In light of the recent terror attacks around the world, specifically in Beirut and Paris, I have seen a lot of people taking to social media and using these attacks to try to push the idea that we need an even more stringent screening process for those seeking asylum or that we should close our borders altogether. They are also taking the opportunity to denigrate people of the Islamic faith; holding them responsible for the actions of an extremist group whose ideology seems to be very far removed from that of your average Muslim person. And many are citing their “freedom of speech” in defending their “right” to do so.
Freedom of Speech.
In Australia, we don’t explicitly have laws that grant freedom of speech. Instead, we have freedom of information, opinion and expression. It’s similar, but it isn’t exactly the same. You can say almost anything you want and claim it as your opinion. However, we also have laws that prevent people from saying things that, for example, vilify people based on race or incite violence. I think that’s fair enough.
Many of the posts and comments I have read are written by people who aren’t taking too kindly to disagreement. Disagreeing is the height of bullying, it seems. Suggesting that someone might want to do a bit more reading is met with cries of “Well, it’s my OPINION!”, accusations of trying to “silence” them and reiterations of their apparent right to free speech. But here’s the thing. I don’t actually oppose people sharing these thoughts. If they want to hide racism and xenophobia behind apparent concern or even actual fear, that is okay by me. They are free to do so. I fact, I actively encourage it.
Keep Speaking Freely.
Why? Because it creates discussion. For every racist post, every xenophobic comment and every scrap of fear-mongering, there is someone disputing it. There are people who are standing up to it, sharing the other side of the argument, refuting ill-informed commentary. You might have the freedom to share opinions that are discriminatory, inaccurate or fear-mongering. However, everyone else has the right to call you on it. You don’t have a right to remain undisputed. You don’t have the right to say whatever the hell you want without any consequence or responses. That applies to everyone. And that dialogue created is important because not everyone will actively participate in these conversation but plenty will read along. And that might be enough to provoke further thought on their part, even if it doesn’t change the mind of the person making the racist, xenophobic or otherwise inflammatory remarks.
The Terrorist Attacks.
These attacks break my fucking heart. I can see why people are scared. I see the pictures of blood on the streets, the pictures of the dead, the pictures of those that survived- eyes wide with shock and horror and clothing soaked in the blood of those who were killed. How could anyone not be horrified? How could anyone not agree that the attackers show a brutality and callousness that would make anyone with sense want to flee them? I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to live through such terror, even after reading personal accounts like this one.
Even more difficult to imagine is what it’s like to live in a place where these events are common. Where these brutal people are everywhere. Where they are trying to recruit your children. Where bombing is common, people simply disappear and safety is an abstract idea that just doesn’t apply to your life. Where this is what your city looks like:
It also can’t be overlooked that western media has paid little attention to the horrific attacks in non-western countries. Our government has been vocal in its support and solidarity with France, lighting up public icons like the Sydney Opera House in French colours while ignoring the devastation in Beirut, Lebanon despite our Lebanese community here. This post illustrates how many Australians feel about our apparent selective outrage.
On Tightening Border Security.
When people call for Australia to increase it’s border security and make the process more stringent for asylum seekers for fear of the people perpetrating these atrocities, we must remind them of how strict our border security actually is. Asylum seekers are locked up, in many cases, for years, while their backgrounds are checked and their status determined. It is not illegal for them to come here seeking asylum, yet still we imprison them. They say that it is good that we lock them up to determine who they are and if they are genuine. And yes, it’s certainly okay to check and see if they are genuine. However, is it really okay that we lock them up for years? I don’t think it is. They are not safe where we have put them. They are not well treated and well cared for. There have been reports from these detention centres of people being mistreated, assaulted and abused. Of people in desperate need of medical care that they aren’t receiving. We are further abusing already persecuted people. What impact will this have on them, once they are able to enter our communities? The system we have is extremely far from perfect but honestly, no one can argue that it is not stringent enough.
Should We Stop Accepting Asylum Seekers?
I have read that some of the terrorists identified as being involved in the Paris attacks may have had refugee status. I know a lot of people feel that this is a good enough reason to stop accepting them. However, I think it’s important to understand that France has not actually closed it’s borders; it has simply reinstated border control. France is part of the Schengen Area- a collective of 26 countries that have free travel at joint borders. It’s nothing like Australia in that regard. But if everyone were to stop accepting asylum seekers, where exactly are they going to go? Back to destroyed and ravaged places that used to be cities? What is happening here is that these extremists are driving division. remember the old expression ‘divide and conquer’? They are seeking to make Muslims the enemy everywhere by committing these atrocities in the name of Islam. And, despite many Muslims condemning these attacks publicly, the media is paying them scant attention. If you missed it, Waleed Aly nailed exactly what they are doing here:
Can We Help?
Already, Muslim people have been attacked and abused in some sort of misguided attempt at revenge. As already mentioned, some social media users are taking this as an opportunity to spew hatred towards them. It needs to be turned around. We need to counter ignorance with information. We need to counter attempts to demonise Muslim people with facts and we need to encourage acceptance. We need to counter attempts at division with unity. I shared a quote a couple of days ago on Instagram. I’m not often big on the inspirational quote stuff, but this is an important one:
There are people helping where these attacks are taking place. There are people helping to get others to safety. There are people in governments or public roles around the world trying to help take in displaced people. People are donating money. Obviously we can’t all wield the same level of influence nor can we all be physically present to help, but we can help by speaking up, sharing information and spreading acceptance, kindness and understanding.
If we stop trying to help people, we are playing into their hands. If we let fear close our borders, we are letting them win.
If we let fear and ignorance close our hearts and minds, what chance have we got?
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess