Australia is a multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multicultural society. Its future depends on the constructive engagement of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. Though they have lived in Australia for a number of years, ethno-specific groups that are on opposite sides of the conflicts in the Middle East have had remarkably little contact with each other. Isolation of this kind can deepen mistrust and suspicion, lead in some cases to provocative actions that hinder conflict resolution, deepen old divisions and create new tensions within Australia.
There is therefore an urgent need to bring these groups together and facilitate constructive dialogue between them. Particularly since September 11, Australian multiculturalism has been severely tested. Sharp tensions have arisen in relation to international conflicts, including Lebanon, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, as well as the possession and use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Communities from the Middle East living in Australia have been deeply affected. They have close family and friends in their original homeland, which they often visit, and with which they retain strong emotional ties. Moreover, these conflicts are widely reported in Australia, and Australian governments and other organisations often take up positions on the conflicts, which are a cause for concern to them. It is therefore critically important that the communities most directly affected by the Middle Eastern conflicts have an opportunity to reflect on the situation–in a relaxed environment and with people in whom they have confidence–to identify the factors conducive to mistrust and suspicion, and foster the conditions for trust, mutual respect, dialogue and co-operation.