This conversation is proudly supported by Melbourne Theatre Company.
Berry Liberman on Susan Carland
Dr Susan Carland is awesome. Her PhD was brilliantly titled Fighting Hislam, an investigation into Australian and North American women challenging sexism in their own communities. As a sociologist, media personality, speaker and university lecturer, Susan invites a public dialogue about Islam in Australia which invokes tolerance and curiosity on one hand, and deep, unbridled hatred on the other.
She is raising a Muslim family in a post-9/11 world, where the hijab and other personal expressions of Islam are deemed politically troubling—provoking fear and rage on the streets and on social media. After experiencing a deluge of hatred online, Susan wanted to re-write the contract with the relentless “trolls” by declaring that for every hate tweet she would donate $1 to UNICEF. What began as a personal response became a national headline: within less than a month she’d raised $3500. As the hate keeps coming, total strangers are contributing funds to her campaign in a reaction against anonymous ignorance and its devastating impact on our delicate social fabric.
As a young Jewish mother sitting across from a young Muslim mother in 2016 in Australia, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude and joy. We, of course, had much more in common than we had in conflict. This is our reformation— our moment to declare the kind of world we want our children to grow up in. Despite being agnostic, I don’t want a world where there are no Muslims, no Christians and no Jews—or any other variation of cultural or religious practice. We’d never learn anything about anyone else’s heart, anyone else’s longing or hopes. Religion, after all, holds the space for meaning in so many people’s lives. So while I’m not religious—nor do I understand the need to wear specific dress, head coverings, robes, crosses and scarves—I do love sitting opposite a person different from myself, and having my eyes opened to the possibilities for growth and learning.
A reluctant leader, Susan now has to navigate a public conversation from a place of deeply personal faith. Funny, intelligent and kind, she reminded me that when we get proximate to things we don’t understand, and maybe even fear, we find opportunities for connection—that it is up to all of us to hold the possibility of a world where we can be different and thoughtful, strangers and sisters, members of our unique tribes and citizens of the world. Life, after all, is not a paradigm of opposites, but a complex navigation of our hopes, dreams and prejudices.