Google+ Followers

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Narrative Must Shift: Randa Abdel-Fattah On The Need For A New Conversation |

The Narrative Must Shift: Randa Abdel-Fattah On The Need For A New Conversation |

The Narrative Must Shift: Randa Abdel-Fattah On The Need For A New Conversation

By Randa Abdel-Fattah

exploitation by media and some in our community of the events of the
Lindt Cafe siege compel a different response, writes Randa

an ISIS flag. No it’s not. It’s a flag with Islamic writing. Wait
Islamic isn’t a language. Sydney is under siege. Well, actually a man
has taken hostages in a chocolate cafe in Sydney. The police are working
on the situation. No Ray Hadley is… no the police are… no Ray Hadley…
Devices have been planted around the city. We’re not sure how we know
this because no contact has been made with the gunman but let’s whip
people into a frenzied panic anyway. People have evacuated nearby
buildings… except for those who were taking selfies one hundred metres
from the café and posting them on social media.

The Daily Telegraph revealed yet again that it operates according to a
different version of the English language when it referred to a single
gunman as a ‘death cult’, ignoring important details like evidence.

Anecdotal stories came through of Muslim women wearing hijab being
abused in public because clearly the only way to fight extremism is with
racism and bigotry. The leader of the Australian Defence League, an
anti-Muslim organization, went to Martin Place to express his rage at
Islam. Presumably this was in solidarity with the hostages who would
clearly have been delighted to have their indescribable fear and
terrifying experience exploited for the sake of scoring some
Islamophobia points.

Muslim organisations – weary, under-resourced, under pressure – were
ready to condemn, to distance, to reassure because after 13 years of
condemning, distancing, and reassuring, the Australian public seems to
still be in doubt about Islam’s position on terrorism.

Hostages escaped and the media helpfully publicized it just in case
the gunman missed them. Various radio stations took emotional calls from
people who were in the Lindt café – not in the café yesterday, or even
the day before, but in the café ever, giving a whole new meaning to
‘insider account’.

People around Australia were all feeling sick to the stomach, sucked
into a vortex of fear at the thought that the IS threat had reached our

To combat the fear among some Muslim women wearing hijab of being
attacked in public, an #illridewithyou campaign was launched, quickly
going viral and serving as a heartening antidote to the anger, fear and
helplessness many felt.

Like all Australians, Australian Muslims too worried about the fate
of the hostages, about their friends and family in the city. They also
contemplated (and in some cases experienced) the inevitable backlash,
and the repercussions of condemning (but doesn’t this just feed the
narrative that we are collectively responsible?) or not (but I don’t
have the luxury of assuming people will perform basic logic and accept
that, dare I say it, 1.6 billion Muslims might just happen to be a
diverse bunch of people).

Commentators and experts pontificated and speculated but nobody knew
what the gunman wanted, who he was, or what his motives were. Then the
experts in the US and UK woke up and we were condemned to hear their
long distance theories.

Of course, it was not surprising that the tragic events of yesterday
would be interpreted and analysed through the war on terror narrative,
even before any information about the gunman had come to light. Once
that black flag was sighted, a hostage crisis metamorphosed into a
crisis of terrorism, even if politicians, including Prime Minister Tony
Abbott, and the police, were not adopting that language.

In the end, the gunman was, according to various reports, a person
well-known to the legal system and police, with suggestions that he
suffered mental health issues. Despite his violent criminal history and
serious charges of murder and sexual assault, he was in the community
because he had been released on bail.

There are many people asking the right questions, and while no-one
can sensibly claim that this tragedy could have been foreseen and
prevented, it is reasonable to ask why it is that, as a systemic issue,
the system does not take crimes against women seriously enough?

There is another issue though, too. And that is whether Australian
Muslims will be entitled to grieve the deaths of the two hostages and
the trauma suffered by the survivors in a way that does not make their
empathy and grief contingent on condemning, apologizing and distancing
themselves from the gunman.

Some people will no doubt accuse me of insensitivity in raising
Islamophobia at this time, assuming that I cannot simultaneously feel
incomprehensible sorrow at the senseless death of two innocent people,
and also care about how the narrative we allow to play out as a result
of this crisis has far-reaching implications on matters of justice,
anti-racism, asylum seeker demonizing and individual’s rights.

It is not polemical to say that a mark of honour to the lives of
those lost is the capacity to step back and evaluate not only the
moment, but what it says about our past and our future.

Expectations that Muslim organisations must apologise or ‘explain’
and comment on the siege demonstrates that 13 years of press releases,
press conferences and community activism have not sufficiently
undermined the notion that Muslims bear collective responsibility for
people who profess to act in the name of Islam.

What is astonishing is that the gunman did not even make such an
explicit declaration. The mere presence of the flag-that-was-not-the-IS
flag was enough to squeeze the Islamic faith and Muslim community into
the witness box.

As a person straddling academia and activism, I am in a position to
sympathise deeply with Muslim activists and organisations because they
are caught in a double-bind, where to not speak is just as damaging as
speaking. The chasm between philosophy, on the one hand, and policy,
strategy and the complex, practical work of community leaders is wide.

It is widened even more when a crisis is urgent and the public
discourse has not shifted. The hope that you can ‘change the narrative’
may, in the immediate circumstances, seem noble and lofty, but too risky
when the price to pay for not playing by the rules is too high.

To even express sympathy and offer condolences becomes tainted. Do we
offer as human beings, as fellow Australians, as Muslims? To think that
these categories are neutral is dangerously naïve. For all those many
Australians who have the decency to see such expressions for what they
are – sincerely felt grief as fellow human beings – there are many
divisive voices operating in the structures of power in this country
that will use such gestures to reinforce the idea – even implicitly,
even unintentionally if you will – that Muslims must take

I do not know what the answer is, or how to narrow that chasm, other
than to say that we are all, in our own ways, trying to do so and that
the burden is heavy. And for every organization or leader who acts one
way, there are many who will have wished he or she had acted another.

What I do know is that there are those in the Australian community
(and, incidentally, media magnates too) who have already demonstrated a
callous and vile capacity to exploit the horrors of the past 24 hours to
further their Islamophobic agendas.

The narrative must shift or we are condemned to a cycle which does
little to illuminate the issues at hand, and denies Muslims their
dignity as fellow citizens.

We are all in this together. Racism does not stop when a Muslim woman
is abused on public transport and anti-racism does not stop when you
‘ride with her’.

The real work begins when we acknowledge that campaigns like
‘illridewithyou’ are necessary because racism exists, rather than
necessary to prove it doesn’t.  

No comments:

Post a Comment