People Can Hear You
‘ASIYA’ & GABRIELLE LORD
I thought Australians didn’t like us. We were always taught that Islam is all about temptation and being tested to prove your faith is unshakeable. Outsiders were to be kept away, because they were only coming to test us or try to change us, so we shouldn’t talk or engage with them
Gabrielle Lord: In 2014, I published a novel titled Dishonour, about an Iraqi girl in Australia who is desperate to avoid a forced marriage to a cousin back in Iraq and the female police officer who tries to help her. The fictitious 18 year old Rana fears she will be taken out of the country against her will and forced to marry a man who is almost twice her age and who is “traditional” in his religious observance. This means that the intended fiancé lives his life under sharia law, and that Rana’s position back in Iraq would be that of a subservient, second-class human being, a servant subject to the domination and sanctioned violence of her husband and his family, relegated to childbearing and endless cooking. Rana rejects this; she wants that most basic of all human rights: the right to self-determination. She wants to complete her pharmacy degree, as well as follow her heart. She has become attracted to Christianity, is in the process of converting, and is in love with a young Copt who wants to marry her. In other words, she wants the freedoms that other Australian women take for granted, but which are prohibited to her by sharia law.
In the course of researching this novel, it was necessary to interview several women of Muslim background who had converted. This wasn’t easy and I was shocked to hear that they live in fear of their own communities and that if their families ever discovered that they were “losing their religion,” they would be shunned, their entire extended families shamed and they themselves possibly exposed to retributive violence. What I was writing as fiction in a novel, was the lived experience of women and girls living in Australia. I had to operate with a go-between, a trusted clergyman, in order to gain access and their confidence.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to meet “Asiya”, a highly intelligent Iraqi girl, in her early twenties, smart, elegant and insightful, who was willing to speak frankly about her childhood and her observations of family life as a young Muslima in Sydney’s western suburbs. Asiya is very concerned about the isolation of girls such as she was, growing up in Australia and yet completely unable to access the wider community of Australians, or “the Europeans”, one of the words her family used to refer to the rest of us.
As she spoke, I thought she was talking about her experiences back in Iraq, but no, her story is one which takes place in the western suburbs of Sydney. She believes there are thousands of young girls trapped as she once was.
Asiya: We were kept locked up at home. We never went anywhere except to [Islamic] school. Even when our parents went shopping, we were not allowed to go. I didn’t know what a shopping mall was. I didn’t even know where I lived—apart from the name of the suburb—but I had no idea where that was. Sometimes, when the parents were out, my brother would disconnect the satellite dish and we could watch ordinary television. That was the only time I saw anything of the outside world.
My father was very devout, but he was an educated man and ran a very successful business. My mother was emotionally unstable and had a lot of issues. We were beaten for everything and the beatings were accompanied with threats about how we were going to hell where we would burn for eternity. I think my mother suffered from postpartum depression; a lot of the women do, because they’re forced to marry men they don’t want and then have children that they don’t want and so they take it out on the kids who are just another chore for them. They’re suffering because they’re “living beyond their own choice”. I honestly think that I would have died of neglect except for my older sister who cared for me. In fact, my mother used to openly say that I would have died except for my sister’s intervention. She wasn’t upset about saying that. She hated me.
According to my mother, I was a rebellious child, and was always being beaten. There were no bedtime stories, just the endless threats of hellfire because we were disobeying Allah. There were nine of us and the house was ruled by fear. If anything was broken or damaged in the house, we were lined up and interrogated, one by one.
