BY ZEINAB ZEIN
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s silence on Donald Trump’s new immigration measures targeting seven Muslim majority countries, comes with an unspoken explanation. We have had our own bloody history of similar immigration policies targeting people on the basis of their racial and ethnic identity and remnants of the past remain today.
Australians should be at the forefront of the political condemnation critical of this turn in American law, but we are silent. As an Australian-Muslim, I expect more.
The White Australia Policy was instituted as a matter of course with the birth of our nation at Federation in 1901. It targeted non-whites, Indigenous Australians, and people of Chinese and Pacific Islander backgrounds. Our first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, did not believe the doctrine of equality was to extend in the same way to non-whites as it did to people like him.
In his view, the Englishman and the Chinaman were different.
But times have changed, and with them, we have collectively advanced as a global society and history shows marks of a steady improvement. Influenced by the American civil rights movement’s push for greater equality in the face of discrimination, we relaxed our racist immigration laws. The 60s and 70s saw us vote overwhelmingly in favour of including Indigenous Australians in the census. We also opened our borders to people fleeing civil war from regions largely populated by Muslims and saw key laws such as the Racial Discrimination Act introduced and UN covenants espousing progressive ideals post WWII ratified domestically.
Today, it must be our priority to return the favour of our allies in America. This is not a time for politicians to be silent. Democracies must be handled with care in the face socio-political turmoil. They must be protected from becoming vulnerable to authoritarian and arbitrary rule.
This ban on immigration from countries with large Muslim populations has not occurred in a social vacuum. It follows a long history of anti-Muslim discourse and practices in the United States and elsewhere. It has involved the painting of an entire community with one broad brush, depicting them as threats to the safety of others. The ripples of these actions are widespread and keenly felt by Muslims around the world. Over a decade ago post 9/11, these ripples manifested in the detention of innocent Muslims in prisons around the country without charge and abroad in
Guantanamo Bay without recourse to the law. Over the past week, it was a detention most humiliating in the airport of a country whose broad ideals of human rights, the rule of law, equality and freedom, we have desperately clung onto to guide us out of the abyss during difficult times.
There lies a broken chain at the feet of the Statue of Liberty in New York. Perhaps this was left as a reminder to us all of the histories from which we move forward and where we must not return. The statue was a gift from France, a country which has faced a tumultuous period with recent terrorist attacks. Images of it have been used by American protestors to lament Trump’s immigration policies as it has historically been used as a symbol of welcome for all seeking American refuge.
Australian leaders should echo their chants of shame as this can bring about change. Remember, it did in Australia, thanks to our ally America.
When laws are bad, there is a strong need for running commentary, regardless of whether it is instituted domestically or internationally. We can say this new law is bad unequivocally because it is discriminatory in practice, it targets people of the Islamic faith and then entraps us rhetorically in a negative political debate about terrorism which reinforces prejudices. We have not been immune from this in Australia, but we should certainly not remain silent.
The Turnbull Government’s current immigration policy is non-discriminatory on the grounds of race, faith or origin. This should also inform our approach with other countries.