“They yelled out ‘ISIS Bitch’, ‘Go back to where you came from’ and snickered and said, ‘Shh or she’ll behead you’. They followed me down the street. None of the train staff helped me out or stopped them.”
For many Muslims, abuse has become a predictable part of Australian life.
A new study, commissioned by a number of universities, the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy of Australia and the Diversity Council of Australia, analysed 243 incidents reported to the Islamophobia Register between September 2014 and December 2015.
The report is filled with stories of everyday abuse suffered by Muslims. Nearly half the attacks occurred in public spaces such as train stations, shopping centres, car parks and schools. It reveals the extent to which the post 9/11 political climate has fostered and encouraged racism towards Muslims.
Sixty-eight percent of those attacked were female. The report found that 80 percent of women abused were wearing a head covering and more than 30 percent were accompanied by their children.
It should come as no surprise that Muslim women are targets. Prominent Australian political figures calling for the banning of Muslim dress receive national coverage. In January, Pauline Hanson called for new laws to ban women wearing the headscarf. Her statements weren’t surprising for a career racist. But in a demonstration of how mainstream these ideas have become, the then Western Australian premier Colin Barnett backed her up, saying that the burqa is “not part of our culture”.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. In March, Bronwyn Bishop, former speaker in the House of Representatives and prominent media commentator, celebrated a European Court of Justice decision allowing European companies to ban workers from wearing Islamic headscarves. She urged Australians to “fight for our culture”.
Internationally, the trend is toward tighter legal strictures on women wearing the veil. Last week, the European Court of Human Rights upheld Belgium’s ban on full-face Islamic veils. Such decisions create a climate that encourages street level attacks on Muslim women.
The media also plays a vital role in whipping up hostility to Muslim women. Take the recent attacks on Yassmin Abdel-Magied. On ANZAC Day she encouraged people not to forget about the refugees locked in detention centres, or the suffering in Syria and Palestine. The shock jocks went into overdrive, stoking extreme and violent hostility against her.
Over the next weeks her inbox was swamped with death threats and people threatening to rape her and kill her family. The situation reached fever pitch and Abdel- Magied decided to emigrate. This didn’t stop the torrent of abuse. Former journalist Prue MacSween, on Sydney’s 2GB radio station, called Abdel- Magied a “dangerous flea” and said she would be tempted to “run her over” if she saw her back in the country.
This was laughed off as a joke, but it is clear that the increased hostility toward Muslims on the part of politicians and journalists is a key driving force for increased levels of racist abuse on city streets. A 2015 study revealed that there was a three-fold increase in the number of incidents following the federal government’s short-lived 2014 plan to ban women wearing full-face coverings from the public gallery at Parliament House.
Islamophobia doesn’t organically spring from below. It is encouraged by a ruling class that is intent on waging wars in Muslim countries and creating a domestic climate in which state repression and increased police powers are justified with reference to the Muslim threat.