In Year 5, I read Robin Klein’s novel People Might Hear You, which made a deep impression on me. (GL: It is the story of Helen, who tries to escape from an overwhelming religious cult, in which the girls are kept as servants, submissive and silent, in a regime imposed by her stepfather.) It was a turning point for me. I realised that what was happening in our house was actually strange, and not the norm. Then from about age ten to thirteen I became very religious and started to wear the hijab. But around thirteen to fourteen, I started to question my religion. I had a massive obsession with astronomy and as I studied science, I came to see that the planets and the galaxies move according to their own laws and that Allah has nothing to do with it. I was always in trouble at school because we are Shia and the school was Sunni. My answers were always wrong. The Sunnis say there’s only one person worse than a Jew and that’s a Shia. It’s twice the honour for killing a Shia than for killing a Jew. That’s what they say. At school, teachers saw the bruises on us from the beatings but they didn’t do anything. Even the Australian teachers. They’d try to make it up to us by being extra-sweet to us, or giving us better marks, but they never reported the abuse.
I was only a baby during the time the whole family fled to Saudi Arabia to avoid the war. My sisters told me about it later. It’s the most awful place in the world. The Sunnis despise the Shia so we were badly treated and forbidden to leave the camp which was in the middle of the desert. The religious police were on the alert for any breach of the rules, enforcing strict Wahhabism/sharia. If a woman stepped outside her tent without her scarf, she could be arrested and whipped.
When I was about fourteen and we were by then living in Australia, the family went back to Iraq because my parents wanted us to meet the family. Also, the parents were worried that we were becoming too rebellious and Westernised and we needed to learn how to be Arabs. The first night we had dinner with them, I asked for a spoon because they all ate with their hands. I didn’t understand that I shouldn’t have done this. They all started yelling at me and I yelled back, behaving as I would in Australia. Someone hit me across the face so hard that I was blinded for about ten minutes. How dare you speak to us like that! This was all my uncles and cousins, all the males.
And even my brother changed towards me. He was only a year older than me and we had a very close relationship—we slapped each other, we fought with each other, we yelled at each other, we swore at each other. We were like twins. We used to do everything together. Ride bikes, play soccer in the yard, although I wasn’t allowed to ride the bike because there’s some myth that it may pop your hymen! I’d help him with his hobby of customising bikes. We were all goofy kids, but he and I were more so. We would do all kinds of things to make each other laugh.
That all changed. Now the males in the family were saying “She can’t talk to you like that. You’re her brother! You have to put your sister in her place.” I got beaten up daily because anything I did that was normal here wasn’t normal over there. My mother took pleasure in observing this. She’d say: “Did you really think you could go on acting like this? This is how it has to be from now on.” She was very sadistic and made a point of saying, “This is how it is; you have to suck it up and understand that you’re a privileged brat.” It’s the worst feeling. I had no control over anything any more.
There’s this berry in Iraq that’s very red and I accidentally sat on one and it stained my clothing, so my mum said, “Oh you’ve come of age, now you can get married.” I kept trying to tell her I haven’t got my period yet, but she wouldn’t listen. She said you know you have to get married now. Then she tried to marry me off, which meant I’d have to stay there [in Iraq] married to my cousin. This guy dressed in military uniform came into my auntie’s house and my mother asked me what did I think of him and go and sit beside him, and I’m thinking is this a trick and am I going to get beaten if I do that? I didn’t understand anything about getting married. After he’d gone my mother said, “You’re going to get married to him” and I said “No way!” She said, “It’s not up to you. The engagement is on and the dress is ready.” I refused and went up to my room and just stayed in it for about a week. My father was asking where I was. He didn’t know. And I was really scared that the cousin would come around and ask my Dad permission to marry me and Dad would say yes, because he’d think that’s what I wanted. My dad supported education for girls but my mother was hell bent on marrying us off early.
I begged and begged my dad to take me back to Australia. Eventually he relented and we came back. But that didn’t stop my mum. She said “Just because you’re in Australia again, doesn’t mean that you’re not getting married.” I was fifteen and she was adamant that I was to marry. She hated me and wanted to get rid of me. She contacted a friend who had a son and the mothers organised it and I was made to try the engagement dress on and that was the only time my mother acted “normally” towards me—said some kind words. She said, “Oh, you’re pretty after all.” Because she thought I was going to do what she wanted me to do. I said no way was I going to get married but she just laughed at me.
