Australia Thinks I’m Dating a Terrorist
I recently asked my boyfriend if he felt afraid to express his culture and religion in Australia.
“Yes,” he replied, without hesitation. “I don’t feel comfortable wearing my traditional clothes out in public or telling people I’m Muslim. What if someone starts hating me for it?”
His usual relaxed persona had turned into one of unnerving discomfort.
It is clear we are a country that supports freedom of expression – as long as that expression conforms to white, Western ideologies.
To learn more about Pakistani culture, I had spent much of the past 24 hours between various grocery stores and my kitchen trying to recreate traditional dishes I’d seen on YouTube tutorials and food blogs. The tangy aromas of ginger and coriander now infused the air of my car – it reminded me of the scent that lingers in your clothes after eating dinner at an Indian restaurant. I thought about rolling down the windows, though the frigid June wind caused me to re-evaluate.
As I drove along, I passed a young couple taking their baby on a nonchalant stroll and a hip, bearded 20-something carrying his groceries in a beige enviro bag. To them, it was just another Sunday. But to the nearly two billion Muslims in the world, today was Eid ul Fitr.
The celebration of Eid ul Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. It’s a time to practice self-restraint and self-reflection in order to solidify commitment to their faith.
Over the past 30 days, I had watched my boyfriend groggily cook oats and scull water at 5 in the morning before going to uni. Surrounded in class by overpriced hot chips and water filled bottles, he kept his fast and focused on his Cyber Security studies – a degree dedicated to maintaining the safety of Australia’s online data.
I didn’t really know much about Islam until I met my boyfriend. Western media often inaccurately portrays the religion to be synonymous with violence and terror. Even elected politicians in Australia, a land that prides itself on “multiculturalism” and “a fair go”, allude to their discrimination against Muslims in national newspapers and on TV.
Just hours after a terror attack in London in 2017, One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson took to social media, calling for Australians to use the hashtag “#Pray4MuslimBan” instead of “#PrayForLondon”.
“Let me put it in this analogy — we have a disease, we vaccinate ourselves against it,” the politician wailed as she proposed Australia bans Muslim immigration in a statement reminiscent of The White Australia Policy.
Western media’s coverage and labelling of the perpetrators of such horrific events also contributes to a skewed representation. If they’re Muslim, they’re terrorists. If they’re white or non-Muslim, they are deemed mentally ill.
I thought I must have misheard my boyfriend the day he first told me he was Muslim. I remember his sturdy arm enclosed me in a comforting embrace as we chatted about our families with my head rested on his chest. As I lay in the soothing position that I would soon learn to be my place of refuge, he spoke softly of the religion of peace, contradicting the stereotype that was plastered across Australian media.
Such intolerant views portrayed in the media are then infiltrated into Australia’s belief system. We are told on the daily to fear the “other”, and people actually believe it.
I remember being at the airport a few months earlier with my family.
“Excuse me Miss,” the security guard said. “Could you please come over here for explosive testing?”
I agreed, standing tall and still.
“Have you ever done this before?” he asked.
“Nope,” I replied.
He explained he was going to swab my clothes and bags for any traces of explosives. The routine process only took around 30 seconds. I re-joined my family and walked with them to the gate.
Already bored, I pulled out my phone. I took a Snapchat of my face with a bear filter and added my location ‘Perth Airport’. The caption read: Lol just got explosive tested for the first time. A few of my friends replied, “Have a safe trip!” and, “Have fun!”
I opened the next one: “They must know the type of guys you’re associated with.”
It is “jokes” like these, riddled with fundamental racism, that sustain the broader representation of Islamic faith. Such views result in otherwise peaceful Muslims living in fear, with an American study revealing 21 per cent of Muslims feel singled out by airport security.
I wanted to do something that showed my respect for my boyfriend’s culture and eagerness to learn more. This is how I found myself on the way to his apartment with the backseat of my Corolla loaded with homemade pots of aloo palak, biryani, roti, raita and curried sweet potato puffs: a feast fit for Eid.
When I arrived, I changed into my shalwar kameez – a traditional Pakistani dress that he and his mum had picked out last time he went back there. It’s a beautiful blend of green and orange swirled fabric, adorned with small orange tassels, embroidered plum flowers and tiny pearls, complete with a chiffon dupatta to match.
We invited some friends over to join in on our festivities.
“Eid Mubarak”, they greeted as they walked through the door holding boxes of traditional sweets.
We sprawled ourselves across the living room floor to eat. The heavy red pots I had taken from my Mum’s cupboard contrasted the yellow and green food coloured by turmeric, spinach and sweet potato. Plonked in the middle of it all was a plastic container filled with cucumber and mint poking through zesty yoghurt.
I felt my heart rate increase slightly as the guys took their first bite of my homemade traditional cuisine. What would happen if the flavours were completely off?
My worries subsided as too did the chatter – replaced by silence broken only by the ting of forks against plates and the satisfying “mmm” of curry filled mouths. Chuckles could be heard from the TV as it played The Worst of Britain’s Got Talent in the background. The raita was gone within minutes.
Pausing briefly to allow our food to digest between plates we talked about my recent birthday party, uni assignments and our plans to soon visit Pakistan.
The guys are all international students, hundreds of miles from home. Yet sitting here eating, laughing and telling stories together felt like a family affair. It reminded me somewhat of the celebrations I have with my own family, like birthdays and Christmas. With stomachs full and smiles wide, I received kind thanks for making the food that reminded them of home.
As we spoke, the sunlight dimmed behind the city skyline and left a trail like Kashmiri chai. When the food comas wore off, people began to leave. They continued to thank me as they walked out the door and promised to catch up soon for a movie or road trip.
Later that night, I found myself wrapped in the familiar comfort of my boyfriend’s arms. Half in slumber I heard him thank me for participating in Eid.
“Because of you, we got to eat together like we would do for Eid back home. Thank you for making the effort to help me celebrate.”
I smiled, and drifted off to sleep feeling full, safe and sound.