Inescapable racism: Reflections of a ‘proud refugee’

abcreligionandethics

ABC Religion and Ethics

Mariam Veiszadeh

16 Apr 2013

mariam8 In the wake of the latest racist tirade on a Melbourne train and the tragic loss of life when a boat carrying asylum seekers sank off the coast of Indonesia, I copped some unprovoked abuse on Twitter on Friday evening: “Wish your refugee boat had sunk at sea, bitch.”

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Once I had recovered somewhat from the shock of receiving the tweet, I checked the @GregJessop1 Twitter profile which, among other things, indicated that he was an Engineer based in Queensland and worked for Rio Tinto (although his profile did bear the standard Twitter disclaimer, “Opinions mine, do not reflect views of Rio Tinto”). Determined not to stoop to his level, my immediate response to him was, “Lucky for you, I came by plane.”

It was perhaps ironic that, only hours earlier, I had tweeted: “If you witness a racist rant on public transport, don’t remain silent. Speak up if it’s safe to do so. Silence condones #racist behaviour.” I was deeply moved by the actions of Mahmood Reza, an Australian Muslim man who stood up to a drunken woman who was racially abusing a packed Melbourne train last week. I found the incident, which was captured on a passenger’s phone and reported to media, deeply disturbing. How many similar incidents occur on public transport throughout Australia, but go unreported?

Not long after receiving the tweet, I (along with many others) tried to contact Rio Tinto by means of Twitter to bring this matter to their attention. Whether the Twitter profile of @GregJessop1 was fictitious or he did in fact work for Rio Tinto was almost irrelevant – surely he couldn’t get away with making such hateful, vile, almost threatening comments and still have references to Rio Tinto in his profile.

There have been countless victims of social media abuse, Charlotte Dawson being a notable example. Dawson’s online tormentors drove her to become suicidal. In many cases, these unidentifiable Twitter trolls are never held to account because they are untraceable. In my case, @GregJessop1 volunteered information about Rio Tinto in his Twitter profile and I used this information as a legitimate means to hold him, and people like him, to account.

@GregJessop1 was clearly rattled by all the attention his offending tweet had generated. He deleted the tweet and then tried to suggest that I photoshopped the screen shot of the offending tweet.

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But what baffled me most was his response to someone who questioned how Rio Tinto would feel about his hateful tweets: “at work, I’m on work time and $. If they want me to be respectful, so be it. On my time, i’ll do as I please.”

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I was also subsequently advised by others on Twitter that I should have the phrase “proud Aussie” in my Twitter profile, rather than “proud Refugee.” I use this phrase in my profile, not because I am an ungrateful Aussie, but because I want to demonstrate that refugees are educated and active participants in our community. Ultimately, I want to help change perceptions. Moreover, if my actions don’t demonstrate my gratitude, how would a label somehow do the trick? And why must I assert my level of Australianness every minute of the day? Excessive pride and racial hate speech should be viewed in the same manner – both are entirely unnecessary, really.

Since Friday, I’ve been overwhelmed by messages of support and compassion, and indeed by offers from strangers to help me. For every instance of abuse, there are many expressions of compassion and solidarity. Perhaps the one that has meant the most to me was from former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser: “I am deeply sorry you had to experience that, some people are so insensitive and stupid, try not to let worry you.”

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Mr Fraser, of course has been especially vocal in recent times and spoken out about the plight of asylum seekers – if only some of our incumbent politicians shared and expressed his same convictions!

Yesterday afternoon, I received a response from Rio Tinto, as well as a call from their media representative, who assured me that they had commenced their investigations on Friday evening. It is comforting to know that an organisation like Rio Tinto would never condone such behaviour.

Irrespective of whether he is a mere Twitter troll or an actual Rio Tinto employee, the attitude of @GregJessop1 is indicative of a deeper malaise in this wonderful country of ours: a high level of low level racism, a form of racism Waleed Aly has described as “subterranean racism.” I used to think that on social media people were more inclined to make irrational and utterly vile comments under the cover of false identities than they would in person, in real situations. But the recent racial rants on public transport which has been reported in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and even Canberra disprove this theory.

But this begs the question: what is the root cause of this type of hateful bigotry? Wherever this bigotry stems from, there is little doubt that the current and thoroughly toxic political debate which wilfully demonises asylum seekers is fuelling it. There have been hundreds of op-eds written by advocates across the political spectrum criticising the character of political debate about asylum seekers, and there is nothing I can recount here that hasn’t been written many times before: that, compared to other refugee-hosting countries, Australia receives a very small number of asylum applications and we are in no danger of being “swamped”; or that we are a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and are in breach of Article 31 every time we load men, women and children onto a bus at Christmas Island and then transport and “detain” them for an indefinite period of time; or that the countless health-care professionals have advised that indefinite detention leads to irreparable mental damage and ultimately, in some cases, to suicide. But we have all heard that before.

