Silence that Speaks
and Dreams that Cry
Omeima Sukkarieh & Mia Zahra
Before September 11 2001, in an act of violence my best friend was
almost attacked by a stranger with a hammer.
Before September 11 2001, in an act of violence my father was murdered.
After September 11 2001, my best friend's car was egged at her family
home and she was mocked at a Sydney post office because "Lebanon"
appeared on her birth certificate.
After September 11 2001, I was called a murderer whilst travelling
alone in my car, soon after my car was broken into on two occasions
and personal religious ornaments were destroyed.
My best friend says: It was Wednesday morning, another day in my
life. Before settling down to catch the morning news whilst having
a cup of coffee, I underwent my usual morning rituals getting ready
for work. I made my coffee, turned the TV on, sat on the floor with
my legs crossed quite baffled with what I saw, was it a movie America
under attack and planes flying through a building? It took at least
3 minutes to register that innocent civilians had been killed, their
families, their children, however by far the most frightening was
the realisation that the Muslim community here in Australia and
all over the world will again bear the brunt of another international
I am a Muslim Arab Australian Woman. I am not here representing
Muslims or Arabs or Australians or women. I am here representing
my individual views and experiences only. I speak in uncertainty,
yet in necessity. I'm exhausted! I'm tired of having my tears painted
by your words! I'm sick of being interrupted! I'm frustrated with
having my experiences and memories manipulated! I'm angry at having
my voice silenced by journalists who reject me on the basis that
I do not qualify the stereotype of a Muslim woman!
I stand before you...naked, wearing nothing but my voice. I will
not be silenced. Silence is my power for it keeps you guessing and
drives you crazy.
The community has been experiencing a wave of hatred perpetrated
by talkbacks, irresponsible media reports and the barrage of disturbing
Whilst writers such as Piers Ackerman and Miranda Devine are exercising
their freedom of speech and expressing their opinions, we are being
silenced by the articles they write. And this perhaps is the cruelest
Mr Ackerman stated in his article in the Daily Telegraph
dated Tuesday September 18 2001, in his opinion on Multiculturalism,
and I quote, "A beard, a scarf, a head dress or the length
of a sleeve or a dress are all important to some of these people
and the supporters of Multiculturalism tell other Australians that
they are the ones who must exhibit tolerance when they are spat
upon or cursed when they wear ordinary clothing in keeping with
the dominant culture. It is the Muslims who must show tolerance
here and in other Western nations otherwise they will always be
In response, I ask you Mr Akerman, and I quote Arab poet Gibran
Khalil Gibran "Are you a journalist who sells his principles
in the markets of slaves and who fattens on gossip and misfortune
and crime? If yes you're a kin to a vulture."
There is something sad about having to share in the grief of the
effects of such violence as that which has taken place in the US,
Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and the like. But there is something
even sadder and more distressing about having to listen to stories
of Muslim Women and men who have been beaten by the direct influences
of the Ackermans & Devines of Australia.
Who gives the right to any person to physically abuse a mother and
her teenage daughter, causing injury and violently stripping them
of their hejab (veils)? What does one tell a child when he asks
why his friend will not play with him?! Why is my mother a sixty
year old woman who has frequented the same shop, same owner for
the past 18 years now accused of stealing lemons?! How many mothers,
fathers, brothers and sisters have to be terrorised before the physical,
psychological and social impacts are recognised. When will enough
Sept. 11th events were described as "an attack on freedom,
an attack on democracy!!!" Whose freedom and who's definition
I always thought that protecting other's rights is noble. What happened?
Do you acknowledge my rights at all? You have made us miserable
mistresses to your media frenzies. You do not have to commit murder
you see...to be a murderer. You have built a cage around us not
realising that you have locked yourself out.
Why should we be made to feel guilty for being who we are, wearing
what we wear, for feeling...for thinking... for speaking...for praying.
I am breathing the crippling fear you have instilled in the air.
I feel like I am "someone's private zoo" as Trin Minh
Ha so eloquently puts it. But please do not make me your pet.
