Double identities

Mirela Kadrić talks history, migration and deradicalisation

Art by Mirela Kadrić. You can find more of her art at http://www.facebook.com/artbylelak Art by Mirela Kadrić. You can find more of her art at http://www.facebook.com/artbylelak

It seems like Mirela Kadrić has accomplished so much in such a short time.

At 23, she is an experienced academic writer and researcher, and a revered community leader. She credits much of her success to her Muslim faith, and her twofold passion for history and education. However, it took a lot of self-reflection and courage to come to this point in her life, and there is a lot more she hopes to achieve next.

“I think I’d like to be a positive role model for Muslim women, to show them that you can get to where you want with determination and grasping every opportunity that presents itself to you.”

Born in Bosnia in 1994, Kadrić arrived in Australia as an infant with her mother and father who had sought refuge from the horrors of the Bosnian War. The Srebrenica genocide that Kadrić and her family fled from is regarded by the United Nations as the “worst [conflict] on European soil since the Second World War.” While she has no recollection of the events that unfolded before her arrival in Australia, she explains that studying history has given her a greater appreciation of what her parents went through, as well as a better understanding of her own identity as a Bosnian-Muslim.

“When you’re a little kid you don’t take notice of the struggle. When people ask me [about the war], I say from memory I didn’t live through the struggle, but now that I understand everything, it was hard for my parents,” she reflects. “History has actually defined my outlook on life. If I hadn’t studied history, I don’t think I would have understood the complexity of my own identity.”

In 2016, Kadrić completed her history honours thesis at the University of Sydney. Earning first class honours, her thesis focused on how the Muslim population of Bosnia-Herzegovina developed a distinct Bosniak identity under the leadership of Alija Izetbegovic, from the aftermath of World War Two and the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995. She explains that it was through honours that she was able to develop the research tools necessary to aid her in this journey of self-discovery.

“I started to think critically about myself and the people around me and about the world… and so when I wanted to do honours I started to ask people who were Bosnian, ‘how do you think about yourself?’ … and no one really said they were Bosnian Muslimwhich was interesting due to this double identity.”

Kadrić attributes this concept of a “double identity” to the categorisations of the Bosnian identity during the latter half of the twentieth century. As she describes it, the idea of being solely Bosnian did not translate in the nationalistic and global sense. For this reason, all Bosnians were often seen as Muslim. Religion could not be separated from one’s national identity, which in turn often contributed to the existing tensions experienced within the region; while outsiders often assumed Bosnian was synonymous with Muslim, some in the region found this affronting.

“Bosnians were defined as Muslims. For example, you go and meet a Bosnian and they’d be called Muslim. But the question for me was like, why can’t we just call them Bosnian and see them as Bosnians since we are from Bosnia — we are not from ‘Muslim land’. So it didn’t add up.”

Discovering this had informed her of her own double identity, and those of many other Muslims in the post-Trump age.

“I started to understand that there was a double identity at play — that I had a double identity being a Bosnian and a Muslim.You can see that today with a lot of Muslims … I feel like more Muslims are turning away from their faith as they don’t want to associate themselves with the notion of ‘extremism’.”

However, she does not point the finger of blame at those who choose to opt out of their faith.

“I don’t blame them… because you get so sick and tired of trying to justify yourself and defend yourself. And no matter what happens in the world, it is the Muslims who have to defend their own actions and faith.”

Kadrić is now studying a Masters of Islamic Studies on a scholarship at Charles Sturt University, through the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy Australia (ISRA). Established in Sydney in 2009, ISRA is the country’s first and only Islamic research-based organisation that is affiliated with a university.

Kadrić reveals that she had planned to take a break from studying this year, but saw this as an opportunity to further explore her faith and give back to her community at the same time. After publishing two of her honours seminar papers through the Chicago Journal and ISRA, she was approached by the organisation’s director, Dr. Mehmet Ozalp, to join the team as a research officer. One of the main focuses of her research looks at understanding the perceptions of Muslim identities in Australian society.

“The project that I am doing, it’s being done for Charles Sturt University by the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation (CISC)… The aim is to trace the patterns and factors that led to the transformation in Muslim youth [age 20 to 28] from struggling with their Muslim identity and place in Australian society by being labelled as unpromising youths, to becoming upstanding and contributing citizens engaged in positive action.”

Ultimately, she explains, the centre wishes to explore what is called “Muslim youth positive transformations.” The project aims to seek out ways to depart from the stereotype of Muslim youth being key targets for radicalisation — something that has never been done before.

“Muslim youth positive transformations suggests successful integration, inclusiveness, and commonality with the wider Australian population, and dismisses notions of Muslim youth as an ‘out-group’.”

Asked about how her degree and her experience with the organisation has shaped her faith, she says, “I think the knowledge that I am gaining now is a bit more personal… because we are now learning how to talk about our faith with people of other faiths and how we can talk about it in a way that they understand us… as they say, we are one in the same. We all have our differences, but it is all about trying to find that middle ground.”

Towards the end of our discussion, I ask Mirela about her goals for the future. She talks about her passion for education.

“Education gives you a sense of fulfilment,” she says, “and that is what got me here today.”

Her ultimate goal is to become an academic and teach history at a university level.

“I think tertiary education is the perfect place to inspire a new generation of students, and as interest in the arts is slowly declining, especially with government cuts, I’d like to inspire students to engage with arts and study history. Having the opportunity to study history opened up so many doors that I could never have considered, or imagined could direct me to where I am now — and hopefully, to where I want to be.”

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