How many Muslim prayer rooms must be trashed before someone cares?

The vice chancellor of Sydney University is very concerned about racism on campus. Except when it’s directed at Muslims. Last week, the Muslim prayer room at the university was attacked for the fifth time this summer.

Again, the room was trashed and rubbish scattered across the floor where Muslim students pray. This hate-filled note was left behind:

“If you believe in genital mutilation, raping little girls, crucifying non-believers, burning apostates, stoning women, enslaving children, blowing up planes and trains, bashing police, theft, throwing gays off tall buildings, fraud, and collecting your unemployment benefits every second Thursday, you must be a Muslim!”

The vandalism of the prayer room comes two weeks after anti-Muslim graffiti were scribbled in a nearby thoroughfare and art spot near Parramatta Road. It read “Fuck Islam, Fuck Alla” (sic) and “Say no to mosques in Australia”.

Muslim women students have reported being spat on and abused.

To date, the university has not sent an email to students and staff addressing either incident.

This speaks volumes about the political nature of racism. When the authorities need to silence dissent about the atrocities carried out in Palestine, accusations of anti-Semitism are readily thrown around – evidence not necessary. Accusing opponents of anti-Semitism is a default position of defenders of Israel.

In March last year, the university went with this strategy after Palestine supporters interrupted a lecture being delivered by notorious apologist for Israeli war crimes, retired British army officer Richard Kemp.

The vice-chancellor responded to the protest by sending an email to all staff and students. The subject line read, “Concerns about anti-Semitism on campus”. It landed in the in-boxes of more than 60,000 people.

An investigation was launched immediately, and a staff member, Jake Lynch, a long-time champion of the Palestinian cause, was threatened with dismissal. His reputation was dragged through the mud for months. It took a public campaign for the charges against him to be dropped.

Yet the Muslim prayer room is attacked five times in the space of a few months, and racist graffiti scrawled on campus, and we’re met with stone cold silence from the administration. These attacks apparently don’t warrant a mass email or public denunciation.

University campuses have not been immune to rising Islamophobia. Muslim women students have reported being spat on and verbally abused on their way to Redfern train station.

When I asked PhD student Mouna Sawan, who has prayed at the musalah for the past five years, how she felt about the incidents, she said: “It was disappointing to see Sydney University, which has always been our safe space, is no longer immune to attacks on religion or race.

“It’s even more disappointing that Sydney University, an institution that prides itself on promoting racial and cultural harmony, has not denounced this unacceptable behaviour.”

The incident has left Muslim students feeling unsafe. The Sydney University Muslim Students Association has reported that students have contacted its committee expressing concerns about their safety.

According to student newspaper Honi Soit, the head of student services, Jordi Austin, has said that the university will now “insist” that the long opening hours of the prayer room be reviewed. Restricting access to the prayer room will not challenge Islamophobia on campus but will prevent students being able to pray.

These incidents are the result of more than 10 years of anti-Muslim, anti-Arab hate led by governments and media globally. Universities have been complicit in this campaign – from silencing dissent on Israel to helping the government spy on Muslim students by implementing the autonomous sanctions checks. It’s not surprising then that no email has been issued by the administration about safety concerns for Muslims on campus.