Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), is promoting Islam Nusantara — its vision of…
“Egg Boy has captured the world’s attention because he defended Islam!” wrote someone in a political Facebook group I follow. On another page, a middle-aged woman expressed a similar sentiment: “I salute you, child. Brilliant that you defended Islam.”
Since Will Connolly, a 17-year-old from Melbourne, egged Australian Senator Fraser Anning on 16 March, hundreds of similar posts have sprung up across Indonesian social media. Of the many stories that came out of the tragic events in Christchurch on 15 March, so-called Egg Boy seems to be the one that has resonated most in Indonesia.
Why have Indonesians interpreted Connolly’s actions as defending Islam? It is as simple as this: an Islamophobic, white supremacist terrorist killed dozens of Muslims. Then, a racist senator made a statement that blamed Islam and Muslim immigrants themselves for the attack. In response to these remarks, Connolly egged him on camera. The conclusion is simple: Connolly defended Islam.
On the surface this was certainly the case. Connolly did indeed defend Islam and the Muslim community when they were being slandered. But this is an extremely limited way of viewing his actions.
Look at the history of Australian immigration. Modern Australia was founded more than 200 years ago with the dispossession and marginalisation of the original indigenous inhabitants. Then from 1901, a series of policies known as the White Australia Policy excluded people from non-European backgrounds from immigrating to Australia. These policies were finally dismantled in 1973, and since then, race has not been a factor in the selection of migrants.
Although immigration was opened up around this time, it has really only taken off over the past two decades. For example, in 1993, the annual immigration intake was only about 60,000 people. Ten years later, it had increased to about 120,000. By 2015, it was more than 200,000 people.
Connolly was born in 2002. This means that since he was a child, he has been surrounded by diversity. There is a strong possibility that at school and in his community, he was surrounded by people of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
With the changing nature of Australian society, the Australian government, academics and civil society organisations have also supported multicultural education for Australian citizens. Starting from increasing awareness about Aboriginal genocide to attempts to create a shared identity as one of the most diverse countries in the world. This is a critical foundation for fostering social stability in a highly plural society.
I experienced this living in Perth, Western Australia, five years ago. Compared to a friend, who grew up in Sydney in the 1990s, my family’s experience was vastly different. My friend, who is of Irish background, mentioned that during the 1990s, her education was still extremely Euro-centric. History and Australian studies focused on white explorers such as Captain James Cook.
My own child’s experience in primary school in Perth, by contrast, was full of efforts to encourage respect for diversity, including celebration of Harmony Day every year on 21 March (coincidentally yesterday). Some schools also acknowledge National Sorry Day on 26 May, to express regret for the injustices and trauma Indigenous Australians have suffered under Australian government policies (unfortunately, my child’s school did not mark this important day).
Acknowledgement and celebration of Australia’s diversity doesn’t only occur in the school environment. For example, the celebration of Australia Day on 26 January, which marks the arrival of the British in Sydney Cove, is now widely criticised by many Australians because it marks the beginning of colonisation. Indigenous Australians consider it to be a day of mourning, and there is a growing movement to change the date. At the same time, the government supports an annual Australia Day parade, in which Australians are encouraged to celebrate their diverse cultural backgrounds.
Australian bookstores and libraries contain many books about pluralism. In Australia, I bought a book by Australian academic and author Donald Horne titled 10 Steps to A More Tolerant Australia. The book includes phrases like “Down with Xenophobia”; “No Race Hate”; “The Right to Be Different” and “Muslims Are People Too”.
This is the environment in which Connolly grew up. His upbringing provided him with an ethical framework that respects and celebrates diversity – an attitude that is much stronger in people of Connolly’s generation than those who grew up in the preceding decades. And as a result, he looks at people who consider themselves superior based on the colour of their skin or their religion, and finds it disgusting.
We know how the story ends. Connolly waited until Anning repeated his racist remarks and cracked an egg over his head. Connolly did so because Anning violated Australia’s ethical standards as he saw them. Anning’s remarks singled out a particular group for blame and ridicule (in this case Muslims), and this contradicted the plural and multicultural values so strongly embedded in Connolly.
Connolly did not (only) defend Islam. Suppose the victims of the horrific events in Christchurch were from a different background, for example, Jews, or perhaps Orthodox Christians. If Anning made similar comments about either of these groups, I have no doubt that Connolly would have still smashed an egg on his head.
Connolly did not (only) defend Islam. He defended the principle of respect for diversity. And the spirit of humanity.
So if we want to praise Connolly, or celebrate him as a role model for the Muslim community, we should be prepared to answer the following question:
“Would you become ‘Egg Boy’ too, if a politician in your country said something awful about minorities in your country?”
An earlier version of this article was published as “Egg Boy Membela Islam?” on Detik.com on 19 March.