You cannot possibly understand because you have never committed
yourself to understand. You ignore my difference and scorn my identity.
You are an annoying obstacle to truth and compassion.
By doing what you are doing, you are instilling racism in yourself.
In talking about Australia's parent country, Razia Aziz states that
we live in a racist state, and a state that is racist is racist
to everyone. But you cannot see it because that state treats and
promotes white-ness as the norm.
What do I as a victim feel toward the oppressor? Hatred and rage,
impotence, sadness...nothing. What do you expect me to feel?
Through your words you have arrested and interrogated us and it
is not what I can give you that you want...it is me. It is the victim....your
objective is to reduce me to powerlessness and silence. But you
haven't. And I am here today!
You have incited a hatred that smiles. Do you have a need as Michael
Humphrey states, and I quote, "to control massive populations,
entire social classes, and even nations, through the cultural elaboration
Do we become participants of this media frenzy by choice? I did
not choose to be part of the denial of my basic rights?
My government cannot be my reliable protection, as every government
in this world seemed to have failed. We are forced to differentiate
between the 'us' and 'them'. To consider the possibility of being
the same....trying hard to bury the images on yesterday's news.
How can we be unaffected?
How do we support a man who has bragged about never reading the
international section of the paper? We love you George.
And what is peace? Is it in the eyes of the children? The breast
milk of their mothers? If yes..then why do we kill them?
I come to you Australia. I present you with my pain. I present you
with part of my heart. If you possess a great soul...you thank me.
If you possess a small one. You belittle me?
Who defines citizenship as privilege? You describe refugees as aliens
and illegals. You demoralise them. You aid in the refusal to hire
'aliens', refusal to rent them houses, sell them food, walk in the
streets, take their children to school.
What justifies the use of force against those seeking freedom and
asylum? They are not criminals or armed invaders. They are ordinary
people, peaceful people, seeking only the opportunity to build decent
and secure lives for themselves and their families.
On what moral and ethical grounds can these people be kept out?
Refugees, violence, torture, displacement, Stateless, Women, Children,
Men, TPV's...Temporary Protection Visas or should I say Torture,
Pain and Violation of Rights. A document issued by our government
as a reason for you To Permit Violence against me. I mean...what
happens after the 3 years of so called protection are over...where
will your conscience be when you feed them back to the wolves?
Women are not allowed to speak. They are allowed to drown instead.
Their voice, experiences, testimonies, memories, hopes, dreams...all
drown. They drown in blood and tears. They drown in desperation!
Head down and eyes closed are the very first orders the terroriser
and torturer issues to their victims. The refugees had their heads
down and eyes closed as they fell helplessly to their death. Wet
and shivering from the cold. But I can assure you they
Please do not mistake me for I am not talking about the Titanic.
I am talking about 356 nameless people...bar the 3 Iraqi sisters,
Zahra, Fatima and Aiman, who stared at me from the front page of
the Sydney Morning Herald.
Women and children....they live like rabbits, living in darkness
below the ground, living in inhumane conditions with very little
food and no water.
The most remarkable people in this world don't appear on movie screens
or in sports arenas or on TV. They drown on boats escaping the life
sentence of war and destitution.
We are expendable. It was difficult for me to accept. We come from
a country that values life and the individual. I have come to learn
that to find yourself in a situation where your life seems of little
value is the ultimate in loneliness.
After September 11 2001...it felt like the world had turned the
right way around. It was already upside down but people I think
just learnt to ignore that they were seeing things backward. The
world I think turns around when homelands are occupied and the people
of the world do not flinch. What do I say to women who cry in desperation
for answers as to why they cannot go into the streets without having
to worry if they will be spat on, ridiculed, abused whilst walking
their children to school.
We are victims of terrorism and we had not chosen our trench in
this war. When I went to the Khiam prison, a prison established
by the Israeli army in South Lebanon in 1985, I could smell the
stench of death. I could hear there voices screaming. I could feel
struggle and survival. The walls were a living dialogue where 'worlds,
self and voice are lost'. Lost through the intense pain of torture.