That night, I put some things in a bag and snuck out of the house. I have never been back.
I walked around for hours—I remember seeing the sun starting to come up. Then I thought, there’s no point to this, I don’t know where to go, I haven’t any money. I’ll have to go back. But at that moment, a police car drove past and I waved at them and they pulled over and asked me if everything was all right. And I said “No.”
I wouldn’t tell them my name or address because they wanted to take me home. They kept asking me and I kept refusing to tell them. I told them about the violence. I showed them the bruises. My mother used to use the cord from the electric kettle to whip us with. I wasn’t safe in my own home and I was never going back. Eventually they called DOCS [the Department of Community Services] and told them I was very afraid about the police not taking me seriously because my own sister had reported her under-age forced marriage and they did nothing because it was “a cultural issue” and they hadn’t wanted to touch it.
DOCS were helpful to me but there’s a massive problem with funding. They put me in halfway houses—two were excellent and they helped me learn how to take care of myself. Other places were really bad and not suitable for a girl of fifteen.
I enrolled in the only school that would take me because I was lacking the necessary paperwork to enrol in school in a normal way. Somehow, my dad and my sister tracked me down to the school. They told me they were going to Iraq and they tried to talk me into going back with them. But I refused. My sister (who’d been forced to marry and then dumped and was now a divorcee) said, “Come with us to Iraq. I’ll look out for you. You won’t be forced to get married.” I tried to tell her, “Don’t go there. You don’t know what it’s like. Once you get there, you’ll be trapped in Iraq and beaten every day. You have no power.” But she didn’t believe me. “I can do anything I like,” she said. “But that’s because you’re living in Australia now,” I told her. “Once you get back there, it’s all different. You’re a divorcee, you’ll be treated like garbage, believe me.” But she didn’t believe me. They kept pestering me. Eventually, I had to threaten to get the police if either of them came back to the school again.
I knew of one girl who was shunned by her family because of something she’d done and was sent back to Iraq. I don’t know if she’s even alive now. I had a good friend who was Lebanese and she was forced into a marriage, but he left her, so her family forced her into a second marriage. And she used to message me and say, “I wish I could run away. I wish I could be like you and run away.”
I left that school because I was scared that my family knew where I was. I enrolled in TAFE and learned a trade. I had to earn money. I have to support myself—I’ve always had my own place and my own money since leaving school early. Once, some time after this, my dad rang me (my sister had given him my number) and the first thing he said to me was, “Are you still…?” But he couldn’t bring himself to say it. He kept saying “Are you still—you know—are you…?” He was trying to say “virgin” and I said, “Of course.” It was a lie! It’s such a big deal to them, the hymen. That’s the only thing they’re interested in.
Every year, the Islamic school had to teach us about emergency phone numbers—ambulance, fire and police—and every year there was this same uproar, with the families saying, “They are teaching our children to dob us in.” Because it was an absolute no-no to pick up the phone or interact with anyone outside. I thought Australians didn’t like us. We were always taught that Islam is all about temptation and being tested to prove your faith is unshakeable. Outsiders were to be kept away, because they were only coming to test us or try to change us, so we shouldn’t talk or engage with them. For instance, we’re taught that Islam is righteous and people who aren’t Muslim go to hell. They tried never to speak about the outside world ever under any circumstances—not even to criticise it—because it might start us thinking about the fact that Aussies live freely, and talking about this, even if it is to bad-mouth them, means talking about the fact that the Australians can wear whatever they like, they go out, they work and do whatever they want and this may seem inciting to a young person. But by not being allowed to talk about Australian culture, we remain oblivious to our rights as Australians. We are controlled by the religion via our families and the school. Even non-Muslim women teachers were forced to wear the headscarf. I cannot imagine being employed somewhere and being told to wear a scarf to respect a religion I did not follow.
