Former high school principal at Punchbowl Boys’ High for 13 years, Jihad Dib decided to make a change in his life and run for the Member of Lakemba. Successfully elected and now representing the community as well as being the Shadow Minister for Education, Sahar Mourad caught up with Jihad Dib to find out his interests and what we can expect from him in the near future.
Sahar: What book are you reading right now?
Jihad: Right now I’m reading the NSW Department of Education Annual Report (laughs). But before that I was rereading, To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s one of those books I really like to reread. I love this book. But at the moment I’m reading the NSW Department of Education Annual Report and it’s taken me a lot longer to read.
Sahar: Who is your favourite author?
Jihad: Not the NSW Government (laughs). Maybe if we did what’s my favourite book and I can work out my favourite author because I don’t like to focus on the one author. But obviously, as an English teacher I read a lot of Shakespeare, and he’s pretty amazing. I love the old books because the storytelling is just pretty amazing because it’s a part of history. I really enjoy Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
In modern stuff I really like to read autobiographies and biographies. I like Bryce Courtneay’s Power of One and The Potato Factory. I also like Patrick White.
I’m also really into the classics. There’s a style of book I like and the story is always realistic, a story about life. Those are my favourite kinds of stories.
Sahar: What is your favourite movie?
Jihad: My favourite movies don’t have to be based on real life, but there’s a life story to them. They’re not very high class but I loved the Rocky movies and there’s a story from one to seven and you follow that journey. I love The ShawShank Redemption as a book and a movie because to me that’s like a story. It’s a story about injustice and people doing well. I also love Untamed Heart, it’s about 30 years old now, but it’s also a real story based on someone with a heart condition. The special effects don’t do it for me, I like an actual story.
I also like anything with comedy, I love funny movies. I like Meet the Fockers. Like that was some relaxing time for me. Recently I watched The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks with my kids.
Probably the most recent movie I really enjoyed was Spotlight. It’s a journalism one where they uncover abusive children by the church but that’s actually based on a true story. I’m a people person so I like people stories, stories you can relate to…believable things.
Sahar: What is your favourite childhood memory?
Jihad: I have lots because I had a happy childhood. We had lots of problems. We were poor, like anybody’s family we lived in very cramped conditions, we lived in a unit. We didn’t have everything, we’d share things as brothers and my sister, but that was actually our childhood and that’s what made it happy. So rather than thinking of one happy moment, I just actually think of our childhood. We had a lot of difficulties but there was a lot of love in the house and that’s why we’re very close as a family, like my brothers and I are very close.
I do remember one of my happiest time when we finally got a car that had electric windows. I remember it was a Holden Commodore and we felt rich (laughs).
I was always grateful for everything I had, I would always thank God. I loved to do lots of things like sport, running around, causing mischief, going to the swimming pools and we just lived and had lots and lots of fun. We were having fun and learning at the same time. But rather than one happy memory, looking back we had really tough times but we were happy because we were brought up to say Hamdellah (Thank God), be grateful for what we have. And that’s part of the faith as well, you be grateful for what you’ve got.
Sahar: What is your favourite meal? What is your favourite meal to break your fast to?
Jihad: I love all foods except eggplant (laughs) I struggle with it. I can have a bit of baba ghanoush but it goes back to makdous (little eggplants stuffed with chilli and walnuts), and I fell in love with it. They’re beautiful when you have one or two but I over did it and I had a whole jar. I just kept on eating it, and ever since then I’ve just never wanted to look at eggplant.
However, I do love Japanese food and Arabic food. Hamdellah (thank God), I eat anything and a mix of foods. I love chocolate, it is my weakness. Anything chocolate I can’t say no to.
Ever since I was a kid, I would always break my fast to the date, but I love the tomato soup. I only ever have it in Ramadan and I would never want it any other time because to me that’s like part of a history. I also love treet (bread with meat, onions and yoghurt). At the moment though I love atayef. That’s my end of course, and of course znood el set. My best dessert would be if you could have znood el set with chocolate. If you’re ever going to invent one, let me know!
I love Ramadan, it’s a special time not because of the food, but because it brings everyone together, it’s really, really nice.
Sahar: What is your favourite quote, and why?
Jihad: My favourite quote is Ghandi’s, “be the change you want to see”. The reason I like that is because if you want to change the world, you’ve got to be that person who could change the world. It’s too easy to sit back and say someone else has to do it, but you’ve got to be the change you want to see.
I like the Muhammad Ali quote, “people don’t see the hard work that happens in the dark”. People don’t see what you do behind the scenes, and how hard you work. People only see what they want to see.
I also like the one from the Quran, “read”. You’ve got to learn.