Australia’s refugee policy is symptomatic of a political preparedness to pander to short-term electoral interest over tenable long-term planning, much less humanitarian concern. With a federal election looming and an incumbent government needing to pull a political rabbit out the hat, it is hard to see how things could improve – indeed, the likelihood is that the politicking at the expense of asylum seekers will only get worse.

But our politicians’ nonsensical and frequently inhumane remarks about asylum seeker policy are partly, if not largely, based on what they believe Australians want. If the brutal logic of deterrence, of “stopping the boats,” wasn’t a vote-winner and didn’t represent an advantage in the opinion polls, surely the political discourse would be different. We, my friends, are part of the problem. It’s time to become part of the solution.

Mariam Veiszadeh is a lawyer, writer and Welcome to Australia ambassador.

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19 thoughts on “Inescapable racism: Reflections of a ‘proud refugee’

  1. Did see the grub Greg Jessop (which I doubt is his real name) has changed his Twitter profile to a basic one liner – “Anti-refugee, anti-communist and proud LNP supporter” – removing any reference to Rio Tinto. Says it all really. Do hope the LNP is also proud to have this disgusting excuse for a man as a member. Actually, what he has done & said since shows him to be an ideal LNP member. Commit an offensive offence, deny it, then claim they were set up or a victim of chicanery from others, just as he has done. Gutless.

    Keep up your great work, Mariam.

    • Joy, it’s such a shame they do such a poor job of representing their constituents. I have seen interviews with many country Australians who are tolerant and open-minded and don’t deserve to be associated with the LNP.

      • Very true, kabdoo. This why true Independents, such as Tony Windsor, do well in regional electorates. Unfortunately, many such electorates are still poorly served by their LNP MPs who rely on the traditional vote & badmouth any opposition to their conservatism.

        • I quite like Tony Windsor. Whether I agree with his views or not (mostly agree) I am comforted by the fact that he seems to take every policy on it’s merits rather than political value. Kind of like a conscience vote except he has the courage to do it openly. I think, as you say, that is reflected in the polls. I would not mind seeing him take a more prominent role in Australian politics. We need more honest politicians (usually an oxymoron, I know šŸ˜‰ ).

  2. Mariam, like Waleed Aly and Ahmed Kilani, is one of a growing number of highly educated, well spoken and media savvy Australian Muslims who are confounding the bigots with their informed and balanced responses to the vitriol. You may not know this but these young, accidental spokespeople for the Australian Muslim community are creating a bit of a stir internally as well as there are many people, like me, who think they do a better job of representing us than our “official” representatives, with their old-school associations, politics and poor understanding of modern Australian culture, let alone English. Don’t get me wrong with the “English” comment. I don’t think there is anything wrong with speaking another language in Australia. Rather I think a group’s leaders need to be able to communicate with their members in the language spoken by the majority. /rant šŸ˜‰

  3. Looks like the Muslim slime that you make excuses for has been ip to their usual tricks in Boston eh boys?
    A few murdered Americans nah u don’t give a shit about that all you’re worried about is your sharia toting shysters right boys?

    • The biggest bigots in Australia kabdoo r u and snakes like walid Ali. Who makes excuses for Islamic terrorism: calling it an ‘irritant’.
      Your religion is a supremacist and racist ideology, that has spawned wars all over the world plus sharia law which u refuse to repudiate.

      • Where has Ali excused terrorism? Please show me an exact link.

        ” plus sharia law which u refuse to repudiate.”

        Cool, so everyone has to denouncing everything they disagree with, less they be accused of supporting it.

        Well, I’m very dissapointed in you Trent. I mean, you’ve posted here so many times, and yet haven’t denounced Sharia law yourself. Or Nazism. Or Paedophilia. Or devil worshipping. Or blood orgies.

        So…naturally you support all of these. Shame on you!