At school, it was obvious there was a massive gender difference. The boys could play whatever they wanted but the girls were only allowed netball and bowling. It was implied that boys could do whatever they liked, but girls weren’t allowed to pray whenever they had their periods, so we were allocated a classroom where girls had to sit during prayer times when they were menstruating. Same with Islamic studies—the teacher was always male and we couldn’t touch our religious homework because to do so is unholy when you are menstruating. So it was very humiliating to sit in class and act casual in front of your male teacher, fearing to touch your homework because you’ll embarrass yourself and he’ll know you have your period. Girls always had to wear long sleeves, even in hot weather whereas the boys could wear short sleeves.
The boys always led the prayers, and sermons and religious recitations were only given by males. There was pressure on subject choices. I was very artistic and won multiple awards for it in school. My art teacher had to monitor us strictly and we weren’t allowed to draw humans because it is supposed to be acting like Allah and nobody is allowed to draw humans as they are his creation. Somehow, if we draw humans, we are making ourselves Allah! You could see our art teacher getting a panic attack every time somebody tried to draw a human being! A lot of the parents had an issue with electives such as sports and music and arts—sports for the girls was a scandal for some Arabian parents, my parents included. I remember never telling them that I had sports as an elective—I lied and told them I did IT. Music? I didn’t even bother mentioning it as they view it as sinful.
GL: Are we taxpayers aware that we are funding an educational system that enforces a type of gender apartheid? Or that teaches absurd notions of female “uncleanliness” around the invaluable and normal function of menstruation, thereby shaming and humiliating the girl students? With the recent investigations into Islamic schools over taxpayers’ money being siphoned off to other parties, now might be the time to ask these schools what they intend to do about these archaic sharia-based ideas which are harming young Australian girls. Above all, are we okay with a taxpayer-supported educational enclave that in all kinds of ways seeks to maintain separation from mainstream Australia and which denigrates the very society and values which have afforded them refuge, freedom from sectarian violence and unmatched economic opportunities? Instead of promoting separateness and maintaining a wall of silence towards and about mainstream Australia, Islamic educators should be helping their students and the wider community to transition into the mainstream.
Asiya has some ideas about how oppressed girls might escape—should they wish to—this kind of confinement.
The Government should set up a help line to help these hidden kids. If someone had explained to me what DOCS actually does, and I’d dared to contact them, I would have left sooner. There should be a campaign about it in areas where the demographic is highly Arab or Muslim, suburbs such as Merrylands. I worked there for a while and I was shocked to hear their stories. If you stop any woman in Merrylands, you’ll find she’s been through the same stuff that I went through. Every woman. But they wear the scarf and they stay. They don’t know there’s a way out of it. At one stage, I hoped my mum might change. When my dad left us and married his second wife, my mother talked of divorce and I hoped she might change. But she didn’t. There’s a rule about the treatment of wives, so that some kind of marital roster has to be followed— one night here, the next night there. The women would try to sabotage the roster. I heard that the second wife faked having a miscarriage to keep my father from being home on my mother’s night, and this way she got three nights in a row! There is a lot of absurdity.
My sister was married when she was twelve.
She was taken to Iraq and married over there. Do you remember the case of the Italian girls who were taken out of the country? There was lots of publicity about that and some years later, I contacted the AFP about my sister but they said there was nothing they could do about it because she was in Iraq. I was disgusted. All that fuss over the Italian sisters but no action over mine. My two sisters are Australian citizens, I told them. This is trafficking. I asked them: “Can I give you details so that you can question my father? My father flies in and out of Australia all the time—you could stop him at any time to get information.” They were not interested. The AFP said my sister needs to go to the Consul in Iraq. How can she do that? She’s not allowed out of the house. She has no money. She doesn’t know where the Embassy is nor how to get there. The system doesn’t work. The AFP has a base around Bagdhad. Iraq is big and women have no power. How’s she going to get there? She lives in another state. These girls need to be stopped before they leave Australia. How’s my sister supposed to get to the Embassy? She was a child. But now it’s on the record, that my two sisters were victims of forced marriage. They’ve got the names.
