THE brilliant American comedian Dave Chappelle often refers to himself as a connoisseur of racism. A keen observer of the way in which people of colour are discriminated against in the US, Chappelle is quick to use his observations in his stand-up routines.
He would certainly find plenty of material in Australia. The rich vein of racism that flows through the country is for the most part unnoticed. It is considered normal, a part of everyday life. But from time to time, we are reassured that when it comes to racism, Australia is in the front ranks.
A day back, Australia’s first Muslim member of federal parliament, Ed Husic, was promoted to the front bench. He, naturally, took his oath of office on the book of his faith, the Quran. Only a rank idiot would expect him to swear on the Bible, or the Gita or the Torah, given that these texts have no significance to him.
But not the educated public of Australia. No, they let Husic know that he was wrong in no uncertain way. One man, Ross Peace, had this to say on Husic’s Facebook page: “”Our allegiance should have been to Queen and Country first Ed. That means saying the oath on the holy bible not the Koran…. Shame, Shame, Shame. I am so disappointed in this government that they don’t have the spine to stand up for the Australian way of life.”
There was no lack of variety in the abuse that Husic had to endure. Some were embarrassed by Husic taking an oath on a book which he believed was sacred; others accused him of disregarding the Australian Constitution and pushing for the imposition of shariah.
Husic has described himself as a moderate Muslim – but this does not mean that he would use a book that is holy to some other faith to take an oath such as the one he had to.
The way in which the people of any country react to the presence of outsiders, especially those who differ from them greatly, is an indicator of their level of tolerance and education. It is also indicative of the extent of what they know about the world outside the borders of their own country. This incdent tells us that Australia, in the main, is populated by a pretty ignorant lot.
Australians are insular in their approach to foreigners and anything that does fit within their limited imaginations. It is a sad commentary on the country that in 2013 a man is insulted for believing in something other than what the majority believe in.