When we first move to Australia, my father is in awe of the new freedom. He turns on his laptop early in the morning to listen to Fran Kelly on ABC Radio. He says to me that she doesn’t hold back when she tackles the politicians. She asks – persists – for the truth. He says if Fran Kelly existed in our country she wouldn’t exist for long. If she asked our politicians a question, they’d make sure she didn’t ask it again. But here it’s okay. He tells me that I can be like Fran Kelly too. He says to me that I’m just as persistent, just as stubborn and firm. He tells me I can be a journalist if I want to.
Ten years ago, when I was sixteen living in Dubai and I said I wanted to be a journalist, he said he would never allow it, fearful that I would be killed, or worse: a mercenary.
When I think of having been born in Baathist Iraq, I feel a lot of peace in knowing that I’m now Australian. I cross borders and no-one asks me to prove I’m not escaping something. There is a new-found ease in all my paperwork; a new dignity finds me at the airports. There are endless choices of where to work, where to live, what to do with myself and what type of person to become. I can talk about who I am. I can be open about my sexuality, my mental health, my politics; I can be open. On the day I become Australian I tell a friend, an Aboriginal woman, that this is the day all my problems are solved. She asks me how it feels. I say it feels pretty good to be in a country that, unlike Iraq, actually wants to have me. I’m still silenced by her response: ‘I can’t imagine what that feels like.’
This is where I’m from now. Even after being nearly killed by colonialism, I benefit from a new, settler colonialism in a land that was never the government’s own to welcome me to. I don’t know how to be from here. I don’t know how to be Australian.
She says to me if it were up to her, as it should be, she would have made me Australian a long time ago. But she was never consulted, she never is.
I’ve been racing to this point since I was five years old. From one country to the other, from one state of poverty, isolation, danger, bureaucracy, rejection, depression, to the other. Year after year, my family and I repeat the cycle; every time, we are rejected. The race has occupied twenty years of my life. But I’m now at the finish line and it’s the most shameful place. It’s like you wake up and realise you killed someone in your sleep. You’re told you just committed murder and you say “No, no, no, no. I didn’t do it.” But you did. I did. This is where I’m from now. Even after being nearly killed by colonialism, I benefit from a new, settler colonialism in a land that was never the government’s own to welcome me to. I don’t know how to be from here. I don’t know how to be Australian.
I don’t know if I am ashamed of Australia or if Australia is ashamed of me.
I move to the United Kingdom as soon as I am Australian. A new friend asks me about what it was like to live in Dubai as a child. He asks me if I could ever go back. I say I cannot live where it is illegal to unionise, where there are no minimum wage laws, no education, no health care, and no legislative regard for human rights. He laughs. He says that this is funny because Australia isn’t known for its respect of human rights either.
Just a few months ago, Matthew Clayfield wrote for Overland about the embarrassment he feels when he tells people he’s from Australia. Everyone knows about the human rights abuses, the racialised moral panic, the genocide and linguicide and the white supremacy. He says the embarrassment is almost enough to make him cancel his ticket home. But where would I go, if I were to cancel my ticket home?
Two years ago I gave a talk at an Australian school about my journey to Australia. It was a private, predominantly white school, and the pastor wanted the students to gain more awareness of the impact of political conflict on people… He began the talk by asking me, ‘What’s the deal with your hoodie?’
My father’s excitement about Australia wears off almost as quickly as mine. He slowly learns of the continuing Aboriginal genocide, the detention of asylum seekers, the defence for paedophiles, the political corruption. When we sit at the dinner table and I tell him about the large cracks in Australia’s skin he lowers his head, looks at his plate and crosses his hands behind his head, speechless. I see the perfect image of the Lucky Country shattering with every word I say.
I don’t know if I am ashamed of Australia or if Australia is ashamed of me. Two years ago I gave a talk at an Australian school about my journey to Australia. It was a private, predominantly-white school, and the pastor wanted the students to gain more awareness of the impact of political conflict on people. He wanted them to learn respect and compassion for the people fleeing from it. I agreed to do it for visibility’s sake. He began the talk by asking me, ‘What’s the deal with your hoodie?’
I can’t deny a sense of betrayal on my part to be writing this. I’m meant to be very grateful to be here. Very Grateful Refugee. What’s not to be grateful for: I’m not threatened by starvation. If I’m sick there’s medicine. No war that we enter for no reason. No attacks with guns in the night. No execution when we criticise the prime minister. We might still send a young, brown Muslim woman to exile if she brings up Manus. We will try to get a young black woman fired for protesting Invasion Day. We will try to deport, to bring down, to silence, to destroy anyone who highlights our ongoing white genocide, while we commit it in secret where no media passes are given and no reports are written. But yes, at least no-one is being executed.
One Egyptian man asks me where I’m from. We’re speaking in Arabic, so I say I’m Iraqi. He’s very happy to hear that response, and he talks about how we can’t ever deny our roots. He tells me he’ll always be Egyptian even though he was born in Australia, even though he lived his whole life here. He tells me I’ll never stop being Iraqi too, but I can’t help but feel like he’s casting a curse on me everytime he repeats it.
My father is looking at flights to Iraq, at least for us to see our grandparents again, to visit the shrines of our ancestors and pray for their blessing. I am harsh when I tell him I don’t ever want to go back, not even for a day. I tell him that I just don’t know if I can walk into the burning houses that set me aflame many years ago. I still can’t disguise the marks. I don’t want to burn the very few parts of me that are still whole. He tells me that it’s my home and it always will be, and he sets the curse well into reality. I learn to accept that whether Iraq or Australia, my home will always be a tumor I carry on my back, and I only pray that it will not swallow me whole.