Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lebanese Leaders should move beyond tolerance

As we are in the Australia Day season, we should ponder over where our nation is heading. In this respect, I want to make some general comments about tolerance.

Basically, I hate tolerance. Call me intolerant if you like. I believe that you only tolerate something or someone reluctantly. You tolerate because you have to, not because you want to.
If you are somewhat different to the majority, would you rather be tolerated? Or would you rather want to be understood and accepted?

I think it was JFK who once said: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Instead, ask what you can do for your country.” Another way to earn acceptance and respect is to contribute and to be seen to be contributing to the nation.

Many Lebanese Australian community leaders have entered the debate about ethnic crime using the politically correct catch cry of tolerance. They say it is wrong for a senior police officer or an Opposition Leader to talk about race in the context of crime. It is intolerant.

But I can't help asking how many Lebanese Australian leaders have learned to move beyond politically correct slogans. I also wonder what example some Lebanese leaders have set in relation to tolerance.

To this day, the Lebanese Muslim Association claims that it represents Sydney's Muslims. Its senior imam, Sheik Hilali, is meant to be the spiritual leader of Muslims in Australia and New Zealand. Yet the LMA continues to refuse membership to Muslims who are not Lebanese.

The LMA leaders and their predecessors (including Keysar Trad) have little moral authority to talk about racism when their own membership structure is based on a kind of apartheid within the Muslim community. If the LMA cannot even show racial tolerance toward non-Lebanese Muslims (including Aussie Muslim converts), what right do its leaders have to cry racism?

But it isn't just the LMA that discriminates against Muslims. To this day, the majority of programs on the Voice of Islam radio are broadcast in Arabic. Go to their website, and you will see the Arabic programming schedule full and the English broadcasting schedule empty. Even SBS Radio broadcasts more English language programs than the allegedly multilingual Islamic radio station.

If we look at the Lebanese community, we find a well-heeled and vibrant community that has contributed to all areas of Australian life for decades. Lebanese Australia has produced a NSW Governor, a Victorian Premier and numerous state and federal MP's.

Lebanese Australians can be found on the boards of major Australian companies, in government departments, in academia and in sport. We've all heard of Hazem el-Masri, one of Australia's top Rugby League players. Then there is National Australia Bank Chief Executive Ahmed Fahour, an avid fan of Aussie Rules. And which Aussie hasn't heard and seen the smiling face of John Symond telling us about how we can save thousands of our home loans?

I could list many more. The reality of the Lebanese community is well-known to people in the know. Sadly, Lebanese community leaders find themselves unable to communicate this reality to the broader Australian community. For this, they only have themselves to blame. Sadly, the rest of us have to suffer.

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