Friday, May 06, 2011
I joined a bunch of ordinary punters and some blokes sporting military medals in a small hall before a big screen and watched a game of rugby league.
As I sat, I wondered what Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace would make of my presence at the club. That very day he had hit the news with a tweet about the meaning of Anzac Day. He didn't remind us about what the diggers fought for, but what they didn't fight for. Wallace told the twitterati that the reason we went to war "wasn't gay marriage and Islamic!" Later, clarifying his remarks, he said that "the nature of our society that our soldiers fought for was based on Judeo-Christian heritage".
I doubt I was the only person of Muslim heritage sitting in an RSL club that day. Ironically, Rooty Hill is in the federal seat of Chifley, whose member is none other than Ed Husic, an Australian of Bosnian Muslim heritage. For some reason, Husic's and my heritage are seen by the head of a powerful lobby claiming to represent Christians in the political sphere as being a threat to the Anzac legend and the Judeo-Christian heritage (whatever that means).
I would have thought that the tens of thousands of poker machines in RSL clubs across the country should be seen by a former SAS officer and devout Christian as a bigger threat to our heritage. The amount of social misery caused by these blasted things is extraordinary. A machine that attracts people to part with their hard-earned cash must surely be a bigger threat to Judaism and Christianity than another Abrahamic faith and a change to marriage laws in line with existing laws dealing with de facto relationships.
Wallace might also consider the interests of current Australian servicemen and women of all faiths (and no faith in particular). He might look up Commander Mona Shindy, an engineer, who, aged 21, was one of the first women on a guided-missile frigate. Shindy has also become a face of recruitment, appearing in Australian Defence Force promotional material and on its recruitment website. Whatever Wallace might think, the bosses at the ADF don't regard Islam as an impediment to service in the armed forces.
Shindy isn't the only person of Muslim heritage to serve. Squadron Leader Rais Khan moved to Australia from Pakistan with his wife in 1995. He now works as a civil engineer in the RAAF. And who knows how many non-heterosexual people serve in the armed forces. Or indeed how many heterosexual people support gay marriage.
Wallace's ridiculous comments have highlighted the extent to which Anzac Day has been highlighted by people with weird agendas. In much the same way that our continued involvement in armed conflicts elicits absurd sentiments.
If any conflict must disgust our troops, it is the "war on terror". No doubt many would support individual conflicts in places such as Afghanistan. But the idea of political leaders showing complete disdain towards the torture and mistreatment of prisoners must send shivers down the spine of troops for whom the relevant Geneva Conventions are the only instruments stopping them from being mistreated if they fall into the hands of the enemy.
Worse still is the treatment of innocent civilians who have been detained and tortured, and released without charge. One can only wonder how many of our troops would feel at former foreign minister Alexander Downer's remarks that Mamdouh Habib was a horrible person undeserving of sympathy. Habib was subject to torture in Egypt. He was then transported to Guantanamo Bay before being finally released without charge. WikiLeaks documents confirmed Habib was tortured.
Our men and women in uniform fight to defend all Australian citizens. Even Wallace agreed that the Anzacs fought for all Australians. Downer and his colleagues in the Howard government, on the other hand, believe that some citizens are more deserving of legal protection than others.
And so the muddled thinking over war, Anzacs and diggers continues. Perhaps watching the football at the local RSL club makes more sense than all this militant rhetoric.
Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and author of Once Were Radicals. This article first appeared in the Canberra Times on 29 April 2011.