Dear Honoured Guests, MEFF audience, MEFF Management and Executive Committees
We may not be aware but we are living through a time which will in the future be considered historic. Historic in a sense that it is a time when Muslims throughout the world are coming to terms with their own rights and responsibilities and non-Muslims, particularly those in the West, are coming to terms with such as Muslims. It is a re-defining moment.
The so-called Arab Spring, which started so promisingly in Tunisia and Egypt, is nearing its bloody end in Libya, has some way to go in Syria and Yemen and have yet to see the light of day in other countries, has been a long time coming and has a long way to go. These are not places far far away. These are places from which a large proportion of our community come from and have relatives and friends in. The events unfolding are close to our hearts. The sounds of gunshots and tanks and rocket-propelled grenades are very real and very close. And the hopes of a better future are painfully within reach.
And it will be a painful. The spring will last several years and perhaps even decades. It will take time for these countries and their societies to come to terms with the change of reality they have endured for over half a century when the Western empires left their colonies, largely leaving them to cronies and despots for their own national and economic interests. Now the West, including Australia, has to deal, with a Muslim world that will think for itself and will make decisions with its own interests in mind rather than those of its Western minders.
First and foremost the dealings have to be based on trust and mutual respect. An unequal and lopsided approach will engender further animosity towards the West. To this end, the West, and particularly Australia, needs to have a fresh look at how it deals with the Palestinian issue. Previous and current approaches, based primarily on the issue of Israeli security whilst turning a blind eye to Israeli violations and land-grabs and the denial of basic human rights for Palestinians, are not sustainable. A more equitable approach that genuinely pressures both sides equally to move towards peace is the only way to ensure a just end to the crisis,
More generally, the West, including Australia, needs to deal with the issue of refugees in a compassionate and humane way. The large majority of these refugees are Muslim, often fleeing circumstances not of their own making. It needs also to be mentioned, and I am sure most will be surprised, that the nations who are most impacted in with the refugee problem, more so than the West, are also Muslim.
For too long we have made the issues a polarising issue for the sake of votes when in reality the impact of refugees is minimal. In fact the cost of dealing with refugees inhumanely is far more than the cost of dealing with them with respect and justice according to the UNHCR.
Australia also needs to look within its borders at its own Muslim constituents. As a community of relatively recent migrants, opportunities are rare and the struggle to define and establish themselves is ongoing. A situation that is made more difficult when ostracised in the community by ratings-hungry shock-jocks that do their best to bring out the worst of what is Australia rather than stoking what is true benevolent and accepting nature of the nation, its heritage and its people.
We have seen in Norway what happens when the worst of a community is driven and rallied by such constant messages on radio and television and on print. There are extremists on both sides. We need to move away from all types of extremism which only beget intolerance and hate.
Muslims too have a responsibility, as does any community, family or individual. But the system, the environment, the culture and the nation as a whole needs to embrace them as part of the same body rather than outside entities and see the problems the Muslims are having as “our” problems, not “their” problems.
Only then will we come to terms with the mutual and collective need to live, work and play together for the future.
Message from Dr Q Ashfaq Ahmad
Patron of MEFF