    • So you have swallowed the Zionist/US media, government kool aid? One dead suspect, the other in critical condition, if the second dies they can wrap it up and take more freedoms away from the Amerisheep! The second suspect has not been interviewed let alone charged so how is he guilty of anything? Were you there? This is all too clean and cut and dried. The demonising started with the “Saudi” suspect, then the right wing lone wolf gun loving suspect, with the authorities relesasing the final part of the saga in the foreign born, muslim male student/unemployed suspects. They proceed to kill one of them, and the population cheers and rants and insults all muslims all Chechens etc when the second one is “caught”. Again 2 misfits are meant to have evaded the security apparatus of the USA, on top of that on the day, 2500 security law enforcement and military on the ground, in the air, in Bradley fighting vehicles, and with bomb sniffing dogs, missed the whole thing, let it slip through, the dogs especially, they would have been going ballistic in the vicinity of the finish line where coaches and runners have stated they were deployed. Lastly, the state of Israel was there at the end when the second suspect was taken into custody, why does Israel need to fly “advisers” to the USA? This is more than ample evidence to straight away question the governments position and actions.

      • Dave, if you really believe this is all a zionist/israelie/us conspiracy, you are giving the US government too much credibility. If they were able to do this, shouldn’t they be able to do…..anything, or in the case of the US government at the moment, something? Rather than be a lumbering mess of clusterfuck?

        This is my problem with conspiracy theories. They expect us all to believe that the same government that is unable to shit themselves without a committee approving it, is somehow masterminding secret plans and only looking like complete incompetent fools.

        • Don’t be fooled by the outward picture of the US as you describe, incompetent and disorganised, in the background where the real players reside you will find that the congress and senate in the US are assets, not the principals. The overreaching agenda in the US is being played out right in plain sight with the knowledge that the people involved will not see it it to spite their face so speak. There is more going on here than just a power grab by security and law enforcement types, there is a very real agenda to demonise and vilify foreigners, and foreigners who happen to follow Islam. maybe I have some of the guts of it wrong or off course but overall, who benefits verses who loses it is easy to see just who is running the show and who isn’t.

        • Dave, I hear what you’re saying and I really don’t want to argue with you, but can you understand why to a moderate like me I don’t see the difference between a conspiracy theory stating “Secret right wing powers running our government (possibly linked to Israel)” and the far right’s paranoia of “Secret left wing powers running our government, possibly linked to the UN”?

          It’s the same story, with the same arguments (I remember many ADL and APP members telling me that the UN is only pretending to be incompoetent, to lure us into a false belief that it is incompetent, when it actually rules th world), the same types of coverups (left: boston, 911, right: the port arthur massacre, Utoya), but the characters have changed.

          And particularly when we bring up the Jews/Zionism. What is different between your argument that this whole boston thing is being influenced by the Zionist media, and Israel, and the nazis I know who tell me that protocols of the elders of zion show that Jews secretly rule the world, or the many crazies who stated no Jew turned up to work on 9/11 and therefore they caused it?

          Anyway, I really don’t want to get into a hate slinging match. I’m tired, and I don’t have the energy for it. But I hope you understand that this isn’t a case of me being blinded, or willfully ignorant-I honestly don’t see the difference between the conspiracy you bring forward and any other conspiracy in terms of believability.

    • Funny Trent didn’t mention the Chinese woman also killed. Because you don’t care about Chinese-only the white people matter, right?

  4. Marian vesaideh came to Australia because her blessed colt has an inability to produce a country that even Muslims want to live in.
    Iran would not accept the influx of non Muslims for any reason, no reciprocation is present, and until it is she can fuck off to an Islamic shot hole of her choice .
    I don’t take kindly to being lectured by religious nazis Islamic bigots and apologists for Islamic terrorism.

    • Trent, have you ever actually met a Muslim? I just want to check that your stunning evaluation of Islamic people is based on more face to face contact than you’ve had with imaginary friends.

      Incidentally, when have you been lectured at?

  5. Trent, you do realise you are raving & aren’t making the slightest iota of sense, don’t you?

    Now piss off back the nasty little sewer you crawled out of.

    • Joy, remember when you were at school and some girl complained to the teacher that some boy was picking on her and the teacher explained that that’s what immature little boys do when they have a crush on a girl? This is the same except this immature little boy is not in love with TAB. Rather he wants to be accepted into the club. If only he knew there was no club. Then he might just get on with his life instead of obsessing about others.

      • Yes, kabdoo, although I do think people (& I guess they are still people), such as Trent, don’t really have much in the way of lives. They just sit in their little ratholes listening to shock jocks, reading tabloids & posting in rabid racist blogs, getting angrier & angrier. Only they don’t really know what they are angry about until someone like Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt tells them what they are angry about. Then they lash out at what they presume to be a soft target & feel they have “done sumfin about da filf”. They haven’t learnt to think for themselves or live a worthwhile life..

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