9/11 introspective wins top award
What was your experience growing up as an Australian Muslim pre-September 11? How does that contrast with your brother?
AN introspective examination of life for Australian Muslims growing up pre- and post-September 11 earned Bicton-based artist AbdulRahman Abdullah and his brother Abdul the inaugural arts and culture award at the WA Multicultural Recognition Awards week.
The exhibition, part of WA Focus at the Art Gallery of WA, highlighted the experience of young Muslims growing up in Perth and the shift in perspective that occurred in Australian Muslim identities after the 2001 terrorist attack.
The project consisted of a series of sculptures, prints, photographs, drawings and paintings that explored the politicising of identity.
Abdul-Rahman, who is 22 years older than his younger brother, spoke with Community Newspaper Group about their contrasting childhoods, the lasting effects of September 11 and the importance of multiculturalism.
last through oldest sons to a convict who arrived in Sydney on board a transport ship named The Indefatigable in 1815. Our convict ancestor’s name was Charles Blinman; he was a shoemaker from London who was transported to the penal colony after being convicted of stealing two stamps and a watch-chain.
When the exhibition opened last year at the Art Gallery of WA it was our family’s 200-year anniversary of arriving in Australia.
So much of my childhood revolved around spending time with other Muslim families. It was a small, mostly migrant community with people from all over the world building a sense of home here in Australia. Back in the 1980s we were largely invisible in a broader social sense. For me, being a Muslim was inseparable from the idea of close family, amazing food and a very domestic sense of spirituality. Our sense of identity came from each other and there was a lot of mutual respect and understanding among young families who identified with a particular set of cultural values.
While there are many other factors involved, September 11 was definitely a catalyst through which the idea of being a Muslim became extremely politicised. All of a sudden the cultural identity of 1.8 billion people became a cause of suspicion and hostility – we hadn’t changed but the world around us had.
Living in Australia it’s very difficult to avoid the consistently negative associations that have been imposed on Muslims by the media, as well as very vocal antiMuslim elements in the political landscape. When I was a kid I felt that I could grow my own Muslim identity but since September 11 Muslim kids are being told who they are by a divisive media and the very mainstream negative opinions around them from the beginning.
Particularly for young Muslims in their formative years, it can be very taxing to constantly qualify yourself as a decent human being in the face of widespread negative assumptions.
I remember watching the events unfold on television and becoming very aware in the following days that my name and my identity would now be treated with suspicion. The hardest thing to deal with was the way that my mother has been treated in the aftermath of September 11.
As an Asian woman living in Australia since 1971 she has dealt with decades of open racism. But since 2001, as a woman who wears a headscarf, she has been spat on, abused, had her scarf torn off and been harassed by complete strangers. It seems that young men become very brave when faced with a little brown lady minding her own business.
These experiences are very common, especially for Muslim women, and it creates a lot of resentment within the community.
More recent events around the global refugee crises have been exploited by fear-based politics and the Australian government has a completely inhumane record in its treatment of refugees. I don’t see the current state of affairs as being a particularly Muslim issue, it’s a human rights issue, and a question of moral obligation to the fair treatment of any human being trying to deal with horrific circumstances that we can barely begin to understand from the comfort of Australia.
We are the ones that look back from the abyss (2014) by AbdulRahman Abdullah.
Abdul-Rahman Abdullah .