Two Muslims who were sworn in as cabinet ministers in Australia’s recently elected government are hopeful their historic appointments herald a new dawn of inclusiveness and unity in a country where Islamophobia is still rampant.
Anne Aly and Ed Husi took their oaths on May 31 on the Holy Quran.
Aly, who was appointed Minister for Early Childhood and Youth in the government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, is an immigrant from Egypt. Husic, the son of immigrants from Bosnia, was appointed Minister for Industry and Innovation.
“I hope that we are now witnessing a new era—an era where Australia is truly inclusive and where that inclusivity is reflected in our political institutions,” said Aly. More than a personal accomplishment, she views her appointment as a harbinger of change and hope for herself and fellow Muslim ministers in a country that has struggled to shed its racist and colonial past and where political divisions run deep.
“In the post 9/11 years, Muslims around Australia were left with a profound sense of loss,” Aly told The Guardian. “It particularly impacted young Muslims who had never considered themselves anything but Australian,” she said. “The political rhetoric that followed those years fed into Islamophobia and division.”
Aly, who in 2016 was also the first Muslim woman elected to Parliament, is founder of People against Violent Extremism, a nongovernment organization aimed at combating intolerance through community work, research and policy. She was the only Australian representative to speak at a 2015 White House summit hosted by President Barack Obama on countering violent extremism.
Aly told The Guardian she was intensely aware of the significance of her appointment and its responsibilities on both a personal and public level.
“Growing up, I often struggled with finding a sense of belonging,” she said.“ As a Muslim woman, I realize that the significance of my appointment extends beyond my feelings and has an impact for young women who can see themselves reflected in the leadership of this nation. I hope that it sends them a message that there is a place for them and that they do belong.”
An expert in counter-terrorism before she became a politician, Aly says it is heartening and a great honor to be a member of the Australian cabinet, which she described as the most diverse in the country’s history.
“I have always said that our parliament should be a reflection of the people we serve, not just in terms of diversity of gender or ethnic background but also in professional and life experience,” she said.
For his part, Husic said he was nervous as he prepared to take his oath of office. “I felt the moment, the weight of that moment,” he told ABC News Australia. He feels his appointment “sends a signal to the broader community that people from different backgrounds, different faiths can have a role to play in building a better country.”
Husic, who represents the Australian parliament from Chifley, a suburb of Sydney, served previously as parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. When he took his oath of office for that position on the Quran in 2013, he was subjected to a vicious backlash on social media. And Islamophobia is still a major issue. The third report on public anti-Muslim sentiment by Islamophobia Register Australia found in-person incidents of anti-Muslim hate in Australia increased four-fold in 2018 and 2019 and online incidents increased by 18 times.
“I think things have changed quite a bit and the country is a lot more understanding and accepting,” he said, but there is still much to be done. “There are a lot of Muslim Australians that still cop a lot of hate speech and have to contend with a lot of things that many other Australians aren’t forced to.”
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