A siege of racism

Muslims in Australia are under siege. In the aftermath of the 18 September anti-terror raids and the sensational – and probably false – reporting of “imminent” threats, a new wave of harassment of Muslims has been released.

Social media are alight with reports of verbal abuse, physical assaults, intimidation, property damage and threats of violence. Mareeba mosque in Queensland had the word “Evil” graffitied over it. The Logan and Holland Park mosques were also targeted. Direct threats were issued against the grand mufti of Australia, Lakemba Mosque and Auburn Mosque, allegedly by anonymous members of the Australian Defence League. “Muslims”, their message read, “Australia will fight you ‘terror for terror’ ‘blood for blood’ ‘bomb for bomb’.”

Islamophobia Register Australia reported that, just one day after the raids, hijab-wearing women in Sydney were being “verbally abused in the streets … at shopping centres and whilst driving”. The Sunday Mail in Queensland also has reported that “Muslim women are being singled out”. The paper spoke to 30-year-old Sarah, who had been standing outside a shop with a 12-year-old girl in Underwood when she was abused by a passing cyclist. “He yelled f--- jihad, f--- off, go back home you c--- and continued to verbally abuse us”, she said.

Another woman had coffee thrown over her at an intersection. Another in Sydney told the Islamophobia Register that “a man almost ran her over as she tried to cross a school crossing outside her daughter’s school in the Inner West”. Nada, a Muslim woman, wrote on Facebook “Many ladies won’t leave their homes out of fear.”

Another related: “I was walking and a middle-aged white man started screaming at me … I carried on walking he shouted louder ‘You in the black tent … I told you that your prophet Muhammad’s a pig. What are you going to do or say?’”

Other posts to a Facebook group set up to support those targeted by Islamophobic abuse read:

“Two days ago, a group of men tried to rip the hijab off a sister’s head at Garden City.”

“Yesterday at 5pm, a sister from Logan was threatened by a guy that he would burn her house down.”

Said Kanawati is president of the welfare area of Australian New Muslims Association in Sydney. Speaking to Red Flag, he said that, unfortunately, the current wave of attacks was predictable. “We’ve been hearing of a fair few instances of graffiti and hate mail. That’s the way it goes whenever there is a flare-up. We [the ANMA] get hate mail and hate calls … Sometimes a lot of aggressive swearing.”

Kanawati runs a course to help people understand Islam and to break down misconceptions about the religion. He feels that he is more connected to broader society and has a generally liberal political outlook. Yet, he says, in the past years and particularly now, there is an increasing sense that governments’ treatment of Muslims is making things more difficult. “There is just a feeling of isolation … a feeling that you are guilty until proven innocent. It’s a feeling of insecurity – that everyone’s a target. Muslims have been demonised; that’s a sense that a lot of Muslims have got.”

An example of how anti-Muslim prejudice plays out is the double standards applied to what is considered free speech. “Because of the atmosphere, even an opinion like ‘I don’t support the government’ can result in suspicion. If a non-Muslim person in a cafe said something like that, it would be nothing – but if a Muslim says something, then it is taken completely differently: ‘You’re one of them’ [a terrorist].”

The situation is such that a hotline specifically for Muslims who have been subject to abuse is being considered.

The corporate media’s role in all this has been appalling. The daily papers and the nightly news and current affairs shows that have uncritically and sensationally reported on the raids should take a large deal of responsibility for the resulting climate.

Red Flag approached a number of organisations and individuals for comment about the current situation. Some refused to speak on the record because they had been advised not to talk to the media, or, understandably, because they were wary of being misquoted, or because they just didn’t want any more attention.

One man on Facebook lamented, “I’m a 6th generation Aussie who no longer feels welcome in MY country simply because I converted to Islam. The media are the ones who divided the community; the media fear factor is working well within the Australian population.”

Sensitive to this sentiment, and the current siege, we offered to send this article to Said Kanawati prior to publishing, to make sure that we hadn’t misquoted him on anything. “Nah, don’t worry”, he said. “Just please print the truth. I trust you.”

Twitter: @Benji_Hillier