The views and opinions expressed in this article are of the original author.
The 2nd of October, 2015 marked a dark day in Australian history. New South Wales Police Department accountant Curtis Cheng, a civilian was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Curtis was leaving work for the day when he was shot in the head by 15 year old Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar, who was going on a potential shooting rampage and claimed he was doing the work for religion. Now I don’t want to speculate this as a terrorist attack or the work of ‘radicals” or ‘extremists”, as some sections of the Australian community have, because clearly it was the work of a mentally disturbed teenager who felt isolated and let down by Australia and our systems.
I was in the area the day this happened, driving to the gym (my gym was located 10 minutes walk away from the scene of the shooting). At the time, I had no clue what had happened. I heard on my car radio that there was an incident, but there were no details as to what exactly. I saw baricades blocking the entire street where the police department was located, and I saw cops everywhere, directing traffic and walking around in a panic. Little did I know that a shooting had occurred and an innocent man had been killed. I only found out what had happened at the gym, as there were whispers everywhere and the news was blasting all over the gym floor. The news was stating that a shooting had occurred, and police were still investigating how it happened and that at least one person was dead. It was only when I arrived home that evening, and switched on the news that I learned the only casualty of the shooting was a Chinese Australian man – Curtis Cheng.
The days which followed the shooting, more and more of the story came to light, and the anger within the Australian community began to show. It was clear Australia became divided with certain sections playing the blaming game and placing the fault on the Muslim Australian community. White supremacist (alt-right) nationalistic groups and individuals came out all over the media claiming how they were always right about all Muslims being terrorists and that we need to place bans on their passage to Australia. But I guess these reactions were expected from these racist and islamaphobic groups, so I wasn’t surprised at all.
But what I was not anticpating was the reactions from the Chinese Australian community, and there was a huge response. The first person who called me about this was my own father who is of Chinese Malaysian descent. He already held resentful views towards Muslims (due to his perceptions of Malaysia), and said to me, “well, if it was a Chinese man who got shot by the Muslim terrorist, are you still going to stick up for the Muslim faith? If you do, doesn’t it go against all the work you are doing and talking about – you know your Asian and Chinese stuff?” I could sense that he was angry and about to play the blame game. For background purposes, I will say that I have been in many heated arguments with my own father on the issue of Muslims and of not blaming an entire religion/cultural group of people just because of the misdeeds of a few. But after I got off the phone, I did wonder how other members of the Chinese Australian community would react, and I then felt nervous many would react as my father did – he was a shining example of how some older generations of Chinese immigrants in Australia felt and would feel, so I was expecting the worst.
Not long after I received that call from my father, I was getting mass emails from various Chinese media outlets on the incident, and where I was unable to read Chinese, I did a google translate on some of the comments to the articles which reported what had happened. And surely enough, it was as I expected. Certain groups of Chinese Australians were then playing the blaming game, and placing all the onus of the shooting onto the Muslim community. It was as though, no rational thought was considered because anger and mainstream media brainwashing had taken over. In addition, many of the more conservative/religious Chinese groups came out in the same vein and blamed extremism, radicalisation and pretty much bantered on the same dribble which came out of the white supremacist groups mouths. Some even went as far as marching together with these groups at rallies against the building of mosques and Muslim prayer halls etc. I did confront many of these Chinese Australian groups/individuals (including my own father), and stated if it was a white Australian who did exactly this, it would just be written off as a crazy person who got their hands on a gun. There would be no mention of race, religion and all white Australians would not be blamed or be at fault. I just saw this as a huge contradiction and a demonstration of double standards, as well as a lot of mainstream white Australian brainwashing/assimilation mentality. Luckily, a large number didn’t buy into this racist and islamaphobic dribble and could see the situation for what it was: just a unstable teenager who went on a rampage, and Curtis was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. If you google what happened you will see that the story and the background is a lot more deeper as to what how this all happened.
The other point I wish to make is that the high profile and well known racists, such as Pauline Hanson (now an Australian Senator), conservative commentators and other politicians were using this shooting as a wedge to divide the community. Pauline Hanson mentioned the “shooting of Curtis Cheng” so many times throughout her campaign trail as a way to demonise the Muslim Australian community as well as to subliminally deflect her label as hating on Asians. She used this so divisively and the sad thing is, she was able to brainwash certain groups of Chinese Australians to believe in her dribble and she used Curtis’ name in vain. This prompted the Cheng family, particularly Curtis’ son Alpha, who was a humanities high school teacher to come out in an open letter pleading people like Pauline Hanson to stop using his father’s name in that way. Extremely admirable, and since then Alpha has continued in sharing his mourning and experience with high schools across the country, including the one where his father’s shooter was attending. Here is an excerpt from the open letter which Alpha wrote for Australian media. Before I share it, may I add that this should act as a reminder that division only causes more angst, hate and racism. As Asian Australians and as Australians of colour, our only way to combat the hate is to unify and advocate against the racism and the institutional hate, which is out there currently.
Here is an excerpt from the letter, written by Alpha, via AAP media source Sydney Morning Herald, printed on July 25th, 2016:
You asked why did the Lindt Cafe siege happen and why my father, Curtis Cheng, was murdered?
I do not know the answer to this question and I myself am searching for the answer, be it from the continued police investigations and from the coronial inquiry.
What I want to write about is what I do know and what I believe we need to do to create a more harmonious Australia. As you have mentioned that is your aim as well. However, I have strong concerns with your approach and stance.
My concern is the linking of this fear and anxiety to the entire Muslim population. We cannot generalise the actions of extreme individuals to encompass that of other successful and law-abiding citizens who happen to be of the same faith.
My father was murdered by a 15-year-old boy. I cannot deny the fact that the perpetrators professed to be followers of Islamic State.
However, it does not follow from these facts that Muslims should be feared. It was not the boy’s faith that has caused his action. He was using his faith as an excuse for violent and antisocial extreme acts….
What has happened to my family does not change my relationship with Muslims in my life. One of my closest friends is a Muslim, but his friendship and his care during the toughest time in my life is the measure of him as a person and not his background faith.
Remember, if anyone, it would be the Cheng family who should be angry and resentful. Instead they have taken their tragedy and asked for peace, harmony and unity. This is how it should be. I am sure we can all take some solace from these words and continually remind ourselves that blaming an entire religion, does no more than enhance the hate and fear which is already out there. Compassion is what Alpha Cheng demonstrated from his open letter and this is what we all need to do in order to start thinking rationally and not allow prejudice to take over.