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The Maycomb Era

11 May 2017

My sister has never really liked to read. Being dyslexic probably doesn’t help the matter, but it often led to her questioning my love of it. “Why are you so obsessed with looking at black things on a page?” she would often ask me. I would casually shrug and nestle my mind further into that vibrant other world created by authors I saw as gods.

For me, books provide insight. They’re tools that transition your mind and soul into the perspective of another. They let you walk around in someone else’s shoes for a little while. They help you shape your opinions and encourage you to acknowledge the other side of your argument.

As global citizens with access to information at rates faster than ever before, authors and their works offer us insight into the experiences of individuals half a world away. Unfortunately, as developed as our capacity is to empathise, the rise of ‘fake news’ and a hateful rhetoric is shitting on what should be one of the greatest social advancements in human history.

 “Now, 57 years after the novel’s initial release, we enter once more into a Maycomb Era.” 

I think my favourite author of all time is Harper Lee. Her great literary contribution, To Kill a Mockingbird, calls forth a kind of people who saw courage as something that begins with patience and truth, rather than fighting against illusory fears based on assumptions.

In 309 pages, it produces a precise microcosm that captured the character and settings of the fictional town of Maycomb. With its fears of African-Americans amongst country white folk, it mirrored the real-life segregation at the time of writing. We watch the innocent development of rumour into stigma and stigma into fear, until it’s dissipated by the good old power of raw truth. Now, 57 years after the novel’s initial release, we enter once more into a Maycomb Era. I am sorry to see an overbearingly white Australia distort another’s state of being into something it is not.

If there’s a group of people who make me angry, it’s the small yet powerful few who build walls out of money to keep others out. If you want to see one of the least diverse communities in Australia, look no further than the cultural echo chamber of private schools that produced our current Prime Minister and the majority of his cabinet.

Much like Atticus Finch’s arguments for the equality of perspective, minorities face a legislative and judicial system that is more focused on condemning those they haven’t listened to than discovering the truth. Apparently, listening to only white conservatives gives divisive Members of Parliament such as Jacqui Lambie the right to denounce immigrant groups, “We have one law in this country and it is the Australian law – not Shari’a Law.”

I’m tired of schools being seen as ‘bad’ or ‘unruly’ because they have a demographic of immigrant, refugee or low-income kids there. I remember those kids. A fair few of them were shits and they picked on others like nobody’s business. Most of them dropped out by Year 10, whether they were shits or not. Without them I would not be aware of the absolutely abhorrent fuckwittery they were put through by our government. I also would have no concept of how horrible home life can get for a vast majority of kids, especially those living in poverty.

I’ve had my fair share of trials and tribulations, to use an age-old term. As a child from a single-parent family, I stepped up at too young an age to parent a sibling and have waded through enough crap in my life. But at the end of the day, I still had people who believed in me. No matter what I did, I was enough. Still, I can’t help but think, my struggles pale in comparison to what those kids and their families have been and are still going through.

And still, the majority of our society still vilifies and pushes away people who are in need. I can’t believe the absolute crap we put Muslims through. Tearing off hijabs, abuse in public. I once witnessed a group of white men across platforms at a train station heckle a young Muslim woman and her baby and the absolute terror in her eyes.

The Western media and our governments are obsessed with the so-called ‘war on terror’, defending our borders against ‘terrorism’. I think what has happened to victims and families of bombings and clarified terrorist acts is appalling.

Still, as I think back to that woman at the train station, I can’t help but be tormented by the thought, ‘To what extent are we, too, the terrorists?

I understand a portion of the fear. Nearly every major developed country has been bowed by the threat of Islamic State, a terrorist group that has misappropriated the teachings of Shari’a into something extreme and, terrifying.

I am not Muslim and I have not read the Quran, but I trust theologians such as Dr Jamila Hussain who have spent much of their lives studying this faith.

“Some terrorists have hijacked Islam in order to explain their actions or to get more popularity among Muslim populations. But they’re not acting according to Shari’a or according to Islam.”

It is for the same reason that many Australian Christians cherry-pick much of their religion and forego many of the heavier aspects, such as this section of the bible that was gently put aside by Pope Francis in 2013:

‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads’ – Leviticus 20:13.

“If Harper Lee taught me anything, it is that we must not fear, and we must not unjustly accuse.”

Religion evolves. As ironic as that sounds it is a true statement. Underneath nearly all religion lies the concept of harmony with one another. It is no mere coincidence that religions shift to preserve this concept in order to adapt to societal change. This is no less true for those that openly practise Shari’a Law, Catholicism, Buddhism or even Pastafarianism.

Not even a century on, we’re already forgetting one of mankind’s biggest lessons from World War II – to fear and vilify an innocent, marginalised group based on religion is one of the greatest moral sins of humanity. Currently, Muslim people are the mockingbirds, the Boo Radleys, the falsely accused black man of our time (although this is most definitely still prevalent). If Harper Lee taught me anything, it is that we must not fear, and we must not unjustly accuse. We must have true courage in the face of uncertainty.