Al Age’s Good Weekend September 18th featured a youth issue, which included an article about our 2010 Australian Youth Representative to the UN. In case you’re imagining your typical friendly outgoing Aussie, let me reassure you that in our glorious multicultural society, a Muslim woman complete with hijab is our chosen representative. Given that Muslims comprise only 2% of our population, and Muslim females presumably roughly half that amount, you could be forgiven for asking why choose someone who speaks for only 1% of our youth.
Let’s hear more about Samah Hadid: a 22 year old human rights advocate from Bankstown, Sydney’s West, she is completing her Masters in Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of New South Wales, and in her spare time is a performance artist writing a play called The Burqa Monologues.
This busy lass is the Youth Representative on the Australian National Commission for UNESCO and a member of Amnesty International’s Diversity Steering Committee.
In 2009 she was the first Australian to be selected to complete a fellowship in minority rights with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
She was a volunteer with the Muslim Women Association for 7 years, has been a member of Bankstown Council’s Youth Advisory Committee and the National Youth Roundtable, and was selected as a participant to the Prime Minister’s 2020 Summit.
Samah was recognized for her volunteer work as the CRC Young Volunteer of the Year, UWS Young Woman from the West, and received a human rights commendation award, as well as being co author of the book The Future by Us, about citizenship and immigration. She has advised state and national governments on youth participation, multiculturalism and social inclusion. (reference)
I am awestruck that one so young should have been invited onto such prestigious bodies – she must indeed be very special!
Chris Varney, the 2009 Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations, was also special.
“Chris is well qualified for the Youth Representative role having formerly been National Co-Director of Vision Generation Australia (VGen), World Vision’s youth movement…He has a deep passion for campaigning for global justice and increasing youth participation in decision-making processes.
He is keen to promote the message sent personally from UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon to young Australians – to take up the ‘mantle of global citizenship’…
Also, Chris was able to provide a paper ‘Resolution adopted by the General Assembly’ regarding the rights of the child. Of particular note is the promotion of children and young people’s meaningful participation, including the right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them. The Resolution also acknowledges that these rights also require adults to adopt an appropriate child-centred attitude, listening to children and respecting their rights and individual points of view. (source)
So it seems a prerequisite for selection is promoting global citizenship, just like the UN does. Personally, I would hope our youngsters would support democracy rather than a One World Government.
Samah co-wrote an article about the burqa in which she claimed Muslim women's rights were being sacrificed to score cheap political points:
… It's hard not to compare the recent cases of a French woman who was fined while wearing a niqab and driving, a fully veiled Italian woman who was issued with a fine of 500 euros ($A712) while walking in the street and the absurd arrest of a woman for wearing trousers in Sudan last September.
…The common thread in these cases is the attempt at state intervention in the personal spheres of women's clothing and expression…Each country criminalises certain items of clothing - but one country is a traditionalist theocracy and the others are Western liberal democracies, so why are they so similar?
While it can be said that fundamentalist right-wing Muslims only claim and fight for human rights when it suits their agenda, the same selectivity can be seen by feminists, given their failure to defend Muslim women's choices... Strong Muslim women who wear the burqa are speaking out, but the debate is still disproportionately dominated by the misogynistic voices of male politicians and conservative Muslim men.
Last year… we reported on the state of the Muslim minority in Australia. Among the issues raised was the intolerance and bigotry that had been a feature of previous government policies and rhetoric, but what was also highlighted was the various responses from Muslim Australians, notably the burkini - Muslim Australia's very own creation.
This specially made swimsuit for Muslim women has encouraged the participation of Muslim women in Australia's iconic beach culture…Months after our presentation, the burkini was banned in several European cities.
As hijabi-wearing women, we understand the significance the hijab has on our identity, lifestyle and how we are perceived. What bewilders us, however, is why a piece of cloth has become the centre of a cultural war in societies with a small number of veiled Muslim women.
This exploitation of anti-Muslim sentiments and targeting of such a small but visible group is cheap politics aimed at gaining popularity among the ultra-right voter base. (source)
Samah was one of a six-person panel “confronted with a broad range of issues of concern to middle Australia” in a special episode of ABC’s Q&A, broadcast live, with an audience of more than 300 drawn from the western suburbs.
On boat people and immigrants:.
SAMAH HADID: … the entire framing of this issue is negative. I mean, when we think about refugees, we automatically think about illegal boat arrivals and that’s because of the language that has been used in this debate. It doesn’t help. I mean, we’re here in western Sydney. We have a high settlement of refugee communities here who have contributed successfully to the economic, social and cultural development of this region but also New South Wales, as well. But rarely is that story being painted in the grand narrative. ….
TONY JONES: Our next question comes from Amir Dedic.
AMIR DEDIC: Being a young Muslim myself, I would just like to ask what the Islamic Council of Australia is doing to integrate young Muslims into the Australian society and when are Muslims going to stop feeling like they’re being constantly discriminated against?
SAMAH HADID: There is a serious issue of discrimination that young Australian Muslims are facing. There is a sense of alienation from mainstream communities and it doesn’t help when, you know, you’re being called a delinquent who is vulnerable to radicalisation. I mean, if you want to integrate Muslims, firstly, let’s change the language around how you approach young Muslims in particular. But the issue of integration, I think, is one that is best manifested in community driven initiatives. I mean, I don’t expect much from the government on this front and I think that the most successful initiatives that we’ve seen, particularly in Western Sydney, has been around community cultural developments. Giving organisations the funding and the resources to work directly with young Muslims, I think, is the best way to go about this issue.
