Why I don’t feel any shame
Sydney solicitor Muhammad Zreika shares his views about the Muslim protests.
As the dust settled over Sydney on Monday morning, I got off the train at Wynyard Station and the air felt a little bit different. People were (un)subtly staring at me from the corner of their eyes, looking me up and down — and some people slowly inched away from me on the platform. It felt odd. I suddenly became self conscious – checking my fly was zipped up properly, my pants weren’t tucked into my socks, my tie was straight, collar was fine, no unusual growths on my face. But why were people staring at me? Then it hit me. Saturday! Protest! Muslims!
I smiled a little bit and carried on my merry way to work. We were having cake that morning for a birthday. I thought to myself, “This should be interesting, the questions will no doubt follow.” I hadn’t spoken to anybody from work yet, and as I walked into the meeting room for cake I ran into a partner [who said to me]: “You didn’t get arrested on the weekend did you?”
It was funny, I laughed it off and made a joke that I managed to evade the boys in blue. After the cake, I walked into the kitchen and another partner was standing there, eyes looking curiously at me: “So how was your weekend Muhammad?”
“It was okay, I made a few placards, rampaged through the city a bit, ran away from the cops, you know the usual Saturday afternoon of a young Muslim angry at the world, death to America, all that jazz.”
We laughed a little bit, but I could tell, he was curious. He wanted to know for sure whether I was there or not.
Another partner walked past and casually said, “Poor Muhammad, he must feel so ashamed.”
Stop right there. What, ashamed? Why? What did I do? I wasn’t ashamed, I’m not ashamed! I’m annoyed now. Somebody hand me a placard I’m going to protest.
While I’m sure she had the purest of intentions, and I really respect and look up to this partner, I couldn’t help but feel that this is how the rest of non-Muslim society felt. The looks continued through lunchtime.
I suddenly knew what monkeys felt like at the zoo. People staring at them, pointing and giggling, studying their behaviour, trying to dissect their thoughts, wondering what goes on up there and if there is any higher intelligence.
Am I ashamed? No! I am not and I don’t appreciate anyone else suggesting otherwise. I didn’t do anything. I just want to go about my life without justification, without explanation, without condemnation. I was born here; I’m an Australian, just like you.
I don’t agree with the protests, and I don’t think they were necessary given that this stupid movie produced by some no-name in America is just the tip of the iceberg. (I’m certain that there are far more offensive and disgusting materials on the internet insulting Islam and the Prophet and anything else held sacred by anyone).
But I will not sit here and criticise the protestors. I will not say their behaviour was foul, disgusting, outrageous, terrorist-like, and most importantly, I will not feel ashamed.
Ashamed of what? Being Muslim? Looking like an Arab? I don’t get it what am I meant to be ashamed of? Someone else’s behaviour? Why?
As I watched Saturday’s protests over and over again, all I could see were police. Lots and lots of police. Police dogs, police horses, the riot squad and capsicum spray. It looked like a scene from the new Batman movie. It looked like a scene from Syria. Why? Why were there so many police on Saturday? The total number of protestors was estimated to be roughly 400 people. There were almost 400 police officers present on that day — one for every protestor! Why? How different would the footage have looked if there weren’t so many police running around looking worried and scared?
During Occupy Sydney, protesters screamed, kicked and assaulted, but I didn’t see that many police. The unions and workers clashed with police in Melbourne the other week, I didn’t see that many police then, and it was on TV for only about nine seconds. There was a hostage situation in the Sydney suburb of Bexley not too long ago, there were less than 100 cops on that scene and the perpetrators escaped.
It’s not an excuse, it’s not a justification, its’ just an observation. News reports on networks like the ABC and SBS seemed to show a more balanced account of the protest, which differed greatly to that shown on other mainstream media networks. Those reports portray a peaceful protest until the protestors tried to leave Hyde Park, whereupon they were surrounded by police and not allowed to leave.
Why weren’t they allowed to leave? Why were they surrounded by police? What had they done? All it takes is one person. One punch. One swing of a baton. Humans behave differently in a group, this is a scientific fact. If you provoke a group, if the panic and confusion set in, all bets are off. It becomes instinct, survival of the fittest.
In order to understand a Muslim, any Muslim, you need to understand this: Don’t hit my brother with a baton, because you will hurt me. Don’t unleash a dog on my brother, because I will take it personally. Don’t fire capsicum spray into my brother’s eyes as he tries to speak to you, because my eyes will burn also. Yes, that’s right, we are all brother and sister. We believe in community, respect, family, solidarity. We love for each other what we love for ourselves.
We do this because the Prophet (PBUH) taught us this. He stressed this constantly. His message was about unity and peace. We can be individuals, we can live our own selfish lives, but we can’t deny the connection that exists. We are all connected. Every single human being should feel the pain of their friend, their neighbour, their leader and their subordinate.
I wasn’t there on Saturday and realistically, we are all forming our views based on what we see in the mainstream media. I am not defending, condoning or supporting the protestors. I am simply providing an alternate view.