There needs to be a special dedicated unit to help these kids. People don’t want to talk about it. They’re scared to offend people. They’re scared that the Muslims might find it offensive. But what about these under-age kids? Isn’t that offensive? Their lives are ruined.
Even now, despite the fact that I’m independent and free, I struggle with issues. I struggle with socialising. I struggle with ordinary things. Like when I first got to meet up with my partner and he suggested we meet outside Woolies, I said, “What’s Woolies?” I had no idea what he meant.
When another one of my older sisters was thirteen, she was married by the sheik who came to the house in a ritual known as the Khoutba, which means “proposal”. It didn’t take place at the mosque because in mosques you never know who’s listening and it might be found out. Also, if the terms aren’t agreed on, this way everything can be kept very private, because if it did fall through, everyone would think that it fell through because the girl wasn’t a virgin. Any time the proposals don’t work out, it’s always the girl’s fault and the fault is always supposedly that she’s not a virgin.
The bride and groom sit together with their fathers and sometimes their mothers as well, while each submits their paper of vows and conditions. So for example, the bride might put, “I must be allowed to continue my education” and the husband might put, “Dinner must be served every night at 7pm”. If both parties agree to each other’s terms, the sheik blesses them and recites Islamic prayers and the marriage is official. But my sister’s husband was a man who raped her until she was pregnant. Her husband was just vile. I don’t want to even think about him. I could kill him. He was an illegal immigrant who’d been told that if you marry an Aussie girl, you can become a citizen. Then he found out that that wasn’t the case so he tried to wait until she was a bit older. He locked her in the house, he beat her, he would hold sharp implements like scissors against her throat. Then he left her and she had to come home. She has lots of mental issues now. Now he is a citizen and has a good business. Life in Australia has turned out very well for him and he got another wife from Iraq. Meanwhile my sister struggles every day as a single mother with severe psychological problems.
My mother played a huge role in the forcing of the marriages and it was through her badgering and persistence that my older sisters were married. When my dad found out what sort of men they were, he asked them to divorce my sisters, but my mother forced them to go back to their husbands. It’s really the female who grabs onto the “honour” aspect, because they have no basic human rights, all they have left is their honour—as they see it—and they will go to any lengths to protect it. Any slight inkling that their honour is being impinged results in huge upset.
Sex and sex instruction is a huge taboo. We were kept ignorant. The lady across the road noticed I was wearing all these clothes on a really hot day, to hide my physical development because I was ashamed of it. She was kind and lent me some of her daughter’s clothes—a bra.
When my dad took that second wife and my mother found out, she had a complete meltdown and went into her room and wouldn’t come out. She’d just stay in bed for days, refusing to do anything in the house, no cooking or cleaning and my father would have to come. It was her way of controlling him. She was pregnant at the time. When she had the baby, she gave him to me and then left to stay at a friend’s house for a long time. I did everything for that little boy—changed his diapers, washed him, fed him. That little boy thought I was his mother and even when my mum finally returned, he’d still always run to me.
The second wife was older than my mother. Unmarried Muslim women aged thirty and upwards are shunned. If you don’t marry young, it’s thought there is something wrong with you. I think she married my father to save herself from the shame of this. My dad did eventually come back and he did try to engage with us. He asked my mother to go easier on us, and told her I was depressed. I didn’t know what “depressed” meant. She ridiculed that idea and said I just had a bad attitude and to snap out of it. If a girl acts out, it means she needs a man/marriage.
