politics

"I'm Lebanese Australian, a mum, and personally offended by Peter Dutton."

Over the past few weeks we have watched, mouths agape, as the impossible happened.

One of the world’s greatest racists, Donald Trump, flounced headfirst into the terrifyingly powerful position of President of the United States. We pitied those poor bloody Americans, and felt grateful to live a world away from his xenophobic madness.

Not this week. This week, our very own Immigration Minister Peter Dutton gave us a sharp reminder than racist attitudes are very much alive and well on home turf.

In case you missed it, Peter Dutton appeared on Sky News last week to declare former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser had “made mistakes” by allowing some refugees into Australia, and the country is “paying for it now”. When asked to clarify this comment in parliament this week, Dutton said:

“The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second- and third-generation Lebanese-Muslim background.”

In one fell swoop, those fearful Australians who’ve been scrambling for a target were given one on a silver platter: Lebanese Australians.

Dutton the dunce.

Oh, how I would love to introduce the sodden-brained Dutton to my friend Sikni.

Sikni is a razor-sharp University of Sydney graduate, journalist, a wife, a mother to two, and a proud first-generation Lebanese Muslim. She's also very concerned by Dutton's comments.

Like many other members of the Australian-Lebanese community, Sikni is all too aware how Dutton's mindless comments have worked to condemn a whole faction of proud and wonderful Australian citizens to feelings of intense shame and fear.

This bizarre racial profiling has riled Aussies like Sikni, who doesn't have the desire (nor the need) to defend herself, her parents, her heritage, or her religion.

"What's the prerequisite of a terrorist? Do you just have to be Muslim?" asks Sikni.

"I'm not just fearful for myself. I have children now. When my kids are growing up, how do I explain to them that they're not wanted here?"

Trite to quote the bible, but there's a line I can't seem to shake.

"Our fathers sinned, and are no more; It is we who have borne their iniquities." (Lamentations, 5:7)

If you're white, no such issue. The violent colonialist history of our English forefathers - ahem, and current leaders - is fast forgotten by men like Dutton, whilst the actions of just 22 of the 476,290 Muslims in Australia are now the yardstick for the average Lebanese-Australian citizen.

The question was clear: Who, Mr Dutton, do you think were a 'mistake' to allow into the country? Who bought terrorism to Australia?

The answer was even clearer again: Easy, mate. Lebanese people.

It was an accusation that was as absurd as it was hateful.

"How is the world terror problem now being directed to my parent's immigration in the 1970s'?" asks Sikni, dumbfounded.

"How is that correlated with the multi-layered, extremely difficult situation that is occurring in the Middle East? How are MY parents, who came from a village in Lebanon in the early 70's, now being put in the same pot as people who want to incite terror from others?"

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Sikni's parent's did not 'flee' Lebanon. They left, willingly, in search for a better life here in Australia. And that they found. They love it here, love being Australians. How disappointed they must feel at Dutton's comments.

For Sikni and the other 2.2% of Australia's population who identify as Muslim, Dutton's comments only serve to strengthen the 'guilty until proven innocent' attitudes directed her way.

"This is a humiliation of the people," says Sikni.

"I feel like we're being absolutely humiliated. People are putting up You Tube videos of them with a sign saying, 'Hug Me, I'm Muslim'. Why on earth would you want to do that? Do you see a white person saying, do you trust to hug me? Hey, I caused colonialism, I invaded all these countries, would you still hug me?"

But with Dutton's jabbing finger being pointed in their direction, you can understand why more and more Australians are being cornered into declaring 'I'm not a terrorist'. The 'othering' has reached scary new heights.

It's a shameful, shameful situation.

For Sikni, its this celebration of 'free speech' that scares her the most.

"Free speech creates a dangerous environment of fear and loathing," she says.

"Historians have proven time and time again that persecution of ethnic/religious minorities begins with hate-filled speech such as this."

It seems remarkable that Peter Dutton was allowed to be quoted blaming the Lebanese community for the Australian terrorist situation. But hey, free speech, right?

"Have your free speech but know that it comes with consequences. It's gotten the point where people like Pauline Hanson and Peter Dutton are saying - hey! It's OK to do this! It's free speech! But free speech can create dangerous environments." says Sikni.

"Now you have people in power saying this behaviour is OK. It's OK not to like these people. These people shall not be trusted. These people are why we have terrorists. These people are to blame for 9/11, and Paris. Be scared of them."

Since when should we be scared of our neighbour?

That's the real terror.

Whether you came here in the 1970's from Lebanon or the 1870's from England, we are all visitors to this country.

Peter Dutton's recent comments deserve little more credit than a transparent attempt to scramble for the favour of the conservative Australian voter. But in the process, he has reminded a whole generation of Australians - Australians, his fellow Australians - that they are not welcome.

Moreover, that they are to blame for the sorry state of world terrorism.

So for now, the best we can do is call out men like Dutton for the words they say that legitimise racist remarks.

"How would you feel, knowing that just because you were born from a certain culture or heritage, that you now have to be blamed for world political problems?" asks Sikni.

"Why do our names and heritage associate us with politics? Maybe we just want to exist."

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