What follows is the text of an e-mail I sent on March 12, 2013 to a friend and colleague—a devout Muslim woman, mother, scholar, and associate of my wife’s—after Nancy and I had shared a meal with her and her family at their home in Western Sydney:
As we wove effortlessly through Sydney’s congested thoroughfares on our way to Liverpool yesterday, and then from Liverpool to Sydney this morning, the driver and I talked nonstop. Family, Islam, Australia as a great place to live, the extremists who want to import their fanatical doctrines, Apple and Steve Jobs’ tireless pursuit of excellence: those were just some of the themes we explored. The driver, younger than me, was bearded, Lebanese, proudly Muslim, proudly Australian. (My ancestors, from England, Germany and Scotland, had settled in NSW and Victoria in the 1850s and intermarried–marrying for love across religious boundaries, Catholic and Protestant.) As two males, both interested in working as seamlessly as possible with technological tools, Abdul and I fell easily into techie talk, but at a deeper level there was a shared sense of commonality and values. Although I didn’t put this proposition to him in quite these words, I’m sure he would agree with the sentiment: If we want to make sure that Australia will be a great place for our children and our grandkids to live in, then there are a few things we need to do.
These are just some thoughts I typed into Evernote on my iPhone on the plane on the way back. It is not a political manifesto. Nor is it a call for civic action–just some dot points for the future that I thought were worth recording.
DECENCY This has been a precious Australian asset. One way to refresh Australia’s reserves of decency is to stop taking away the freedom of children who arrive through the back door on boats with their parents.
COMMONSENSE If Australia is to be in a position to feed the growing middle-class populations of Asia, we need to protect and even reclaim our arable land rather than giving it up so freely to developers and drillers.
OPENNESS At every level of our society–from Junior primary to parliament, body corporate and Legacy club–we need to encourage respectful debate, based on reason and evidence.
OPTIMISM We have a responsibility to plant seeds of hope, not despair, in the young ones. To do otherwise is to fail our ancestors, who would have wanted us to be as strong and adventurous and upbeat as they were when they left their homelands for this country.