June 18 2011
As my wife and I were driving through the country of northern New South Wales on a recent weekend away, a V8 sedan overtook us and most striking was the car’s bumper sticker- “Love this country or leave it”. It echoed George Bush’s infamous quote prior the Iraqi invasion that lead us all to distrust and segregation amongst nationalities and beliefs… “You’re either with us or against us”.
Do I love this country?? … I love Fraser Island and the Great Ocean Road; I love the various ethnic cultures which make up Australia; Yes I do love this country, I love the “Black Star” coffee shop located at West End, who make the best coffee around. But there is a reason why someone has placed that bumper sticker. It is highly likely because they don’t see us contributing back to this beautiful country of ours. But…I hear one of the young Muslims ask…. “How do I contribute to this country?” To answer that, let me give a brief history sketch of Australia and how those early Australians contributed to the character of Australia.
Before the arrivals of the Europeans, the Aborigines roamed the landscape with respect. Geographically Australia is a harsh and dry continent. I found this out when I took the quiet and arid in-land road from Melbourne to Brisbane. The Aborigines, however, had no problems as they comfortably lived in this environment. If only the settlers could have trusted less in his organization and more in his capacity to listen to the natives, we might have not needed to worry too much about water scarcity or land salinity. We have much to learn from their way of life.
Those that traveled to America from Britain in the 1700s were those seeking freedom to express their beliefs. Australia was not that idealistic. Our first arrivals were a bunch of convicts who had a shock of their life. Here was a land that is back to front. The bark, not leaves, fell off the trees!! And what animals!! The biggest rats they ever seen bouncing about on their legs and a bird with a sense of humour looked down at the British settlers and seemed to kill itself laughing at their predicament. It was as if they had landed on another planet!
After twelve years, there were about 1000 Australian born children. A good number of them we neglected or were orphaned. Thus they had to fend for themselves. Their character grew to be different to their British counterparts. They were seen as stay cats clinging together in groups for survival. They needed each other and no one was better than anyone else. They were in it together – they were mates. They were the “Currencies”. Unlike later Australians, many of these currencies lived and played with the Aborigines and learned from them the ability to see the bush as a home and not as an alien territory. They also felt the freedom to roam the country with no single abode much like the Prophet’s description of what a Mu’min (Believer) should be….a Traveler.
An early British officer said of the Currencies: ‘The circumstances of their parents having come to the country in bondage (convicts), so far from making them humble causes the native born here to be the proudest people in the world. They’re high minded, even to arrogance, and the circumstance of being felt free is so important to them as to border on fierce enthusiasm.” He added, with great disdain, ‘that the native-born (the currencies) sit together around the campfire, sharing stories that fed the spirit of anarchy”.
Those human qualities that were displayed in those early days have contributed to the character of today’s Australia. Although the World may not see “the land down under” as a significant player both politically or economically, Australians would argue otherwise. We are a populous of high minded individuals which can be seen in the level of competitiveness during the Olympics. Having high mindedness is an important quality of a Muslim. The Arabs before the Prophet’s time were always known as backward and barbaric and were insignificant to the Roman and Persian Empire. The Muslims’ deep faith and high mindedness changed that.
The Currencies placed great importance to freedom and fierce enthusiasm. They disliked the noblemen of the British Aristocracy who controlled Australia. They were seen as the upper class. The Currencies had two terms that described them. We now often use the word “SNOB” to refer to someone who is arrogant. It is in fact short for “Son of NOBleman” – the English Noblemen. Furthermore, “POME” is actually a derogatory term short for “Prisoner of Mother England”. To this day, Australians do not like arrogant individuals as reflected by the equality of the white and blue collar workers. Unlike many other countries, you may also have noticed that many Australians are more comfortable sitting at the front seat of a taxi rather than sitting at the back directing the driver.
In the mid 1800s, the corruption of the Victorian authority and unjust taxes placed on Gold miners lead to the “Eureka Stockade”. More than 10,000 diggers pledged themselves to work for full and fair representation in government. Although, their uprising was quashed in a bloody battle within 20 minutes, their spirit of struggle lives on. Muslims also have a spirit to fight injustice. It is called “Jihad” which literally means struggle and not terrorism. The news of the Eureka Stockade injustice spread throughout Victoria and pressured the British Aristocracy to change the political structure which gave the diggers voting rights. Australians’ reverence of the infamous Ned Kelly was mostly due to his willingness to stand up against the authority in his self-made armour (please note Islam would bring to account such highway robbers). The Aristocracy never regained their status as is evident by the level of respect Australians have for their politicians.
Even with this rich history that has contributed to Australia’s character, Australia is still trying to define itself. We want to be independent and free from control of foreign countries but the British flag dominates ours, Britain’s Queen is still our Queen and the day we call Australian Day is really the day British dropped their criminals on this land. Muslims can make a difference to this country and contribute to define Australia. I don’t mean making curry the national dish of Australia which the Bengalis have successfully done in England. What I mean is the character and values of this country. We have the most beautiful way of life which we can share. That is Islam. The way of life that upholds justice and truth. The way of life that doesn’t allow someone to just sit on the couch and watch the world cup while someone is starving. The way of life that offers comfort to the growing number of Australians without purpose.
To all the Muslim youths, you have a role to play just like those early Australians that built the character of Australians. Let us change the perception of that person that placed that bumper sticker on his car. However, as an aside, if you’re that person driving that car I initially mentioned, you might be killing Australia through your V8 petrol guzzler emitting tones of harmful carbon emissions into Australia’s beautiful atmosphere whilst destroying the notion of free-spirit and tolerance.