My father lived with his other wife for a time. We were left alone in the house for two years after my mother left as well. For two years, no adult lived in our house. For two years none of us went to school. No one noticed, or if they did, they didn’t seem to care. The Islamic school didn’t do anything, if they noticed. My older brother who’d left home used to bring a bag of food each fortnight, or at least mostly each fortnight. At that stage, there were six of us living at home and I was about eleven or twelve. Sometimes we’d be given a big bag of rice for the fortnight and we’d just eat rice all the time.
We were glad our mother wasn’t home because she was abusive and it was hard to be around her but I was also scared. I think the younger ones felt safe because I was taking care of them so they didn’t comprehend that it was not normal for children to be at home alone like that. My two older sisters had been married off and the older brother was staying with friends. I did all the cooking. I delegated chores with cleaning so we all cleaned up but the house was still gross. We didn’t know how to take care of it properly. There were mice and cockroaches. We didn’t have proper bedding.
I remember one time when my mother and father fought outside the house and the neighbours called the police. My mum left for her friend’s house and my dad left for his other wife’s place, so when the police came, it was just us—the kids. The police were shocked and stayed in the house contacting our parents until my dad came back. They were shocked at the mice but they didn’t do anything. They didn’t call DOCS.
I really just felt crap all the time. I would cry a lot at night. I just didn’t know what to do and I felt like my parents really hated us. We went for little walks at night. We looked in bins to see if there were food scraps. We were so scared of going outside because we weren’t allowed to, even though our parents weren’t there. But if they didn’t send our oldest brother with the fortnightly groceries, then we just had to go looking for food. It didn’t happen often, but I remember doing it at least twice. I felt responsible and I hated it. I just wanted all the younger ones to be okay.
A woman who’d been a neighbour when we lived in Auburn heard about our situation and was really angry with my parents for leaving us. A lot of people knew we were at home alone, it’s a common practice, but not on such a long-term basis, though. The second wife cooked some meals for us and my father would bring them to us, but we refused to eat anything she’d made. As far as we were concerned, she was the reason our father had left us and his (then) eight children, precipitating the crisis which had caused both our parents to completely abandon us so that we’d lived alone in the house for those two years.
GL: Neglect of children is a widespread failing and certainly not restricted to the Muslim community. But here, one senses something else. Did the community close ranks so as not to bring “shame” to the parents or their community by reporting them? And did the police fail to act because of the racism of low expectations? Or perhaps for fear of stirring up a sensitive community?
Or are these problems so widespread that if there were a general flight from them by abused women and girls, our government resources would be completely swamped and the costs would soar?
These are questions that need to be explored and decisions made in a transparent manner as to whether or not this neglected and culturally and politically sensitive area will continue to be ignored.
Now, I’m free. I can breathe. I can choose to do what I want to do. I know of at least two Australian women who’ve gone into relationships with extremist Muslim men and completely submitted to them. I don’t know how they do that to themselves. What the hell is wrong with them to go and marry a Muslim guy who makes them cover up and traps them in the house?
I don’t miss my family. My cats are my family. I don’t have any regrets. I’m glad I left. People say, “But it’s your family! You’ll have regrets.” I say, “You don’t get it. If you’re in an abusive relationship with someone who beats you every day, and makes you feel like crap every day, when that relationship ends you feel relieved. You feel happy that it’s finished.” I’m very happy that I don’t have to see them ever again. I struggled in the first few years, but that was because I was a child. I struggled with the religion too. I didn’t want to wear the scarf but I was worried about going to hell. Sometimes now it still creeps up. Sometimes I feel fear from the community. Once someone recognised me and he was glaring at me because my family is well known and regarded in the community. I never went back to that area again.
A lot of Muslim families beat up their kids, marry their daughters young, leave the kids alone at home, but for all of these events to happen under one roof is probably unusual.
GL: Unusual or not, the fact that six children were abandoned by their parents in a house for two years with only intermittent food delivery and with a twelve-year-old child in charge, should never have gone unreported. It was noticed by the ex-neighbour who was angry with the parents for leaving vulnerable children alone for years, by the second wife who also tried to bring food, and other members of the community. But no one said anything to the authorities. Even the police failed to report on the unacceptable conditions these kids were enduring. Did the school not notice the absence of their students for two years? Are such absences unremarkable to them?
