HOW many times have you heard something offensive or just plain wrong said about another person or group and then turned the other way – because it’s simply not worth the grief of the subsequent argument?
I know I have. I don’t think I’m the only one. But after the events in Sydney, I don’t think we can keep turning away.
The weekend’s protests were completely over the top and cannot be justified.
What triggered them was a deep hurt and outrage at a video that caused great offence to followers of the Islamic faith.
But violence is never the first response to this kind of offence. It’s not the second response. Frankly, it’s never the response.
There are always the misinformed, the foolish and the spiteful who will make comments to upset followers of all religions.
While many religions – including Islam – counsel against responding to provocation, we saw a completely unjustifiable response in Sydney and internationally.
As someone on Twitter rightly said yesterday: “No, we can’t be responsible for what others say or do but we can be responsible for how we react.”
A Twitter hashtag’s been started up by DiversityAus board member Mariam Veiszadeh: #MAVSP or Muslims Against Violent Sydney Protests.
Showing the actions of one person can powerfully unify many, Mariam’s sparked a vigorous response via social media bringing likeminded people together to stand up against violence and build understanding.
That’s been followed by leading organisations representing Muslims from all walks of life condemning the violence.
The reaction from the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Australia will rightly be that a small but violent group among the 200 protesters weren’t representative of the majority. And they’re spot on. They were just as unrepresentative of the Islamic faith as the Cronulla rioters of 2005 were unrepresentative of the rest of the country.
But the problem is this: they are representative of someone. And this is where turning away will no longer work.
We need more and more moderate Muslims speaking up against violence – as has occurred – but more conversations also within communities to build an atmosphere of total “zero tolerance” for the type of reaction we saw on Saturday.
We also cannot turn a blind eye to those who deliberately whip up religious hatreds while claiming freedom of expression. While we cherish that freedom, does that give free license to post videos claiming awful things just because they’re free to do so?If you thought the signs at Saturday’s protests expressed awful sentiments (which I did) then logic suggests that that video should be categorised the same way (which I do). analysis and criticism is one thing -Expression designed to be deliberately provocative and injure the deeply held views and values of others is something I’ll never support or respect.
Ed Husic, elected in 2010, is the first Muslim to enter federal parliament.
**This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph, 17 September 2012