WE’RE all Australian – regardless of one another’s religious differences.
That was one message from a group of local youths who gathered at Canterbury on Friday to discuss racism issues. Hosted by Canterbury Hurktone Park RSL, the discussion group was led by Dulwich Hill’s ‘Fighting Father’ Dave Smith and Sheikh Mansour Leghaei from the Imam Husain Islamic Centre at Earlwood. Aged from 16-25, the five participants were representative of a younger viewpoint on the recent race riots and surrounding issues.
Nour, 18, has just finished Year 12. Rajaa, 23, works as a primary school teacher. Veronica, 16, and Ali, also 16, are secondary school students. Maen, 25, is a mechanic who owns and operates his own garage. Together, they may not have been speaking for any one single community group but they were speaking as young Australians caught up in one of the most tense and violent times in their city.
“I saw this guy with ‘We grew here – you flew here’ written on his chest.” said Nour.
Rajaa nodded, “They’re saying ‘You’ve ultimately come here. You can’t be born here’. There’s an assumption [that you’re not Australian] because you don’t have blue eyes and blonde hair.”
Veronica: “It’s so overboard. I’m hearing all of this stuff that I’ve never heard come out of people’s mouths”.
Rajaa: “It’s as though everybody in society is looking at one another expecting a reaction.
Veronica: “I think people my age don’t know what’s going on. I’ve heard kids say, ‘I should’ve been down there… I was supposed to he down there,’ and I thought, You‘re 16 years old! What would you know?”
Maen has watched the violence escalate in shock: “They basically fought fire with fire. Now there are two groups of bad people fighting each other. It’s obvious that it’s a bunch of people who are looking for trouble.”
Rajaa: “From each party, there are minorities…that are creating a name for their culture and background which is unfortunately making people think the minority is the majority.”
Sheikh Leghaei: “We really have to stop labelling people. Let’s all be Australians facing a problem.”
Rajaa said the debated issue of being ‘Australian’ was simple: “Ultimately whether you’re born here or receive your citizenship, you’re Australian. At the end of the day, we can’t say that we are the original inhabitants of this land because the Aborigines were here first.”
The group’s ideas for creating some positive progress in the stand-off were many and varied.
They included a youth forum with the Prime Minister, curfews and encouraging stronger parental guidance. All suggested the concept of ‘circular sentencing’ as found in some Aboriginal communities, involving respected elders in the judicial process.
Macn: “I think (the problem) is peer pressure when (boys) go to school, they become a different person in front of their parents. They have to prove something to their mates.
I’ve got nothing to prove. I’ve got my business to take care of. I haven’t got time for that. There are…the people who have time to cause trouble and those who have time to work and set their future up.”