On the evening of Saturday 4 August, 21-year-old Pakistani international student Abdullah Qaiser was driving to the University of Newcastle library to finish an assignment. On his way, he was approached by a group of eight men and one woman.
The group stepped out in front of the car, in the middle of the road. They began to hurl racist abuse. “Terrorist!”, “Go back to your f**cking country, you don’t belong here!”
The woman reached through the passenger door window and snatched Qaiser’s mobile phone. Meanwhile, one of the men opened the driver’s side door and punched Qaiser in the face, with a fist wrapped in a knuckle duster.
Qaiser blacked out in his car. Blood spilled everywhere; his nose had been broken so badly it will require surgery.
In an outrageous move, the NSW police have released a statement about the incident saying they do not believe the attack was racially motivated. This is despite the repeated Islamophobic verbal abuse Qaiser described being subjected to immediately prior to being hit.
This kind of racist violence is becoming more common. Research conducted by SBS last year found that 77 percent of Muslim women had experienced racism on public transport or on the street. Last year, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination warned that racist discrimination is “on the rise” in Australia, including instances of violence.
Scapegoating migrants and refugees continues to be a key political weapon of both Liberal and Labor politicians, supported by their friends in the media. As a result, far right individuals and their groupuscules, who should be consigned to the fringes, feel emboldened to attack people on university campuses. Not surprisingly, the police seem unconcerned about stopping them.
Newcastle University Student Association president Christy Mullen told Red Flag, “The attack reflects the growing amounts of racially fuelled violence within Australia. With a continuation of othering people of colour, people now have the confidence to share racist and xenophobic views, as well as taking more violent actions”.
The attack follows the discovery last year of far-right propaganda on the university’s Callaghan campus, and reports that white supremacist organisations have been recruiting in the Newcastle area.
Also condemning the attack, National Union of Students’ ethnocultural officer Hersha Kadkol told Red Flag, “The increasingly racist rhetoric from the government and the media is emboldening bigots to organise and carry out attacks. We stand in solidarity with international students and commit to opposing racism wherever it rears its head, and we encourage all students to do the same”.
The brutality inflicted upon Abdullah Qaiser should be a wake-up call to anti-racists across the country – it’s time to get organised to challenge the institutional roots of racism as well as its ugly face on our streets.