Can You Ever Become An Australian?
It has been very revealing to read the news reports of mobile phone entrepreneur, John Ilhan’s untimely death at the age of 42. His passing is a tragedy on many levels. He leaves behind a beautiful young family; he was becoming an inspirational role-model for the Muslim community in Australia and he was widely respected […]
It has been very revealing to read the news reports of mobile phone entrepreneur, John Ilhan’s untimely death at the age of 42. His passing is a tragedy on many levels. He leaves behind a beautiful young family; he was becoming an inspirational role-model for the Muslim community in Australia and he was widely respected (and liked) in the Australian business and sporting community. He wasn’t just wealthy, he was also a good-hearted man.
But, the news reports also carry a bitter edge in the way politicians, especially the current Prime Minister John Howard, have chosen to focus on Mr Ilhan’s life. Notice the emphasis placed on his being a “migrant,” who “owes” his success to Australia. It is telling (but not surprising) that the politicians couldn’t just pay tribute to him as an Australian, or as an Australian success story, instead they have to focus on his status as a “migrant.”
Especially when one remembers that he came to Australia as a three-year old child.
He did not choose to move to the country, or to leave the country of his birth. His skills and dedication were such that could well have been a success story anywhere in the world. Moreover, he fully embraced Australian values and culture and understood himself as Australian.
But no level of sacrifice, prosperity or respect could be enough to shake the label of “migrant.” Not even having lived 39 of his 42 years in the country. Moreover, the vague word “migrant,” which is used far more often in Australia than most other countries, put the emphasis in the wrong place. The important fact is not so much the choice to migrate in some abstract sense, but the choice to leave one specific place, often for another specific place. The moving isn’t the important bit, the choosing to settle in somewhere new is the important bit.
Before sitting down to write this, I spent a while pondering Mr Ilhan’s words, written on the occasion of Australia Day this year. There’s a lot there that I agree with and would wish for Australia’s future. But, sadly, I think he was wrong in saying “No matter what our background, we are Australians.” If you are born outside the country (as both Mr Ilhan and I were), even if you came to Australia as a young child (as both Mr Ilhan and I did), then you are never “really” Australian (as is clear in the politicians words and as I’ve often been reminded). No, you belong to that sub-Australian class, the migrant, who must religiously display obeisance to the “debt” you owe to the “lucky” country.