The commemoration of Anzac Day is meant to signify the Anzac spirit. For Muslims living in Australia, however, the Anzac spirit has quite a different meaning to the official version coined by war historian C.E.W. Bean as “reckless valour in a good cause…enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat.”
While the popular Anzac narrative focuses almost entirely on individual acts of bravery and heroism, what is conveniently ignored is the context in which they took place and the consequences of it, especially for Muslims.
The Anzacs were part of a military campaign that resulted in the destruction of the Islamic caliphate – the state that spanned across continents overcoming racial and linguistic barriers, and represented the strength and unity of Muslims globally. In the aftermath of its collapse, the Muslim world came to be characterised by artificial borders, corrupt rulers and colonial domination.
Invading a land thousands of miles away, imposing a foreign way of life on a people, and carving them up into artificial nation states can hardly be called a “good cause”. And the “reckless valour” displayed in such a cause can hardly be a reason to celebrate.
The annual glorification of the military expedition in Gallipoli has helped to put a noble face on Australia’s involvement in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan as well. It has put the “diggers”, and by extension the Australian government’s foreign policy, beyond reproach. Just like Gallipoli, the mainstream discourse surrounding the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan is focused more on highlighting the “courage” and “sacrifice” of the troops “fighting for our freedom”, rather than questioning the reason why Australian troops are once again being used to achieve imperial agendas of the U.S. and Britain.
Professor Marilyn Lake from La Trobe University puts it quite aptly,
“…one of the purposes of the Anzac story has been to present one long narrative of Australians always being at war, so that the meaning of the people in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s made sense of in terms of the Anzac spirit, that this is the sort of timeless ahistorical theme in our history, that they’re all there participating in the Anzac spirit.”
Therefore, while Australian troops are busy killing children in Afghanistan (even as recently as last month), the “reckless valour” of the Anzac spirit serves as an antidote to our consciences and ensures that these unpleasant realities don’t last too long in the public eye.
The fact that Muslims have very little to commemorate on Anzac Day and yet are pressured to celebrate this episode of Australian history as their own is representative of the jingoism the Anzac legend has managed to establish within the collective psyche of the nation.
The political climate created by such nationalistic chauvinism allows the government to not only silence criticism of its foreign policy but also dictate values to minority communities, particularly Muslims, whilst still beating the drum of ‘freedom’ and a ‘fair go for all’.
To live in this country, it is no longer enough to be a law abiding citizen, but one now also has to adopt “Australian ways”, and relinquish any views that are not part of the “Australian mainstream”.
“We want people when they come to Australia to adopt Australians ways,” lectured John Howard to Muslims in Australia when he used to control the show.
“We don’t ask them to forget the countries of their birth, we respect all religious points of views and people are entitled to practise them but there are certainly things that are not part of the Australian mainstream.”
Hence we hear the constant labelling of Muslims as “un-Australian”, “extreme” and everything in between.
The Anzac spirit does indeed convey a lot of significance for Muslims, albeit not so much in terms of valour and mateship. Rather it is more about the justification of military invasions of their lands, and the imposition of foreign values and ways of life upon them.
It is worth mentioning, lest we forget.
Shafiul Huq is an activist who writes and speaks on Muslim affairs. He is currently studying Islamic jurisprudence and Arabic.