TONY JONES: …is this a two sided coin? I mean, do you accept that part of the issue is related to the community itself? Your own community?
AMIR DEDIC: Well, to be honest, I mean, there’s this constant issue of Muslims being discriminated against in this country but being Muslim myself I’ve never really felt like that but you constantly, in the media hear, you know, how there is discrimination happening but I really can’t sense it in every day, day to day life and I just think it’s something that’s hyped up more than what it really is.
PRU GOWARD: Well said.
Yes, well said indeed. Note how, despite Amir admitting he had experienced no discrimination, in this Kafka-esque world, absence of evidence of guilt does not mean Aussies are not guilty!
DAVID MISKOV: Regardless of religion or heritage, do you think it is harder for immigrants to integrate because they are not wanting to be fully Australian? Which begs the question: why did they choose to come to Australia in the first place?
SAMAH HADID: Can I pose it to David? What’s fully Australian? And then maybe we can go from there.
DAVID MISKOV: Over the centuries we have come to become our own unique cultural way of life…I’m first generation Australian. My parents came here wanting a different way of life from what they had over there and I don’t call myself Serbian. I call myself Australian.
…But I’ve seen recently that first generation, second generation people still call themselves from wherever their parents originally came from and I just think that the concept of wanting to become Australian is not there anymore.
TONY JONES: Are we having a coded discussion here about Islam? I suppose that’s one of the questions we have to ask ourselves. I mean...
SAMAH HADID: I’m not sure. Is it a coded question about Islam?
DAVID MISKOV: Well, I said, regardless of heritage or religion.
TONY JONES: Okay. Fair enough. All right.
SAMAH HADID: …your parents came to Australia because they wanted a better way of life. I’d say that’s the same for my parents too. They came to this country because, yes, it’s the land of opportunity. But I think what’s so unique about Australia is its demographic. The fact that we have a diversity here. That’s what’s great about Australia. I don’t think we should shy away from that whatsoever.
PRU GOWARD: We also have great values. We’re strong believers in democracy and in the rule of law and everybody having the same access to that law. We have a very open approach to people. We’re known for our laughter and our tolerance of other people and I think that they are great qualities for a country to have that transcend sport and are about being Australian. Our national costume is t-shirt and thongs. What could be easier for everybody to have and I think it’s a myth to suggest that people come here to just be what they were. They come here to share the values not just the opportunities, Samah.
TONY JONES: Let’s hear from Scott Morrison. Integration, is that a word that you would adopt as part of your policy?
SCOTT MORRISON: Look, I think whatever word you want to call it. When Jessica Watson came into Sydney Harbour, Australians spontaneously celebrated that event and it didn’t matter whether you were wearing a hijab or if you were wearing, you know, thongs and a t-shirt or...your pyjamas. People celebrated, I think, the values that were inherent in that moment. Courage, determination, all of these things that Jess, I think, said to us all we could all identify with and I think those Australian values are accessible. I don’t think they’re exclusive. I think for whatever culture or heritage you can come from, you can celebrate that heritage but you embrace those values. And that’s the feedback I get. It’s something I strongly believe in and I think that’s what resonated on that day.
HEATH DUCKER: I think one of the problems we are always focussing on what’s different and not what’s the same.I grew up in Parramatta and I went to school at Macquarie Boy’s High School and that was a diverse school and I now have friends who are from a Lebanese background, from Asian background and, frankly, I hardly every think of them in terms of who they are - like what their background is. I think of them as people and I think of them as my friends and that’s because we’ve lived together.… And I think that Australia, if it can continue accepting immigrants and ensuring that they live together and experience life together, that Australia stands on the precipice of being able to be a leader in the world by showing that we’re becoming more a world of human people and not people who are just restrained by the identity of borders.
TONY JONES: Do you sense any threats to that harmony?
CHRIS BOWEN: No.. I think it’s impossible to grow up where I grew up and where our kids grow up in Fairfield and be a racist because you grow up with people from around the world from pre-school on and they are just people. So for where I’m from, the most multicultural part of Australia, not I don’t see any risks, because we all just get along. Because if you don’t get along, then society is going to fall apart pretty quickly and everybody in my community knows that.
TONY JONES: Samah, do you feel any threats to that harmony?
SAMAH HADID: Living in western Sydney, absolutely not. Like mentioned, it is a multicultural region. But I was in the Northern Territory a few weeks ago and, you know, I was speaking to young Indigenous Australians and they felt that there is no harmony in their communities and living within the mainstream community, as well. They felt as though there is a sense of racism. So it may not be an issue for us out here in our chameleon nation, but it is an issue and I think if we are ever going to move forward as a nation, if we are ever going to adopt this culture in which you’ve espoused, we need to seriously think about racism and the presence of racism in our society. (source)
It’s good to know that with a representative like Samah, who can point out our innate racism, our youth can feel reassured their views are presented – that is, unless you’re a young person who loves Australia, with its democracy and egalitarian values!
Pru Goward hit the nail on the head when she said:
“We’re known for our laughter and our tolerance of other people… I think it’s a myth to suggest that people come here to just be what they were. They come here to share the values not just the opportunities, Samah.”
Quite! Are you listening, Samah?