They were sharing part of their private and secret worlds with me.
Worlds that they had created. Worlds that I cannot fathom living
in. But sadly, worlds that I have tasted.
The pain shrinks my body inside itself. As a result of the terror
that has imposed on our space, we find ourself constantly trying
to create order from the chaos that has invaded our space. Trying
to redefine our reality. Trying to redefine our identity.
In creating and recreating my space, I found myself vomiting myself
out...in desperation for a new self. You have dragged me by my feet
on your dusty ground and each humiliation has led the onlooker to
feel more indignant than fearful.
We see the corpses of the western world but the cries and fears
of our women and children are ignored.
I don't know what is worse. Being a young woman myself, to see or
hear about the death of masses of people in my homelands or to hear
of the hundreds of women and children raped, tortured, terrorised,
spat on, vilified by those that have killed their men and left their
homes in ruins? Or can nothing be worse than ignorance?
We do not just make coffee or falafel! We are a forgiving people.
We are still understanding and hospitable. If you knock on my door
I will still let you in with a smile, sit you down and serve you
We long for a chance to talk to our aggressors. We long for that
face-to-face interaction in which naked humanity could communicate.
But as perpetrators you have mute but ever present faces.
We are dealing with the Hederian claim that 'there is a human yearning
or need to belong. A need that is in danger of being miserably frustrated'.
But belong to what?
I can hear my own heart beating from despair when I lay in bed at
night. You have taken the fragrance out of the flowers that I smell
in the morning.
The human heart cries out for help, but you do not heed our cries
for you neither hear us nor understand us. Must we live in such
I am grateful to my mother for her struggles have opened the windows
of my eyes and the doors of my spirit.
[Omeima and Mia refer to a poster of a Palestinian woman with her
two children - a rifle pointed at her by a kneeling Israeli soldier]
I beg you to open the windows of your eyes and see the fear in these
little girls eyes. I ask you to feel this woman's spirit of survival
and resistance for they too are yearning. To taste the soil of the
land that belongs to them. To eat the fruits of the trees that their
ancestors grew. To drink the water of hope that drifted into the
ocean of hell. How would you feel if fear and terror ravished your
This is not a representation of 'mistrust'. This is the definition
of reality for the women and children of Palestine. Of Iraq, of
Afghanistan. Of Australia. This is the real definition of Terrorism!
Every new piece of bad news is felt by each of us as a personal
injury to be borne silently.
I have seen death and destruction. I have seen life being devalued
by men dressed in that ugly green who believes the land that they
helped invade is their own. I have seen cities destroyed, buildings
collapse, and identities fragmented.
I have cried in a failing hope that my very existence would have
made a little difference.
Yet I am always unsuccessful in finding the answer as to why such
No matter how much a person tries, there is no way to reason such
illogical, irrational and unjustifiable behaviour.
It has gone beyond intolerable and cruel.
All we are asking is to be left alone. So please leave us alone!
'Action in the absence of understanding is barbarism!'
Also in the words of Khalil Gibran: "...you may throw me into
a dark prison, but you shall not enslave my thinking because it
In closing, I would like to share with you a poem I wrote a few
Come out of
the man-made shell?
by the knots of society?
Be free to
fly through the souls fresh air?
his hands release the grip that strangles his neck?
behind the skirt of power?
from the prison of life?
Will man ever
Is man's disappearance
death be led by man himself?
Will man ever
see light or
Will he remain
secluded in darkness?
Will man be
killed by the pain of silence?
I ask you?
& Mia Zahra are community advocates living in Sydney. This document
was originally prepared for the forum, Women
reporting violence in a time of war: The silenced voices of the
"race election", held at the University of Technology
Sydney on 8 November 2001, just prior to the Australian federal
election which returned the Howard Government to power.
The URL for this doucment is:
© Omeima Sukkarieh & Mia Zahra,
8 November, 2001.