When did tolerance get thrown out the window?
The word ‘cornucopia’ has always reminded me of an American Thanksgiving with its groaning tables of food, sincere goodwill and heartfelt hospitality being extended to all. My mother taught us that no one is to be left out at Thanksgiving.
Sadly, this week delivered a different kind of ‘cornucopia’ in both America and Australia. This particular show of ‘bounty’ was marked by bigotry, threats and intolerance.
I admit that I was not surprised by President Trump’s announcement today to restrict access to the US for refugees and some visa holders from seven mostly Muslim nations: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
While it’s not a necessarily a sign of intolerance, it is what he threatened to do. I now wonder how it might affect our elder daughter, who was born in Syria in the 1980s. Luckily she has an Australian passport and no Syrian passport—a daughter of a diplomat.
For now, I won’t go into further comments about the days ahead in the USA.
But I digress.
What concerns me most this week is the bad behaviour being shown by a small group of Australians that have objected to a billboard that promotes Australia Day.
The bad behaviour started last week when a billboard went up in Melbourne. It depicted two Muslim girls celebrating Australia Day and waving Australia flags. The problem seemed to be that they were wearing headscarves (hijabs).
Such hypocrisy. Good grief, nuns wear headscarves.
That said, some Australians complained that people/migrants don’t assimilate when they arrive here. Of course, when migrants try super-hard to fit in (such as the billboard image above), the complainers say it’s not enough.
Of course, no one checks whether the ‘targets of criticism’ are migrants or people who are third or fourth generation in Australia (which is often the case). It really doesn’t matter. I embraced Australia from the day I arrived. I suppose that my good fortune is that, until I speak in my American accent, I look to be a typical white Australian. Even after I speak, I am accepted as ‘belonging’ here. I wonder how it would be if I were black?
The agency that erected the billboard shown above was so bombarded with threats (including death and bomb) that they removed the sign. That prompted a groundswell of public support (yay Australia!). Crowd funding raised $130,000 in a couple of days and that has been spent on posting even more of the same billboard in other major cities.
I live in the ACT—Australian Capital Territory—which decided to post the image (using their own funds) on the neon sign over the government-owned Canberra Theatre (see above). They announced this on their Facebook page.
The reaction (although small) was vicious, threatening and downright illegal. There were suggestions that the theatre be bombed, blown up or set on fire. Most of the comments came from a splinter group of radicals. But the comments were enough for the government to remove the post from Facebook. This is so wrong. Thankfully, they have not removed the sign.
I don’t think I’ve ever shared a politician’s comments, but I was impressed by what Andrew Barr, our Chief Minister, had to say. He called the complainers racists and rednecks. He got it in one. Here’s a link to a main article.
Tomorrow is Australia Day—26 January. Many issues surround this day. It marks when white folks landed on the continent or, as many Indigenous people rightly say, when the white folks invaded. There is discussion, even arguments, about a best day to celebrate Australia Day. I’ll try to keep you posted and hope that bigotry dies down here.
In the meantime, Happy Australia Day!