Friday, April 22, 2016

Anzac Day a day for all Australians - Migrants should be more active and visible on Anzac Day

In September 1980, Iraq invaded Iran and waged a horrifying war that lasted eight years. In 1983, I was enlisted in Iran to fight in a war I didn't believe in, for a government I opposed. The terror and shock of active military service left serious psychological and emotional scars. The tragedies I witnessed, including the death of a close friend, will never be forgotten. Years later, dealing with post traumatic stress disorder left me paralysed for years until finally, through appropriate therapies, I managed to regain balance and live a relatively normal life.

There are many like me among migrants and asylum seekers who have intimately suffered the harsh realities of war and can relate to the Anzacs and their ordeals. 

During the first few years of my immigration to Australia, due to the challenges I had on hand and the isolation from mainstream Australians, I didn't have much of a connection with the commemorations and marches on Anzac Day. As I gradually settled in and developed bonds with the mainstream, I began to realise the significance of Anzac Day among Australians. At first it looked geared towards nationalistic sentiment and glorifying war, but my view gradually changed as I gained more understanding of its history.

As a newcomer, I was conscious of how other migrants perceived Anzac Day in a country where multiculturalism is embraced. The multicultural society in Australia at first reminded me of utopia. How amazing it is to see that people of different cultures and backgrounds can live in harmony and with mutual respect. Nevertheless, I gradually realised that the idea of keeping distinct ethnic cultures could also pose some problems for a country. I've noticed that some migrants do not feel a strong sense of belonging in Australia, or find it hard to integrate themselves into society. They decide to live in their own communities because it is much easier than fitting in with mainstream Australian culture. This seems to explain why not all migrants have much feeling for the Anzac Day commemorations.

Perhaps nationalism is a step too far, but I believe that every migrant should develop a reasonable sense of patriotism for Australia over time. I don't find multiculturalism in conflict with national pride; they both can go hand-in-hand to build a united nation. When I attended the Anzac march in the city for the first time, I couldn't help noticing the ethnic composition of the crowd on the streets; the majority of the crowd appeared to be of British descent. I would have expected to see a more diverse ethnic composition, such as can usually be found at celebrations and festivals like the New Year's Eve fireworks.

Effective integration is not easy for a migrant. When I entered Australia, I felt like a complete stranger and outsider. It took me years to study and understand my new home country with my own determination and disciplined efforts. It wasn't easy.

There are many like me among migrants and asylum seekers who have intimately suffered the harsh realities of war and can relate to the Anzacs and their ordeals. Each one can tell you a story about the toll war has taken on their lives, the loss of life and its futility. Each one can prove with conviction that war is the most destructive form of resolving a conflict and why we should do our utmost to avoid it. Each one has a deep understanding of the horror of war and its consequences.

From Gallipoli to Iraq, Australia's strategies in the Middle East have too-often been fraught or futile, with poorly planned involvements costing our and other nations dearly. I personally lived through eight years of war and witnessed nothing but tremendous destruction and loss. The Iraqi army ended up back where it launched its first attack. Who was the beneficiary of that war? The mighty manufacturers of weapons? Who was the beneficiary of the 2003 invasion of Iraq? The international oil cartels?

As a migrant and Australian, I believe that our multicultural society should be an epitome for the world to model, where people with different skin colours, religions and cultures live together in harmony and peace. We should all attend Anzac Day services and marches to honour the grand sacrifices our diggers made. But we should not glorify war; instead, we should celebrate harmony and peace.

Migrants should make themselves more active and visible in such commemorations on Anzac Day and let the world see that we have the solution, we are the solution.

Saeed Fassaie is the author of the memoir Rising from the Shadows.

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