When you become a citizen of a country, do you absorb its triumphs and tragedies? Does your new country's commemorations become yours?
ANZAC day is something of a sacred day for Australians. Thousands wake up at dawn on the 25th of April to listen to the solemn, heart wrenching tones of the Last Post, to honour the fallen soldiers of yesteryear and to thank those who continue to dedicate themselves to the defence of our nation.
To be honest though, ANZAC is probably something that holds mixed meaning to those who, like my family, migrated to Australia and do not necessarily have the shared history.
Gallipoli, for example, is a huge part of the ANZAC legend. Yet that campaign was fought against the Ottoman Empire, and many of those troops were Muslims from Turkey. How does someone, born as a Muslim in Turkey but who grew up in Australia, reconcile that? Closer to home, how does someone who arrived to Australia perhaps as an Afghan or Iraqi refugee, fleeing from a war in which Australian troops took some part in... how does someone like that be a part of the fabric of the ANZAC story?
This can be construed as treacherous talk, definitely. War and conflict are hugely emotive issues and often form part of a national identity. It isn't treacherous though; it is so important that we as Australians get it right. I am a lowly civilian, I have no history (Alhamdulilah) of war or conflict of any kind to relate to (my family are engineers through and through, and everyone needs engineers!) so can't claim to know the way things should be commemorated or in any way intend to warp the import of the history. This isn't intended to be sacrilegious, but an opportunity to start a conversation.
I am passionately Australian and to share in what is a huge part of the Australian identity is a must.
So how to relate to and reconcile the history? How do I, as a migrant Australian Muslim, find my value and space in the ANZAC legend?
I look at it as a human.
Often, there is no one truth, nobody who is 'right'...only those 'left' standing.
So rather than dehumanise any 'side' by seeing them as the enemy, I think of our shared history as humans. I see ANZAC day as an opportunity to commemorate those who chose to give their lives up for a purpose larger than their own. I chose to pray for, my heart aches for, young lives lost, missed connections, misunderstandings. For troops who became friends on no-mans-land in downtime only to realise these were the people they were then to kill. For young people today who go away to fight for something they care about, whether it be a country or a tribe or a even their religious freedom - who am I to judge what is worth fighting for? For those who come back with PTSD and suffer even longer, that sacrifice perhaps less appreciated...
For if ANZAC is about bravery, mateship, fighting for what's right... well we all have our own manifestations of that. Yes, for many it is about slouch hats and medals, but sitting alongside that surely it is about recognising our humanity as Australians and being grateful for a greater sacrifice.
We do adopt a country's history when we choose to call it our home, because history is part of a nation's identity. It is what it is. Although we may not remember it, it is our duties to make sure we do not forget.
We humans too often forget the lessons of our past...
Edit @ 5:30pm 25th April 2014: 'Turkey' was replaced with 'Ottoman Empire' to reflect the true nature of the conflict.