From Doormat to Dogmatism


Okay, I admit it’s a bit risky for a Muslim to comment on World Youth Day. For one thing, the last time the Pope said something even mildly critical of Islam, some Muslims reacted like a pack of rather violent galahs, burning churches in the Gaza Strip and even murdering a nun in Mogadishu.

But fear not, dear Catholic readers, for I’m not interested in attacking His Holiness. Nor do I have anything against Catholics. If anything, I have an enormous soft spot for them.

It all started in the mid-70s, a time when I was much smaller and life in Grade 2 at Ryde East Public School would have been close to perfect, were it not for the fact that I was taunted, teased and bullied fairly regularly.

Kids can be very cruel, and one kid in particular insisted on pushing me around and labelling me "nigger" and "boong". He also used to tease my mum, who would pick me up each day in her Volkswagen Beetle. Mum also insisted on wearing saris, and everyone loved poking fun at just how different we looked.

So you can imagine my shock when I saw this same kid bullying some other kid who had white skin and blond hair. Apparently this kid was also different, but the only difference I could see was that he wore a different school uniform to ours, with a small yellow cross embroidered on the blue shirt. His school bag had the words "Spiritus Sanctus" on it.

"Why are you bullying him? He’s just like you," I asked the school bully. "It’s not as if his mum wears a sari and drives a daggy car."

"He’s not like us. He’s a f#cking Catholic," was the response.

I rushed home and told mum of my amazing discovery – white kids got teased and bullied just like us darkies. Her response was to befriend as many Catholics as possible, including the mum of the bullied Spiritus Sanctus kid. Suddenly my social circle expanded from the kids of my mum’s South Asian (Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Jewish, Buddhist and Christian) friends to include Aussie Catholics. It was mum’s way of showing solidarity with the bullied.

So it is pleasing to learn that after all these decades of being the subject of sectarian bigotry and prejudice, Catholics can finally practise their faith openly. I’m really glad that Catholics have come so far – from the days when kids from Catholic schools in my street used to get beaten up, to openly celebrating their faith in the presence of their spiritual leader.

But I do have my reservations. Unlike one writer, my qualms are less about money and more about liberty. I’d really hate to see the NSW Police using similar (although not as violent) bullying tactics in the name of protecting pilgrims.

I guess it really boils down to values. Cardinal Pell once accused Muslims of having difficulty separating Church from State. Unless he openly distances himself from (and not just denies involvement in) increased police powers designed to protect pilgrims from annoyance, his own secular credentials might look compromised.

As a visiting head of State, the Pope should be afforded secular police protection. But I doubt worshippers of any faith need more secular police protection than any other person.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.