Multiculturalism is not ‘rotten’
- Published: 13 November 2010
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We shouldn’t shy away from critiquing and flat out condemning the horrifying elements of any culture, but it’s important not to ignore the experiences of racism and to always critique our own views of cultures, which can be often prejudiced and biased because of one-sided portrayals in the media, writes Sara Haghdoosti.14 November 2010
For a year I’ve been in exile.
That doesn’t happen by sitting on the sidelines. I made a choice to speak out against the Iranian government and I don’t regret it.
It’s been far from a glamorous road and some of my worst experiences of racism have occurred while I’ve stood up as a Muslim or as an Iranian.
One of the best examples was when Australia’s most senior Muslim cleric Sheikh al Hilali compared women to uncovered meat, implying that if a woman got sexually assaulted it was because of what she was wearing.
Were his comments abhorrent and disgraceful? Absolutely. And I had no qualm in saying just that to the media.
There were many in the community who were unhappy with me, although many of them whole-heartedly agreed that such comments had no place in any society.
The point many of them made was that Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile and the Catholic Church’s Cardinal Pell also regularly made incredibly offensive comments about women, and neither of those men had ever got the amount of media coverage that the Sheikh did. Nor did anyone suggest that they could be simply ‘thrown out of the country’.
Truth is, cultures aren’t born. They’re constructed by people, and people are fallible. Which means there’s nothing blasphemous about taking seriously the horrifying aspects of any culture.
I agree with part of that statement. We shouldn’t shy away from critiquing and flat out condemning the horrifying elements of any culture.
But that doesn’t mean we present cultures in 2D ways and, more importantly, it certainly doesn’t give us licence to pretend that Islamophobia and racism don’t exist.
The truth is every time we come out against honour killings, stoning and torture, we buy into the notion that Muslims and people of ‘middle eastern’ appearance are barbarians, thugs and terrorists.
Does that mean we shouldn’t do it? Of course not.
However, it does mean that we have a responsibility to be aware of it and to reinforce the concept that while some extremists are Muslim, not all Muslims are extremists.
By Manji’s standards I’d probably be an ‘enlightened’ Muslim who isn’t afraid to speak out against the gross violations of women’s rights that happen across Muslim countries.
But that has never stopped me from being ‘randomly’ checked by airport security, called a terrorist by passers-by or taken into a back room in California’s airport to get a mug shot and fingerprinted for wanting to enter the country when I was nine.
Manji’s argument that if people pause before naming a human rights abuse in a country that they’ve never experienced and a culture they know nothing about is the death of intellect is ludicrous.
More than that, it is dangerous.
It’s dangerous because it encourages people to ignore the experiences of racism and not to critique their own views of cultures that can be often prejudiced and biased because of one-sided portrayals in the media.
In order to make progress, we need to be able to talk. We can’t have real discussions where people can be vulnerable if we are not willing to accept that people who construct cultures aren’t one-sided but are multi-dimensional with a range of pressures and experiences – good and bad.
Together, let’s celebrate Muslims and anyone who puts their life on the line to fight for freedom and justice.
Let’s acknowledge the racism they face when they do it.
Let’s validate the aspects of their culture that gave them the courage they needed to stand up to tyranny.
Sara Haghdoosti is a 23-year-old Iranian/Australian feminist. She was a finalist in the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year awards and one of the delegates chosen for the 2020 summit. She has is active in the women’s movement, being a member of the management committees of International Women’s Day and Reclaim the Night. She was the national recruitment director for the Power Shift conference and has appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A.