Asiya and I talked about the work of Dr Eman Sharobeem, an Egyptian woman who works tirelessly in Migrant Services at Fairfield and who tries to educate migrant parents about the need for their girls to complete their schooling and not be married off young. Dr Sharobeem, who was herself a victim of a forced marriage, operates with delicacy and sensitivity when she deals with families, and has been successful in preventing under-age marriages. Asiya agrees that education is of paramount importance and that the isolation of too many young Muslim people needs to end. She understands that domestic violence isn’t confined to the migrant community, but Australian kids can run outside the house, hang out at the mall, or go to the park. They can also call the police. Muslim kids can’t do that, especially the girls. She suggests:
Put outsourced counsellors in private Islamic schools. But they need to be independent people from a government agency who can talk to the children and report back, not someone from within the school or community who’d be under all kinds of pressure to turn a blind eye. I think multicultural events should be held, like sports, art, reading groups or shared projects where private Islamic schools must interact with public schools. Maybe even a Healthy Harold-type mascot who does annual school visits to explain to kids their rights as Australian citizens; that it’s okay to be Australian, that the kids in Islamic schools are also Australian, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Pressure needs to be exerted on these schools to educate both the children and the parents, that it is a privilege in Australian schools to be permitted to learn Islam as part of the school day, but the schools shouldn’t be making the children believe they’re living in some kind of “faux Arabia” surrounded by hostile Australians who are trying to tempt them away from Islam.
GL: Australia is increasingly a secular country and relatively irreligious. I think Australians wouldn’t be giving the proverbial rat’s about Islam or Islamic religious beliefs except for the fact that jihadi murderers by the thousands justify their actions according to the doctrines of Islam when they kill us. Nor is it helpful for Muslims in Australia to have so-called leaders who use the Koranic description of us non-Muslims as “the most vile of created beings” or have non-believers listed together with other “dirty” things which interfere with Islamic prayer practices, such as faeces, urine and dead bodies to name just three. Who would want to integrate with such unclean people? We should also strongly object to the insulting term “non-believer”. No other human being can determine other human beings’ relationship (or not) with the Divine. Integration will never take place while these ancient doctrines and beliefs continue to be promulgated.
Migrants need to accept that they cannot claim all the enormous benefits of living in Australia—safety, political stability, economic opportunity, universal healthcare, and a social safety net—without acknowledging mainstream Australian culture, nor without integrating into the society which sustains them at huge expense. Self-segregation by Muslims away from mainstream Australia is unacceptable in a situation where all immigrants are given, and happily take, so much from the mainstream community, including very generous educational funding. For migrant parents to discourage contact and full integration with non-Muslim Australia, as Asiya experienced, and, as she claims, many other families do, is seriously wrong and needs to be addressed in government policies. It is dishonest for the spokespeople of the Muslim community, those who are constantly claiming that they are being “marginalised” and “alienated” by the wider community, to fail to address their own part in this “alienation”. Instead, they would be better employed in ensuring that their children aren’t being taught to shun us, the other Australian citizens.
GL: When I mentioned to Asiya that I’d endeavoured to keep her identity and the identity of her family unrecognisable, she came straight back with this:
I actually don’t mind if it’s identifiable. People should know what those kids went through and who they are. The whole reason I wanted to speak to you was because I strongly feel the Australian government failed. Some of these kids were born here. Lived here. No one blinked. Even reporting it had no result. I want people to read this and not just see “characters”. These are real people. And they lived, and continue to live, lives of suffering —and it could’ve all been prevented and still can. I really do want this to be very public and I want it to wake people up. Even if just wakes up one person, because that could be the right person—who can take action.
Gabrielle Lord is a prolific Australian novelist