is committed by misguided ‘‘Muslims’’, in Australia or abroad. Their brethren are asked: are you part of ‘‘them’’ or part of us – Team Australia? The brethren plead: we hate them! We love you! Please believe us! Thus, they perpetuate the perception of the powerful bringing the powerless to their knees.
How do I know this?
Because I have been involved in public advocacy for Middle Eastern people for nearly 30 years. I have written and received hundreds of press releases, condemning the other, denouncing the other, distancing ourselves from the other. It has been a struggle to have these condemnations published, only to find letters columns accusing Muslim leaders of ‘‘silence’’.
Has the hunger for these public condemnations diminished because it finally goes without saying?
No. The stock standard condemnation is now expected to be issued even louder, without delay, without reservation.
So I stopped writing them and stopped encouraging them.
When asked about the atrocities, the answer should be, ‘’Please Google all previous condemnations on the public record. Why would our position be any different today? What part of the word condemn don’t you understand?’’
To those addicted to condemnations, and those hoisting the pen as a flag of free speech, it is time for new questions and new condemnations.
Yes, we should link arms in silent solidarity after the 17 cold-blooded murders in Paris.
But if we are serious about free speech, where were the Je Suis Gaza banners last July when Operation Protective Edge claimed more than 2100 Palestinian lives, mostly civilians and children?
Where was the arm-in-arm international condemnation by world leaders?
Is death less painful or less cruel if bombed from above?
Is it less of an atrocity if sanctioned by the state?
Is human life not precious if the victim is not Western?
During this war in Gaza, the Sydney Morning Herald published a cartoon on 26 July that caused profound offence to readers. The elderly Jewish man in the cartoon was sitting in an armchair ‘emblazened with the Star of David …[which] closely resembled illustrations that had circulated in Nazi Germany.’
The Herald decided to ‘apologise unreservedly for this lapse, and the anguish and distress that has been caused.’
Hence, the pen of cartoonist Glen Le Lievre was trumped by this ‘serious error of judgement.
This was not the first time that freedom of expression was sacrificed at the altar of ethnic or religious sensibilities.
In April 1996, actor Marlon Brando claimed that ‘Hollywood is run by Jews. It is owned by Jews and they should have a greater sensitivity about the issue of people who are suffering.’
After a swastika was pasted across his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he was threatened that the rest of his life would be a ‘living hell’, Brando apologised for his ‘anti-Semitic vulgarities.’
Unlike Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, it was the artists, not the critics, who were condemned. It was freedom from offensive expressions rather than freedom of expressions that prevailed.
While those offended resorted to ink rather than blood to voice their outrage, the examples highlight the hypocrisy of those who defend some offensive cartoons but condemn others.
If Muslim leaders are expected to stand in solidarity and continuously condemn crimes, could they expect some reciprocation? Where was the condemnation when Australia voted against a UNSC motion to end Israeli occupation within 3 years and to recognise a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders? On 30 December, the USA was the only other country to vote against the motion in the 15 member Council. By voting against a ‘just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution’, Australia voted to perpetuate the misery of the Palestinian people.
To condemn or not to condemn, that is the question.
Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of continuous condemnation, or to stop the cycle and invite condemnation of all inhuman atrocities, equally.
Joseph Wakim, Founder of Australian Arabic Council, Former Multicultural Affairs Commissioner, Author ‘Sorry we have no space’, www.josephwakim.com.au
An edited version of this article was published in Adelaide Advertiser on 16 January, 2015