What followed was almost as distressing. On discovering that this attack was motivated by a radical Muslim determined to highlight England's role in wars in muslim countries, The English Defence League (EDL) staged protests and marches in the streets. I had always wondered what had happened to the soccer hooligans synonymous with violent clashes in years gone by. It seems they turned their tribal hatred for other teams into 'nationalistic pride'. Luckily this brought out people protesting at the fascist hatred they were witnessing. England's street seemed like a political and cultural powder keg.
Sitting here in Australia a number of things have sat uncomfortably with me. The murdered man, Lee Rigby, was wearing the tshirt of a charity 'Help for Heros' which aims to raise money for returned servicemen and women. This may be unpopular, but I have an issue with the word 'Hero'. It has never been my stance not to support the armed forces - but I'm much happier with them in peacekeeping missions or helping with disaster relief. I don't feel the word hero can be applied in blanket form to anyone who's job it is to kill people. Support the troops - yes, but war is awful and shouldn't be romanticised or put into simplistic terms like 'hero'.
The other uncomfortable thing was the person accused of this murder was born in England. There is increasing talk of the radicalization of people. What's been lost on groups like the EDL is that people who feel marginalised can find their path leading to violent extremism. Recently the ABC showed a very timely program by Stacey Dooley called 'My hometown fanatics'. (That link takes you to the whole program) It's worth watching as you see the spectrum of a town divided. Extremist hatred at both ends including the EDL and Muslims. However, beautifully in the middle are a group of articulate local Muslims, and as Stacey explores their beliefs you see the face not of moderate Muslims...but of Muslims. We don't speak of moderate catholics or buddhists, and I think this is an important distinction. I suggest you do yourself a favour and check the show out.
It saddens me that fear and loathing seem to have taken over much of society. Particularly when it's directed towards the unknown, misunderstood, or assumed. Much of Australia's political landscape has been focused on 'boat people' and refugees. Somehow asylum seekers are all potential security risks (ie. terrorists) and need to be locked up for years. After the trauma these people have experienced in their own countries, and the horror of desperate boat rides trying to make it to Australia, we punish them by crushing their hope in detention centres. Patrick McGorry calls them 'breeding grounds for mental illness'. How can this be a good thing for potential new Australian citizens? Perhaps it's easy when you don't think of asylum seekers as people, but as problems.
Last sunday was World Refugee Day. I went to a rally in Melbourne. I listened to some really moving talks and I was amazed to see the diversity in people who came along. All ages, all colours, all beliefs, all wanting people to be treated as people. There is an online campaign asking for you to photograph yourself holding up a sign - I am a boat person. As a first generation aussie, with parents who were '10 pound poms', I've always been aware that my heritage is from somewhere else. Quite frankly, unless you're indigenous, all aussies are from somewhere else. One of the speakers said something which resonated with me. They had drawn a chalk boat on the ground and asked as many of us to stand on that space as possible. 'We're all in the same boat together', she said. Simple. Eloquent. This is how we should all see ourselves...in the same boat...together.
Later there were speeches from refugees, from all different countries. But one in particular made me bite my lip to stop myself from crying. A young man spoke of coming out from Afghanistan as a 10 year old. He spent 3 years on Manus Island before being settled in regional Victoria. He arrived not speaking english, but he smiled as his high school teacher from Shepparton was at the rally. He was now in his 20s doing a double university degree - and hopes to be a human rights lawyer. He spoke of a conversation he'd had with an australian soldier who'd served in Afghanistan. After seeing the day-to-day conflict and horror for himself, the soldier told him he understood why he fled his country by any means necessary. To see a young boy given a change to live in peace and be given an education, and the compassionate, articulate man he has grown into I wanted to weep. Why aren't more people given this chance?
I saw many wonderful placards and banners at the rally, and here's a photo of my two faves. A young girl holding up a sign that simple says 'Welcome' and an older woman holding a huge love heart. This is how you fight radicalism. This is how you stop people from feeling marginalised. This is how you create a diverse, culturally rich and accepting community. If we all took a moment to listen and understand and see people as people rather than problems we might actually get on the right track. I live in Coburg, and going to our local shops is amazing. It feels like the United Nations - the 'People's Republic of Moreland'. Greek, Italian, Turkish, Lebanese, Arabic, African, Asian, English, Indigenous, many languages, young, old, all levels of socio-economics, all religions and some atheists thrown in too. There's space for everyone. The way to fight the face of hate is understanding. Not by more hate. Give it a try. I'll meet you in Sydney Road, Coburg for a falafel.