Breaking bread with the Prime Minister – while he links to terrorism to asylum seekers – does not make for a happy meal, writes Ramesh Fernandez.
Less than a week after Malcolm Turnbull used the tragic attack in Orlando to link refugees to terrorism, prominent Muslim Australians attended the first ever ‘iftar’ (breaking of the fast) at Kirribilli House.
A few attendees gleefully posted selfies with the PM, proudly tweeting that they were excited to be in a room with the ‘who’s who’ of Muslim Australia. Others have since written about how the invitation made them feel valued and included in Australian society.
A number of highly influential and well-respected community leaders attended this dinner. Many of them have given an immeasurable amount of time and service to Muslims and the wider community, and some have even used their profile and platforms to advocate specifically for asylum seekers.
I cannot claim to know or judge their reasoning for attending this event; I can only assume that they had the best of intentions. However this cannot dilute the deep, bitter sense of hurt and betrayal I felt as a Muslim refugee when I saw members of my community being used for what was a well-timed publicity stunt by Turnbull and his advisors.
To be very clear: Malcolm Turnbull is not our friend. As horrific reports of rape, torture and abuse continued to flow from Manus and Nauru earlier this year, his official response was that we should not be ‘misty-eyed’ about border protection.
Only weeks ago, when Peter Dutton made his now infamous comments about refugees being ‘illiterate’ and ‘innumerate’ job thieves and welfare leeches, Turnbull’s only response was that Dutton was ‘outstanding’ as a Minister.
Peter Dutton, Malcolm Turnbull: We will not be silenced.Another election campaign built around targeting asylum seekers and refugees. 15 years of this type of cheap, racist, fear-mongering has won elections for both the Liberal party and the ALP. It seems as though we have no-one to rely on but ourselves.Spoken by R-Coo Tran, Tania Canas, Lakech Sisay, Rina Hart, Abdul Baig, Ramesh Fernandez and Professor Gary Foley.Authorised: R.Fernandez, RISE.
Posted by RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-detainees on Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Turnbull’s position as a ‘moderate’ Liberal does not absolve him of his crimes. The fact that his language is less inflammatory than Howard or Abbott – or the fact that he decided to treat a handful of Muslims to an expensive dinner for a night – make little difference to the reality of his policies.
As detainees in Australian detention centres, myself and others were treated like animals. We were fed expired food. We were abused physically and psychologically, and Ramadan was no different. We had to stage protests just to have access to food before sunrise so that we could fast during the day.
This action resulted in some of us being sent to solitary confinement for up to two weeks. Forgive me if I get ‘misty-eyed’ when I speak about our border protection regime.
When I was in detention, people would sew their lips shut in desperation. Now they set themselves on fire. Can anyone truly justify to themselves that Turnbull and his associates are not directly responsible for this misery?
We need a level of political maturity beyond the shallow slogan that ‘Turnbull isn’t Abbott.’ It is precisely this naive perception – that Turnbull is the ‘nice guy’ – that he has relied on to sell Abbott-style policies around everything from refugees to climate change.
I understand the pressure many may have felt to accept the Prime Minister’s invitation, the pressure we feel as a community to be part of anything that might be a remotely positive story. However, I feel that it is in exactly moments like this that we must hold our ground and be firm about who and what we are willing to passively endorse.
As a refugee support organisation, much of our time at RISE (Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees) is spent trying to expose the toxic and racist politics of the Government for what they are. Participating in this iftar when Turnbull and his friends are in the middle of running a scare campaign around immigration rooted in Islamophobia simply sanitises his sad record on refugees and race.
Do people really think they can outsmart the political machinery of a ruling party mid-election?
It is strange to read op-eds by attendees celebrating the ‘welcoming’ and ‘inclusive’ nature of this event. For so many of us, this country is anything but welcoming. Certainly a single dinner with someone who has repeatedly defended the misery and brutality inflicted on us does not change that feeling.
Some who attended the Prime Minister’s iftar have suggested that politics should be ‘set aside’ to acknowledge this ‘historic moment.’ Sadly some of us do not have the luxury of forgetting that ‘politics’ has meant life and death for our family and friends.
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