Brisbane, December 15, 2014 (Alochonaa): Australia is often said to be an exemplar of effective religious and social pluralism. Evident in its acceptance of the good way of life that doesn’t impinge on the rights of others, Australia is a land of freedom, respect and opportunity. While there are invariably sporadic cases of intolerance, bigotry, racism, Islamaphobia, and other forms of discrimination, Australia is on the whole seen as an ideal model of the all-important, western-valued liberal freedoms, which recognizes such important conventions like universal Human Rights, freedom of speech, religion and association, and the right to elections. While Australia’s history of acceptance, pluralism and even more current cases of seeming indifference toward asylum seekers are questionable, the recent siege in Sydney’s central business district comes as a surprise to the majority of Australians and worldwide observers, that such an act can be carried out on Australian soil.
A lot of facts are still unclear at this early stage. It is clear, however, that this act seems to be some form of religious message or statement aiming to communicate a certain meaning to observers, locally and worldwide. However, what is crucial to understand at this early stage is to understand the importance of not speculating about the motivations, religious or otherwise, that this individual, and it does seem to be an individual act, has for their actions. But there are some key points that we can be sure of when considering the role of dialogue in approaching intractable problems with the hopeful outcome of non-violent, peaceful resolutions.
- Why a terrorist movement is not sustainable over time
Governments spend a certain amount of the federal budget each year on law enforcement, defence force and security and intelligence agencies. With attacks similar to what is happening today in #martinplace, Sydney, whether the perpetrator feels justified in their actions or not, this kind of terrorist and fear-mongering activity only justifies further government spending in the eyes of the people, policy-makers and legislators, and legitimises other precautions taken to stop such situations occurring in the future; meaning it will be harder to carry out similar extremist activities moving forward. If it is some form of terrorist activity, its sole purpose is to spread fear among people and to communicate some political message through means of violence. This kind of action only serves to justify the majority of the general public’s fear and distrust for any extremist cause, creating an even deeper and wider gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’, meaning recruitment activities to extremist religious or political causes will only attract other fundamentalists to their cause, which are by and large the underwhelming minority at any rate. Thus, the potential for the cause to grow is minimal and un-sustainable in the first place.
- Why we need to engage in non-condemning dialogue
While conjecture seems to be the life-blood of the media, there are plethora reasons to understand the viewpoint of the other and engage in non-condemning, inclusive dialogue that helps us to understand the legitimacy of the ‘other’ and their viewpoint.
All people, religious, secular or otherwise, have an innate desire to feel their viewpoint validated and legitimized. In cases of religious tradition and philosophy, this becomes of much greater importance when their view represents that of a higher deity or cause higher than themselves, which promises some recompense or restitution for sacrifices made for the good of the cause. All this does not mean, however, that we can never understand their distinct view because we don’t believe in the same doctrines, practices or religious principles. In fact, that is the very reason why we DO need to understand the reasons why people act and believe in what they do without prejudice or our own particularistic lenses.
True pluralism and inclusivity is the ability to recognize the legitimacy of the absolute truth or viewpoint of the ‘other’ in a non-condemning and un-prejudicial way. Doing otherwise will only ever serve to deepen intractable conflicts and misunderstandings between interlocutors and community representatives.
There are a number of ways to do this, including ‘abstraction’, ‘defusion’, ‘de-centering’, ‘discontinuity’, and/or ‘detaching’ from our own viewpoints to an objective viewpoint from which one can neutrally consider the claims of the other.
While these strategies are not without their own issues, being largely grounded in western logic and reasoning, they can still serve to allow for non-condemning dialogue, if only temporarily, to find a workable standpoint or solution acceptable to all parties within the conflict or disagreement.
- The role of tolerance within the Australian community
Pluralism is just as vital to a cohesive and tolerant multi-cultural community as the acceptance of individual rights and freedoms. Without a pluralistic outlook and approach to a multicultural community or society, problems such as these will be perpetually exacerbated and may not result in such eye-catching activities as what is underway in Sydney, but will embed within society until fruition.
The best thing that we can do to avoid this is to engage in non-condemning dialogue to ensure mutual understanding and respect between communities, and promote the role of freedoms and rights in allowing people to live what they see as the good way of life, as long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights, freedoms and safety of other people.
There are never easy answers to these types of problems, but I believe Australia is in a position to show how we handle this type of situation with respect, tolerance and understanding even under such a tense and wrenching situation.
My thoughts and prayers, as well as I’m sure those of religious and other community leaders, are with those who are currently being held hostage and their families.
*Samuel Glen is a systematic and detail-oriented analyst, He is currently a postgraduate student and teaching assistant at the School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University, completing a Master of International Relations by dissertation. Samuel has a vast amount of experience leading cross-culturally in Australia and overseas, predominantly in England, Australia and China. He is a communications and management professional with particular experience in international relations; cultural diversity; moral philosophy; dialogue and governance. He has a profound understanding and respect for cross-cultural communication and what it means for social cohesion and effective policy.
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