On Assimilation & HatredOn the morning of 11 July 2005, I was interviewed by Mike Jeffreys on 2CC. Mr Jeffreys kept asking me questions. I kept questioning his questions and their relevance to his listeners. We ended up being irreverent to each other, and the discussion became irrelevant to all listeners. The interview eventually degenerated into a match to see who could be the bigger smartass.
That’s life on talkback. Irrelevant questions followed by irreverent answers.
The question posed to me which really sent shivers up my spine was the one on assimilation. Mr Jeffreys asked me why more Muslim Australians don’t assimilate. What shocked me about this question was that it was being asked in Canberra, was being broadcast from a studio in Canberra and was being broadcast to Canberrans.
For me, it was easy to dismiss the question as the rant of an irrelevant shock-jock struggling to reach double-figures in the ratings. But after terminating the call and complaining to 2CC management, I then thought about the question further. And one image came into my mind.
It was the image of Srebrenica. Almost exactly 10 years ago, over 7,000 innocent civilians of this Bosnian town were massacred in cold blood. They were murdered in the presence of UN troops sent to protect them. The people of Srebrenica were the subject of a horrendous policy of ethnic cleansing ordered and carried out by some of the most despicable human beings ever to walk the earth in the 20th century.
Why should I think of assimilation and Srebrenica together? The people of Srebrenica were largely Muslim. But they had the same coloured skin and hair and eyes as their Christian neighbours. They intermarried with Christians and Jews and other denominations. They were not exceptionally observant and followed mainstream Bosnian values. Many openly drank, bought and sold alcohol.
Some 40% of Bosnian children are born into interfaith families, where parents are of different faiths. If anyone could teach Muslim Australians something about assimilation, it would be Muslim Bosnians.
But did this assimilation stop the massacre? Did it stop Serbian troops from executing their neighbours and their relatives? Did it stop teenage Serbs from killing their former school teachers?
The slaughters in Srebrenica were repeated in other cities, including the capital Sarajevo. The central square of this beautiful city hosted 4 houses of worship – the Great Synagogue of Sarajevo, an Orthodox Cathedral, a Catholic Cathedral and the Gazi Husrev Baig Mosque. Bosnians of all faiths would visit each other’s churches and mosques and synagogues.
It was this spirit of love between faiths that led to Sarajevo being awarded the winter Olympics. This same spirit led to Sydney winning the Olympics in 2000. When Muslim Australians invited IOC delegates from Muslim countries and refused to let them leave until they pledged on the Quran that they would vote for Sydney, it was clear that the Sydney spirit was alive and well. And that same spirit was reflected in the words of London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone during speeches before and after the bombing.
Terrorists are opposed to this spirit of togetherness and understanding. Terrorists want us to turn against each other. Terrorists are determined to hate. And what drives terrorists into fits of rage is when they see Muslims and Jews and Christians and Hindus and Buddhists and people of other faiths and no faith in particular living side by side in peace and harmony.
Real understanding and peace can exist whether people assimilate or not. But it won’t happen in an environment where people are determined to hate. Because the real source of terrorism is not religion. The real source of terrorism is hatred.
Religions teach us to love. In the Jewish tradition, Rabbi Hillel spoke of love for others when he asked his students: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I care only for myself, who am I?”. In the Christian tradition, St Paul said that love was even greater than faith and hope. And the Islamic traditions are filled with references to love for God’s creation, from Qur’anic verses and sayings of the Prophet to ecstatic poems of Rumi and other Muslim saints.
Assimilation is not enough to defeat determined hate. Minority and majority faith communities can assimilate all they like. The only thing that will defeat extremists is the divine force of love. And this love is not the empty drug-induced idealism of hippy songs. This love is built on knowledge and understanding and recognition that we are all different. And that the things that unite us are more important than those which divide us.
(The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer.)
© Irfan Yusuf 2005