I’m still on a high after Richmond’s win, and I don’t want to go on about it, but it really was profound.
Last week I was talking about Dusty Martin and the Tiger's vulnerability practice and what a watershed moment that was for Aussie culture.
But there are a lot of amazing stories in the overarching epic of the Tigers’ victory.
Another one is Bachar Houli.
In case you’re not an AFL fanatic, Bachar Houli is one of the Richmond Tigers key players. He’s also first practicing Muslim in the AFL.
There have been other players from Muslim backgrounds in the AFL, but he is the first practicing Muslim – he had to get permission to break his Ramadan fast to participate in the draft round.
Given the age we’re living in, Houli’s religion is not insignificant.
Now I’ve read a few pieces which go something like, see Muslims can like footy. Therefore we can all get along.
It’s a bit silly.
I don’t think Houli’s participation in the AFL changes much in the scheme of things. I think you’re underestimating people prejudices if you think one player in the AFL can convince them to give them up, and come and join hands around the fire.
The truth is that society’s attitudes generally change as the old attitudes go with their owners to the grave.
So I don’t think Houli playing in the AFL is going to be an agent of change. That’s got the causality backwards. Rather, I think it says we’re doing something right.
I also think it’s wrong to paint ‘integration’ as relationship between an outsider and a static entity, say between a Muslim like Houli, and a static Australian society.
The way I see it, Australia is not a destination, but a journey. Australia society is not a fixed set of preferences (vegemite over jelly and peanut butter), but the values that drive our collective journey.
Of course, when we get into trying to define what Australian values are, we get into pretty hotly contested ground.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
And the truth is, when I see a young man like Houli, I can empathise. I grew up Greek in 70s and 80s Australia. I had a last name that the white kids couldn’t pronounce.
The young kids find it hard to believe these days, but we used to cop it. And it really wasn’t that long ago.
And people used to wonder back then if the wogs “really shared our Australian values.”
“Look! Their food has all this “flavour” and the men can dance.”
And before us, it was the Irish.
And now these days, you can’t even imagine the fabric of Australian society without the Mediterranean and Irish threads running through it. And you look back in time and think, what were people even worried about? It’s hard to understand.
But the ‘integration’ (and I kinda hate that word) of Greek and Irish peoples into Australia has been a success.
Because we were allowed to participate. We were given a go. I still love soccer and love Greek food, but there’s no point looking at such superficial measures of connection.
Rather, I have a dream to make something of my life, a willingness to do the hard yards, and to help out where needed.
To me, this is all Australia is. This is the journey that we are on, together.
And so I can get why people worry about Muslim people “integrating” with Australian society. They are strong in their culture and it has some marked differences.
But I am strong in my culture too, and my heritage still defines who I am.
And so I would say, don’t worry about any of this. Don’t worry about whether people are bringing pork sausages to the BBQ or not. It doesn’t matter.
Worry about whether they are part of the shared journey.
And in large part, that is simply about being confident in Australian culture. It really is awesome. Just trust that if someone has the ability to participate in it, see it for themselves, enjoy the freedoms and the quality of life that comes with it, then they will make it their own.
They’ll go on to play footy at the highest level and tear it up.
You let that be the choice. Either you take part in the shared Australian journey to making your life your own, or off you go and join ISIS. Up to you bro.
If you don’t think people will choose the Australian journey over some fundamentalist journey of whatever stripe, then you probably have a pretty negative view of what Australian culture has to offer.
I don’t. I reckon Aussie culture has a lot to offer an individual.
So for me, the real issue here is access.
The offer only works if everyone has the opportunities that I did.
Australian culture will thrive, and be a beacon to the world, so long as everyone has an opportunity.
Deny people the opportunity, and they will turn their back on society. They will stop being part of the journey and actively seek to undermine it – whether that means joining neo-nazis or ISIS.
But for now, that’s not what’s happening. Houli chose the Australian journey and living out his destiny through the AFL.
For today, at least, we’re doing something right.
What do you reckon Houli represents?