They are my three quotes – read, learn, be the change that you want to be and work hard for it. You can see a common theme among them, they all link together.
Sahar: What made you want to get into politics?
Jihad: I still don’t have a definitive answer but I really want to make a difference. I had a great job, I loved it and I was great at it, but I knew I could make a bigger difference and impact in politics than in school. Culturally, I think it was really important because sometimes we get marginalised and sometimes people see the worst in the community with the Australian Arabic Muslim community. But I see the best in it and I want to be in a position where people can say, ‘I met this person who is a Muslim and he’s not like what we see on TV’.
All the Islamic manners, I do in parliament. I’ve got a respective parliament as being a person who is trustworthy, speaks straight, and a person who is respectful of others.
I also believe there’s too many people who stand back and complain about things and they won’t try and fix them. If you want to fix something then you’ve got to try and fix it. This could be a way of making our country better, because at the heart of it we’re Australian, and so the better Australia can be, the better we all are. I never forget who I am because that reminds me of what to do.
Sahar: What is one thing you hope to achieve as a politician?
Jihad: There’s lots. If I talk about the big overarching thing, what I really want to achieve is to try to be that conjugant to show you can be that bridge between two different cultural groups. I want to show it doesn’t really matter where you came from, or what colour you are, or what culture you are, you can actually make a difference because we’re all a part of the Australian society. I often talk about the sense of cohesion, that being a multicultural society is a good thing and we should celebrate this diversity. Too often it’s used as a bad thing. I want to be that really good model of an Australian.
On a practical level I want to achieve things for this electorate. I want to transform this electorate. I really want to change the way people think about Lakemba, Punchbowl, and Riverwood by improving it bit-by-bit. An example would be Punchbowl station, which needs a lift. You see Lakemba during Ramadan, on a Saturday night, it’s beautiful. It can always be like that but still, there’s more we could do like putting signs and lights around the area. I want to see it to become a place where people come to visit because it’s got such diversity there. And of course it comes to making sure that everyone in our community’s voice is heard, that we’re treated equally. I don’t want more than other communities, but we don’t want less.
My purpose to make a difference, to make things better, to stick up for this community. My purpose is to make it the best it can be.
Sahar: How does teaching differ from politics?
Jihad: In politics, the politicians don’t listen as much as the kids do (laughs). It’s very different in that it could be very easy as a politician to almost not be connected to the grassroots anymore. So you could lose track of reality and you need to make sure you don’t do that. In schools, there’s an instant reaction to it. You have to be more reactive. The skills I learnt being a school teacher, would make me a better politician because you learn to deal with people from all walks of life, you learn to deal with crises situations, you understand people’s stories, you see the struggles people have, you share their successes, and you’re managing people like the staff. All of that as a principal, I got to do and that prepares me really well.
Sahar: As a teacher and principal you obviously had a passion to make a difference in the lives of young people. Does that passion still resonate with you as a representative of the community?
Jihad: Absolutely, it’s still there. Everything I’ve done, I’ve always done to the best I could. As soon as I lose that passion, I don’t think I’d be a good representative for the people. I ask people to trust me and put their faith in me, and they did. If I become cynical and I don’t feel the same way and I don’t feel the same passion, then I’m not doing my job properly. When you reconnect with your community you won’t lose that passion.
Sahar: What advice do you have for young people who wish to get pursue a career in politics?
Jihad: Always believe in yourself. Don’t let the obstacles people put in your way be the thing that stops you. The only thing that stops you, is you. In terms of politics, you need to get involved but not getting involved with the intention of only becoming a politician. Talk to your politician and ask about it. But before you talk about politics, get involved in community organisations because if you want to get yourself involved in community organisations and help, then you’ll know if you want to be a politician. Don’t go into politics unless you genuinely want to make a difference.
Sahar: Would you consider going back to teaching?
Jihad: Yes, I would. Absolutely. I love teaching. I didn’t leave teaching because I didn’t like it, I left to make a difference on a broader scale.
Sahar: What can we expect from you in the near future?
Jihad: Hopefully my jokes will get better. You can expect me to do my very best. I’m advocating for our community on every level and I think I’ve demonstrated I’m a positive voice for the community. Ideally, I’d like to be in government, as a minister. Even if I’m never a minister, the fact that I can always be the voice in there, is a good thing. People expect me to keep working hard on the things I want to do. What they can expect is that I’ll always be that same person I am today in 10 years time.
Sahar: If you were stranded on an island, what three things would you have with you?
Jihad: A boat, petrol and a motor. I hope I’d never be silly enough to get myself on a deserted island. However, if I can’t get those three, then my family, the people I love. There’s a bit more than three people.