By JAMILA RIZVI
The Governor General Quentin Bryce said yesterday that “this is a wonderful day for multiculturalism and everything it stands for in our country.” If only that were true.
Yesterday, Ed Husic became Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband. He was also the first Australian to be sworn in as a member of the federal executive, by making their oath on Muslim holy book, the Qu’ran.
But what was a lovely ceremony, an important symbol of diversity, a great personal honour and a terribly exciting day for Husic and his family, was marred by the torrent of disgusting racist abuse on Husic’s Facebook page.
“You’re a disgrace to Australia,” said one. “No Muslims in Canberra! While Ed Husic is in Parliament I will never vote Labor ever again!” said another, keen to give their comment extra fire by coupling it with a ballot-box related threat.
“SO disappointing to read today you were proud to offend 98% of Australians” said a third, who is of the thoroughly misguided belief that the majority of Australians are ‘offended’ by the very presence of Muslims in our community.
“Our allegiance should have been to Queen and Country first Ed. That means saying the oath on the holy bible not the Koran…. Shame, Shame, Shame,” said one, who seems to think you can’t care about Australia unless you’re of the Christian faith. And finally “Australia is a christian nation READ THE AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTION YOU CLOWNS !!!!” said someone who has quite clearly NEVER read the Constitution.
So for the benefit of that person – and any others who are outraged that PM Kevin Rudd didn’t bound over to Husic, crash tackle him, and gaffer tape a Bible to his palms – let’s run through a little refresher course shall we?
Section 116 of the Australian Constitution stipulates that ‘the Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion” and here’s the kicker for this particular occasion “no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust”.
Which means, that Ed Husic and any other member of the federal executive is free to take their oath on any religious text they like, or as many have done before, make an affirmation using no text at all.
The very purpose of making an oath or affirmation is to make a solemn, informed and meaningful promise. A promise that in this case, reflects a parliamentarian’s commitment to executing their responsibilities to the Australian people, to the very best of their ability.
What is critical – is not what the the oath or affirmation means to us onlookers – but what it means to the person making it. And for Husic, the most meaningful commitment he could make was an oath taken while holding the Qu’ran.
Like so many Australians, Ed Husic’s parents were not born in this country. He is the son of Bosnian migrants and describes himself as a ‘non-practicing Muslim’. What does that mean? Husic was asked in ABC back in 2010 and he said said: “If someone asks me, ‘Are you Muslim?’ I say yes. And then if someone says, ‘Well do you pray and go to a mosque and do all the other things that are associated with the faith?’ I say no.”
Husic represents the western Sydney electorate of Chifley; an electorate where many Australian Muslims live and contribute quietly and positively to their community each and every day. Our nation is enhanced by their presence, not damaged. Their commitment and contribution to our shared country is something to be valued, not abused.
That so many people were outraged by the presence of Husic and his chosen religious text at a Government ceremony yesterday is a sad reflection on the state of racial harmony in our country. That so many people were willing to do so on Facebook – which means commenting without the veil of anonymity which is the chosen weapon of many an online asshole – is even sadder.
Husic is a hard working, intelligent and dynamic member of parliament. It is those qualities that have meant the people of Chifley have seen fit to send him to Canberra to represent them.
The fact that his personal faith may not be the same as yours or mine, is not relevant to the quality of the job he has done for the people he represents as a local member and it is not relevant to how he will execute his duties to the Australian people in his new portfolios.
When questioned further by media today, Husic explained his decision to be sworn into office on the Qu’ran, saying that: “I couldn’t obviously take my oath on a bible and I didn’t want to affirm. I am who I am.”
This is who Husic is. It is as simple as that.
And this is his role, his commitment, his responsibility, his promise. He should be able to make it in the way, which ensures it is meaningful to him. And I respect him all the more for doing so.