Dutton’s remarks, and being told to go back to where I come from – a constant refrain my whole life

December 5, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

AAP photo



Rupen Savoulian

Australia’s current Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, made a number of ignorant and bigoted comments in recent weeks regarding the presence of Lebanese Muslims in Australia.

He stated that the Liberal Party Prime Minister in the 1970s, Malcolm Fraser, made a mistake in allowing Lebanese to settle in the country, because a proportion of their grandchildren have been guilty of terrorism-related offences. Linking a particular ethnic group to terrorism, Dutton promoted xenophobic sentiments, and his boss, current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has stated his support for the Immigration Minister. As Omar Bensaidi, a philosophy and law student at Western Sydney University, explained in an article for The Guardian newspaper, Dutton’s misguided remarks did not appear out of thin air:


He is just another voice who continues to espouse a “common sense” political incorrectness that is somehow deemed heroic. He again privileges a baseless white anxiety that has, by force of repetition, and by the astounding rise of Donald Trump, come to turn the word “immigrant” into a threat or mistake.


It is our successive governments that have done the wrong thing. And now Dutton has slandered all we immigrants, let alone our indigenous brothers and sisters through his disregard for reality.

Whilst quoting majority statistics that those charged with terrorist offences are second and third generation Lebanese Muslims is one thing, damning the entire community is not only defamatory, it is ludicrous. It is also designed to divide our diverse and sometimes troubled community.


The Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA), headquartered in Sydney, issued a number of pointed and relevant questions to the Immigration Department and Mr Dutton. You may find their media release about Dutton’s comments on their web page. The LMA, which actually enjoyed cordial relations with the governing Liberal party, asked a series of valid and sharp questions, which can be summarised as follows:


  • Where exactly did the Immigration Minister obtain his statistics that Lebanese Muslims have a higher propensity to commit terrorism related offences?

  • Is the Immigration Minister suggesting that racial profiling is necessary when screening migration applications to Australia?

  • Does the Immigration Minister impose the same racial reasoning on other ethnic groups? For instance, is there a similar investigation into the criminal propensities of the Irish, Serbs, etc, and the likelihood that their children and grandchildren will be involved in criminal activities?

So far, the LMA has not received a reply from the Immigration Department.

John Passant, writing for the Independent Australia online magazine, examined the rise of right wing populism across the English-speaking countries and the many similarities that they share. In his article “Australia: A Trumpland in the making“, he writes that as structural inequality increases and more people experience hardship in this capitalist system, increasing numbers will turn to racist, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant parties for an outlet to express their discontent:


One Nation in Australia has been inspired by Trump’s victory and his racism, Islamophobia and fake outsider status. Its support across Australia has surged since the election and may continue do so if the left do not take action now to be a left wing pole of attraction for workers.

Analysis of One Nation’s 2016 Federal election result suggests many One Nation voters are sympathetic to Labor over the Coalition. Since July, One Nation voters in the Senate show they support the Government over its anti-worker policies and Budget attacks and crackdowns on the poor.

The failure of the Labor Party and the broader social democratic left in Australia to present any sort of challenge to the one-sided employer class war over the last 33 years, other than to lead it, helps explain why many workers in Australia are losing their attachment to the ALP. Labor’s primary vote in the 2016 Federal election was just 34.7%. 


There is only one correction to be made to Passant’s analysis. The title of his article suggests that Australia is yet to reach the status of Trumpland. With Dutton’s comments, I think Australia’s status as a Trumpland has been achieved, with the swamp of bigotry and racial hatred in full display for all to witness.


Photo – Alex Ellinghausen/Fairfax



Antoun Issa, journalist and senior editor at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, published a thoughtful and insightful article called “I’ve been told to ‘go back to my country’ my whole life. First in playgrounds, now by Peter Dutton”. In his article, he explains the very direct impact that Dutton’s words and conduct have for Lebanese Australians, and for migrants generally. Dutton’s comments are his way of stating that Lebanese migrants – Muslim and Christian – do not belong in Australia. It is his way of making the constant refrain – ‘go back to where you came from’ – respectable and normal. As Issa explained:


Dutton’s comments cannot be seen as an isolated misstep but rather as part of a trend of far-right politics, where deeply held resentment of certain minorities is now being displayed in the open. Yes, Dutton is in the same camp of Trump, Nigel Farage and Pauline Hanson. His comments reflect a lurch to the far-right, which is whipping up populist sentiment and xenophobic fear of certain groups, and dividing communities.


To be Lebanese Australian – and indeed to have a non-English speaking background – is to live with a constant struggle to prove your ‘Australianness’ and your identity. As Issa elaborated in his thought-provoking piece, Dutton may be surprised to learn that second-generation Lebanese Australians (Muslim and Christian) have a higher level of education than their parents. The migration journey does not end once the migrant lands in Australia – the journey continues, with the children and grandchildren raised to prioritise hard work and education above all else. Our Australianness is repeatedly doubted, questioned and assaulted. So, taking my cue from Issa, here is my story.

No I am not Lebanese. No I am not Muslim. I am an Australian-born citizen, of Egyptian-Armenian background. What does that mean? My parents were born and raised in Egypt, but we are of Armenian ethnic background. No, I do not have 1000 uncles and cousins. No, I do not have any skills in, nor desire to learn, panel-beating. No, I do not tinker with car engines in the garage. No, I do not drive my car to the local McDonalds and perform burnouts in the car park for the amusement of myself and my friends. Yes, I shower everyday. Yes, I eat falafel, tabbouleh and hummus. I also eat Indian curries, Thai food, Chinese cuisine, Korean, Indonesian, Greek, Turkish – anything that is available in Australia. Yes, I understand Australian Rules Football, but no, I do not think that kangaroos and koalas are cute and cuddly. Yes, I am Australian, and yes, I do understand the British origins of the colonial-settler state (and the dispossession of the indigenous Australians) on which our nation is based.

So please, stop telling me to go back to where I came from – I have heard this in the school playground, in the pub, in the workplace, and now from Immigration Minister Dutton. It is not helpful, and does not actually achieve anything.

Anger over deteriorating social and economic conditions is very genuine and growing. As John Wight explained in an article published in Russia Today, the problem is inequality, not immigration. People have migrated across continents and countries for centuries. They have migrated for work, study and a better life – not for CentreLink benefits. Economic and social inequalities, such as we have seen develop over the last few decades, produce maladjusted societies and individuals. Let us work together to improve the welfare and quality of life for all people in Australia. When I refer to the people of this country, I am including migrants, refugees and the First Nations of Australia.










Rupen Savoulian

I am an activist, writer, socialist and IT professional. Born to Egyptian-Armenian parents in Sydney, Australia, my interests include social justice, anti-racism, economic equality and human rights.

1 Comment

  1. Selma December 07, at 00:12

    I am ashamed as an Australian that Dutton is allowed to express his bigotry without being checked. His claims are without foundation and I believe they are not the views most Australians share. He is an out and out racist. I am sorry for anyone affected by his ill-considered rhetoric.


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