Where to from here? Strategies to combat racial vilification

13 November 2001, AAC

The Australian Arabic Council (AAC) is committed to advancing community-relations and community harmony in Australia. It has long campaigned for thorough community education at all levels as the best way to prevent and counter racism and ignorance. As a national organisation, we have actively worked to combat all forms of racial vilification, and initiated numerous education strategies to address the roots of racism, ignorance and xenophobia. Our record in combating racism through pro-active projects is well documented and dates back many years.

Having been consistently identified as one of the four most vilified groups in Australia, the extensive and well-documented experience of the Australian Arabic community provides many salient lessons for the promotion of harmony in our community.

While initiatives such as legislation to deter and punish those who cloak their ignorance in racism should be encouraged, programs must also be in place to address this fundamental cause of racism.

Reforms and programs are required in the most important areas relating to racial vilification, such as schools, policing and government. It is important that all related institutions work for the eradication of vilification and the increased education of our community.

The AAC has always advocated for multi-pronged and hard-hitting educational strategies that can affect social-cultural change in attitudes and behaviours. Education is the key to encouraging an understanding of ethnic and religious groups and their positive contribution to Australian society, as well as addressing the incidents and effects of racial vilification.

In light of the rise in racial vilification against the Australian Arabic community as a result of September 11th and hysteria and scapegoating surrounding local issues such as asylum seekers, crime and terrorist threats, the AAC has undertaken much work with all levels of the community, government and business. Following are recommendations that have been developed as a result of our many consultations, meetings and discussions about how to combat racial vilification.

Recommendations are included for government, police, media and education departments, and the also contain strategies to deal with similar emergency situations in the future, not only with the Arabic communities, but with all diverse communities. Recommendations are broad and brief; for more specific information about the recommendations, please contact the AAC.

The aim of these recommendations is to address racism and work together effectively to ensure that all communities lives in Australia free of vilification and marginalisation. They address the circumstances that give rise racism. These recommendations, if fully implemented, will go a long way to avoiding potential problems that arise in times of crisis – such as we have recently seen – and encourage diversity and acceptance in our community.

Never has a united front on the issue of diversity been more important. Not only has the Arabic community recently been under attack, but Australian multiculturalism has been under threat from our responses to global, federal and local events. This is a golden opportunity for all involved parties to take the lead and instigate courageous initiatives, which have the potential to address the systemic roots of racism, and not just the symptoms.

Fear, ignorance and uncertainty are at the root of racism, and must be central to any response. The issues that the community is currently dealing with are not to be sidelined into minority affairs, but to be part of an overall strategy to improve the legacy we are leaving for the next generation.