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Opinion: Raised on terrorism

It was the defining moment of the new century. It set the scene for the ‘war on terror’ that gathers steam in faraway countries, on newspapers and social media and in our hearts and minds. And we’ve always feared this terror arriving in our backyards. Now it has.

It was also one of my first childhood memories: when the Twin Towers in New York were hit by two hijacked aeroplanes on September 11, 2001. It sent chills through my young mind as I sat in my living room and watched it unfold on television. A year later, I shuddered when 88 Australians were killed among the 202 victims to the Bali bomb.

The fear hasn’t ended. Our national leaders, schoolteachers and the media have told us throughout our lives that the ‘war on terror’ is on our doorstep. That has been the story of my generation’s life.

Just as my parents grew up in a Cold War era fearing the nuclear holocaust, and my grandparents the world’s takeover by totalitarian regimes, my generation’s upbringing has been engulfed by terrorism.

What occurred in Sydney last December has confirmed our worst fears - our paranoia has become justified. Terrorism really is in our backyard.

We feel increasingly isolated, not only by membership to our own communities, but an increasing feeling of powerlessness that we can’t do anything about it: that the world is just like that.

I am a 21-year-old Australian Lebanese Christian woman and live in Sydney. I have never experienced war first-hand, but I feel as though it has profound impacts on my generation. We were raised in Australia but digested the Afghan War, and now our country is once again part of the fight against terror.

Counter-terrorism raids last September as part of Operation Appleby were followed by protests in Lakemba the next day. For me, though, it indicates the severity of Australia’s terror threat and elicited a heightened sense of vigilance and fear. Concerns about attacks on Muslim women then showed just how some people can react to such a climate. 

The situation has become worse after the Martin Place Siege in the heart of our city’s business district.

It is only the extreme elements of any religious or political group that incites hatred and intolerance, but the fear is that it will lead to bigoted generalisations about Muslims.

We must now ask how can we help those people who are ‘at risk’ of committing such politically-motivated attacks. Too many young people are attaching themselves to extremist causes. This is indicative of them feeling secluded from society, unable to identify with Australia; a powerlessness that can see them throw away their lives.  

For us, we also feel an increasing feeling of powerlessness that we can’t do anything about it: that the world is just like that.

My generation is cast as politically inactive and ‘lazy’, but really we haven’t had much of a chance. We find it hard to protest against terrorism, a fear – something less tangible than that of our parents and grandparents. We have grown up powerless to daily threats, and our protest is so often silent. The moral compass of what is right and wrong seems skewed, and we don't know how far we can take things. 

But the main emotion we feel is anger that we can’t live in peace. Our only vehicle of protest becomes social media, where we vent our concerns to each other, and too often ‘preaching to the converted’, as much of our communication is confined to networks. Any meaningful dialogue between groups who are on opposite sides of this hard to identify spectrum is thwarted. 

We want to make a difference and change the world we’ve inherited, yet we can't. As young people, we don’t feel we have much of a voice on international relations. In spite of attempts at inclusion through youth forums, we seem stuck and boxed due to our age. 

Perhaps a greater inclusion of young people’s voices would allow a greater commentary on global events. It would not only bring diverse opinions into the conversation, but also include the generation that feels isolated – and stop them from rebelling against the society they are part of.  

We are the ones who have been raised on the threat of terrorism. It has made us feel helpless, scared, and anxious. It makes us wonder: in a decade’s time, when we have the chance to impact on our country, will our contribution be negative or positive? Will we be equipped to make Australia, and the world, a better place? 

And, we ask, in what kind of society will our children and grandchildren grow up in? 

The Point

A generation raised on the fear of terrorism feels voiceless and powerless

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