Across the country on the weekend of 18-19 October, hundreds rallied against anti-Muslim prejudice. “I’m here to take a stand against the Islamophobia that’s being drummed up by the Australian government”, said Olga Ramahi who joined the demonstration at the State Library in Melbourne on 19 October.
Adel Sulman* attacked the government and sections of the media that have “taken the opportunity to spew forth their hate-filled messages”. Many Muslims now question whether they should leave their houses, for fear of being targeted, he said.
In Sydney, where protesters met at Sydney Town Hall, Lydia Shelly put names to the stories of street attacks against Muslim women: “It is Rashida who had hot coffee thrown at her in front of her children. It is Ayesha, the heavily pregnant woman verbally abused. It is Joanna who was approached by three men and pushed to the ground, had her hijab ripped off and was spat on.” Part of the Muslim Legal Network, Shelly is one of a group of people who started the Islamophobia Register to document recent attacks on Muslims.
“Examine the dusty pages of history and they will speak the truth. There has always been somebody, a group of people that are positioned or used in public debate by their government”, Shelley said. “Remember, the first step is to dehumanise people so you no longer see the Rashidas, the Ayeshas, me. You see shadows.”
In Perth, on 18 October, the anti-racists numbered 300 in the Murray Street Mall. They dwarfed a feeble collection of far right bigots who also turned out. Dr Rateb Jneid, president of the Islamic Council of WA, accused the government of attacking Muslims as a “cheap tactic” to justify a war.
Speaking in Melbourne, Abra Ahmed labelled the government the real threat. “It is not Muslims who have hundreds of military bases littered across the Western world”, she said. “It’s not Muslims who regularly go to war for political and economic benefits at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and the destruction of entire countries.”
Marziya Mohammedali said that governments have a domestic agenda as well. Speaking in Perth, she said: “This is a distraction from the other bigger issues at hand, from the budget that is cutting our vital services. Islamophobia doesn’t just affect Muslims; it affects everyone who is here today and everyone in Australia. I am refusing to be a part of this distraction.”
Marching in Melbourne, Zouhair Ayoubi told Red Flag he appreciated that hundreds had taken a stand against Islamophobia. He thought more needed to be done. “It is a very small number for such a big subject”, he said. “I’m standing here with people against the terror laws and the scaring of the Muslim people … I think it’s very important that Muslim and Arab communities come out to support their rights.”
* An earlier version of this article mistakenly asserted that Adel Sulman was from the Islamic Council of Victoria. Adel is not associated with the ICV. We apologize for the error.