Resolutions for the new year

It’s monsoon again here in Singapore. It’s cool and rainy, and there’s a sense of resigned calm. Construction workers sleep and play on their phones under makeshift shelters, people huddle under umbrellas and stand on their balconies, waiting for a break in the weather. It’s a fairly gloomy way to start the New Year, but perhaps an apt one.

2014 was a pretty shitty year. We’re supposed to have reflected on what we’ve achieved and learned, and then set some well-meaning resolutions for this New Year. But 2014 sucked. It was a year of fear and suffering: Daesh, Ebola, the endless conflict in Syria, airplane disasters, thinly-veiled and institutionally-sanctioned racism. It sucked. 2015, so far, hasn’t been much better.

I had a conversation with a friend on New Year’s Eve about 2014. She’d had a shitty year on a personal level as well, so I told her vehemently that 2015 would be better.

“It has to be,” she said. It was said without self-pity and without melancholic longing, just a statement of fact. A resolution in itself.

It’s the time of year when we’re supposed to be writing lists about how we’re going to start exercising and drinking less and about how we’re sticking to it this time, dammit. But the only resolution I have is to make 2015 better. There’s not much I can do on a global level. But I can refuse to be intimidated. I can learn more about those who are misunderstood and misrepresented. I can smile at strangers, I can mean it when I ask how you are or when I tell you to have a good day. I can call my family and friends more often. I can be there when they need me, even if it’s from afar. 2015 will be the year of making the best of things. 2015 will be doing what we can with the hand we’re dealt, even if it’s just throwing the cards into the air and laughing.

It’s still raining outside but, in the manner of those who live in the tropics, I’ll shrug and get on with it. It’s good weather for thinking and writing, for eating noodles, and going for a walk, believe it or not. It’s cool, a rare respite from the exhausting humidity. There’s an upside, there always is. And despite the rain, life goes on. It has to.

Rant: ISIS/ISIL/Daesh and the Australian public

Image from the wonderful MDA:
Image from the wonderful MDA:

The only thing to truly fear is ignorance. Ignorance breeds misunderstanding which breeds fear, fear that corrodes logic and common decency and manifests as hate.

I’m talking of course about the recent terror raids in Australia, about ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, and the toxic smog of fear clouding judgement and suffocating tolerance and understanding.

If it were a question of religion, I wouldn’t comment. I’m an atheist and I think you’re all equally insane, but you have every right to be. The thing that gets me the most is that this shouldn’t be about religion. Because it’s not. It’s about extremists and terrorists. This should be a dead giveaway for those who point the blame at Islam. Extremists and terrorists. Not Muslims. Just because those terrorists use Islam as an excuse for their behaviour doesn’t mean it has anything to do with the religion itself. Similarly, Catholic priests under investigation for interfering with children have used their religion as a way of justifying and hiding their actions. There have been no questions around Catholicism following these revelations, about the leadership absolutely, but not about the religion itself and the majority of those who follow it.

Terrorism is about fear. And you know what? They’re winning. Fear is everywhere. Yes, it’s in the news, it’s on the faces of the paranoid among us, and it’s gotten to me too. You know what I’m scared of? I’m not scared for my family and friends back in Australia. I think they’re more likely to be attacked by a drop bear than be exposed to a terrorist attack. No, I’m scared for the Islamic community of Australia. A community that are already subjected to so much suspicion and abuse. A community of normal people being vilified for the religion’s non-existent links to a terrorist organisation.

Why this group of people though? When Anders Breivik slaughtered innocent people in Norway in 2011, we didn’t go around saying, “You can never trust those Christians, bunch of white-skinned, no-hat lunatic”. No. It was a tragedy committed by a mentally ill extremist. A terrorist. His religion barely came into is, his extreme views did certainly, but never once was it ever implied that his behaviour was representative of all Christians everywhere.

The whole issue is completely bizarre. It is a non-religious group of people taking a non-religious issue, terrorism, using it as ammunition against a religious group, Muslims. Because the arguments are never, “I’m a Christian and I believe in Jesus and the Bible as the one true gospel/word/religion” or “Dude, I’m a Buddhist and you’ve got this whole religion thing wrong.” It’s “I’m an Australian, my family’s lived her for generations”.  You know what, champ? Unless you identify as a First Nations Person, being Australian means being an immigrant. An immigrant from England or Scotland or Ireland, or from Greece or Italy, from China or Vietnam, from the Middle East, or even from New Zealand.

The same fear-mongering has happened with each new wave of immigration. First we feared the Greeks and Italians, then the Chinese and Vietnamese, now it’s the Middle East’s turn. I’m sure once Australia is over this, it’s only a matter of time until we turn against the Americans or the Kiwis. The only reason it’s worse now is the unrelenting exposure to a media that is treating this issue with all the sensitivity and tact of a rabid dog. We are constantly exposed, bombarded, with reasons to be afraid, reasons to be outraged. Overblown headlines, misleading causation and consequence links and interview after interview with suburban housewives saying, “They kept to themselves, I always thought they were a bit funny”. Once the media has made us uncertain about what we thought we knew about our suburbs, at the click of a button we can be in touch with people who can feed our fears and help them grow from insecurities into bitter, violent monsters.

It is a vicious, caustic cycle of misunderstanding and misinformation breeding fear and hatred, and it needs to stop. Because when I read those articles, when I read the comments, when I see posts on Facebook and Twitter, I feel ashamed to be Australian. But I shouldn’t because those ignorant, hateful people are not representative of Australia exactly the same as Daesh do not represent the people of Syria or Iran or Afghanistan or Iraq, or the whole Islamic faith.

<rant over>