Carmel Guerra,
Director of the Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues, writes:

Complaints of religious
discrimination have doubled in the past year from 51 complaints in 2003/04 to
106 complaints in 2004/05. This new information released by the Equal
Opportunity Commission Victoria signifies that the introduction of laws and the
debate around terrorism and ethnicity is having an effect on a large number of

Our extensive work
with culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) young people backs up this
information. We have found that recently they are feeling increasingly
targeted and fearful that the wider community doesn’t understand them. For
example, young women from the northern suburbs of Melbourne are scared to travel
into the city. The short trip from Preston, Coburg or Brunswick is one they
won’t do alone.

Multiculturalism has
always represented a good news story in Australia; a point of harmony,
celebration and understanding. Rather than creating a “melting pot,”
multiculturalism acknowledges the strength and richness of diversity and allows
people to take pride in who they are.

Wearing a hijab, for
example, should not be seen as a point of dissension. It’s about a woman having
the freedom to choose to wear a headscarf, just as a man may choose to wear a
crucifix or a yarmulke as a legitimate form of religious expression.

With discussions in the media and comments by some politicians
referring to a proscribed notion of “Australian values,” it is
important we engage in this debate and ask – what are “Australian
values”? And who are the “We” that is being alluded to? Constructing
myths about a homogeneous Australian identity has the effect of
marginalising some of the most vulnerable groups in our community.

Reported attacks
against Muslim women in particular is a tragic consequence of a debate that is
not adequately embracing the concepts of multiculturalism that have been
celebrated in Australia for so long.

The tragedy of the
current debate is that it further diminishes people’s ability to feel proud of
their background and identity. Pushing young people and CLD communities further
to the margins, as recent debate and policy has tended to do, will only reduce
their capacity (and willingness) to apply their resilience, strength and
resourcefulness to the economic and social well-being of the country.