By GEORGIA LYSAGHT
Dear Mr Abbott,
My brother, Scott Lysaght, was killed in the 2002 Bali Bombing at the Sari Club. As you can imagine, our family – his wife, my mother and father, my sister, and I were all devastated.
You too have experienced first hand the impact of a terror attack when you assisted Australians affected by the 2005 Bali bombing. I understand that you stayed there all day, helping not only those who had been injured but supporting and comforting their families.
In the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings I was overwhelmed by the support and kindness that my family and I received from everyday Australians – family, friends, co-workers, and even perfect strangers. For me, this kind of humanity represents a key element of what it is to be Australian. Yet, I remember also being extremely distressed as I heard violent sentiments on talk back radio – one that stuck with me was a caller who wanted to put all of “them” in the Melbourne Cricket Ground and let the victims of the Bali bombings and their families beat them up. I did not want any act of violence, racism, or bigotry to be justified in my brother’s name, my family’s name, or my name.
After Scott died, I made the deliberate decision to act as a proponent of peace in my own small way, by actively engaging with people from cross-cultural backgrounds, exercising respect and tolerance, standing up to racism, and expanding my knowledge about the world around me.
For example, my honours and PhD theses both focused upon the case study of Indonesia. This provided me with the opportunity to learn as much as I could about Indonesia, make a lot of Indonesian friends, and to see the individuals who were responsible for the Bali bombings as un-representative of the broader Indonesian population.
My sister-in-law, Scott’s wife, does not want their daughter to be afraid of the world or of people who are different. She has taken my niece to many countries so that she may engage with a multitude of cultures, social systems, and people. My niece has a keen appreciation for multi-culturalism and a profound sense of humanity.
But sometimes I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle.
I felt sick when Australia’s terror alert was raised, and media coverage increased on the possibility of a terror attack in Australia. I felt sick not because of the steps the government had undertaken, but because once again I witnessed a surge of racism and bigotry across social media and on the comments section of news sites. I have also seen reports about the rise in attacks against Australian Muslims and Muslims in Australia – including the vandalism of mosques, a baby’s pram being kicked, a mother being spat on, and a pig’s head being impaled on a cross.
While the police have largely responded swiftly and decisively against this kind of violence, a hard power response is not enough and I’m worried that we will see another Cronulla.
I understand the importance of the government’s responsibility to protect Australia and its citizens. Yet surely this extends to ensuring that citizens are protected not only from external threats but from discrimination, violence, and hate directed at them by other Australians? This is not only a moral argument, but also one critical to the security of Australia and its citizens.
The causes of radicalisation have been long-debated, yet most of the research agrees that there is no single underlying cause. We also know that disenfranchised or alienated populations can be vulnerable to predatory interests who provide a perceived sense of belonging and purpose. While there is no silver bullet, it is crucial that the government actively pursue initiatives that unite not divide Australians in a manner that promotes collaboration, tolerance, and respect. From my own experience, this serves to lessen fear and anxiety, and erodes notions that the actions of radicals are representative of entire religions or ethnic identities.
Mr Abbott, during this time of international uncertainty and Australian involvement in what is a terribly violent conflict, I am appealing to you not to run a campaign of fear.
The government’s efforts to prevent a terror attack in Australia must include strategies that promote cross-cultural knowledge, respect, and tolerance. For every racist comment, for every attack on a woman wearing a niqab, for every Facebook group calling to ‘deport the Muslims’, the flames of radicalism are fanned. But for every cross-cultural friendship, for every conversation started rather than an accusation launched, for every social media site promoting unity against violence, we can hope to dampen radicalism in our own way. This is the ultimate non-violent protest.
Mr Abbott, please don’t divide us through fear. Please help the voices of moderate, tolerant Australians be heard so that we may be unflinching in our support of one another to strengthen our resolve and resilience against the darker forces in this world.
Georgia Lysaght has a PhD in International Relations, and works as a research and analysis consultant on security and international development projects. She contributed to projects across Australia, Southeast and South Asia, the Pacific, and Africa.