Due to the potentially controversial nature of this entry, I'd like to make a few statements before I begin
1. I do not consider myself a racist
2. My opinions here in no way are meant to single out any particular group of people. The nature of this problem is widespread and has nothing to do with groups or races as a whole - individuals are to blame as is always the case.
Well.....the preamble aside. Those of you that read the news (see link above) in Australia will be aware of an incident over the past 24 hours whereby an 11 year old Australian boy of Greek origin was bullied by a group of Muslim students in a Sydney public school due to the fact that he was eating a salami sandwich for lunch during Ramadan. He was chased, assaulted and forced to hide in the library with a friend for an hour. According to the parents of this child, this was by no means the first time this type of bullying occurred towards their son. Other parents apparently reported that their children have been persecuted for what is in their lunch boxes as well and that the students are offered little protection from the school.
The school has rightly suspended the supposed "ringleader" and were quick to indicate that they have a zero tolerance policy towards racism and bullying (as every school publicly indicates when incidents such as these happen).
As I said before, this type of problem is not isolated to any group or race - it happens everywhere and it happens from both sides. Children of Anglo heritage will bully and racially vilify children of Italian heritage, children of Italian heritage will bully and racially vilify children of Asian heritage etc etc. It has happened throughout Australia's short history - it certainly happened when I was in High School which is why i'm so disappointed to see it still occurring.
In a predictable piece of PR spin, the response from the Department of Education and Training was
"The department said that the school had "ongoing cultural and interfaith awareness programs to improve understanding among students of events like Ramadan and Christmas"
Well that sounds like they know exactly how to solve the problem. Lets take these kids aside, educate them about the fact that there are different cultural groups in the world and that they have different beliefs and traditions and then send them back into the schoolyard. I have no doubt that no further incidents will occur......<heavy sarcasm intended>.
In fairness to the school and the department, the problem cannot be solved by them. They do, however, have a duty of care to ensure that the children are better protected. This type of violent incident is no orphan.
The problem needs to be solved by families, communities and religious groups. At the end of the day, kids that bully or racially vilify other kids have learnt their behavior somewhere in their home environment - or if they haven't, then nothing is being done to counteract it in their home environment.
Take the afore mentioned example. From my very superficial research into Ramadan as a tradition (and I have to stress here that I am no expert on the subject and any offense caused due to my own ignorance or misinterpretation is completely unintentional), Ramadan is about restraint and purification. It is more than simply fasting - it is about refocusing one's attention to God and purifying the soul. As the guide to Ramadan on the about.com website states:
" We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits -- essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings" (http://islam.about.com/od/ramadan/f/ramadanintro.htm)
So the question I pose right now is - who taught the children involved in this incident about the purpose of Ramadan? They've clearly missed the point as in attacking someone else for what they saw as a violation of a sacred tradition, they themselves have violated it in a far worse way. How pure can your soul be after kicking the shit out of another kid for no good reason?
Which brings me back to my point - this attack didn't occur out of a deep religious belief, it occurred out of hate. It occurred because someone in these children's lives is teaching them to hate people different from themselves. And that my friends, is where the buck has to stop. Ethnic and religious communities (and I include all Religions and Ethnicities in that statement) are extremely influential on their members. They have the responsibility to teach tolerance and understanding about other ethnicities and religions. Education is and has always been the key to promoting tolerance - humans by nature are more likely to fear what they don't understand. And anyone that doesn't believe in tolerance and understanding of other religions or ethnicities can quite frankly f*** off and find somewhere else to live - whether you are 15th generation or 1st.
When incidents like this occur - the question of "Why" really needs to be asked. Sweeping it under the rug with a bullshit cultural integration program within an underfunded public school system will solve nothing - in fact, it may simply provide more ammunition to the cause as it's focussed on highlighting differences, rather than similarities.
Maybe the schools and the community should spend some time promoting the uniting force that being Australian is supposed to be. Sure, we can be a pretty apathetic nation when it comes to real patriotism - and patriotism in the wrong hands is dangerous - but it is also an incredible way to bring people together. There are plenty of ways to identify as an Australian without diminishing your own cultural, religious or ethnic background. Being Australian has absolutely nothing to do with what God(s) you do or do not believe in - it has nothing to do with your physical appearance or the language you speak. In my eyes, Modern Australia is about embracing things outside our own spectrum and looking after the little guy (idealist....I know). Take a lesson from the Americans (probably the only time i'll say that in relation to racism) - the blind patriotism that they have as a people, cheesy as it is at times, brings people together. It unites people that may not have normally been united. At the end of the day, if you can't practice absolute tolerance in your life, at least tolerate the people who live under the same flag as you........and don't travel and ruin the good name that the majority of us are trying to create on the other side of the world!