FRESH WAVE OF ISLAMOPHOBIA HAS SWEPT THROUGH AUSTRALIA, THREATENING THE COUNTRY’S MUSLIM COMMUNITY
by Syarif Hidayat*
The Background: Many Indonesians, triggered by the empathy feeling toward the plight of Aborigines, the ingenious people in the continent down under, still consider Australians as colonialists and imperialists in the Aborigines land. Captain James Cook claimed possession of Australia for the British under the European legal term of ‘terra nullius’. This meant ‘land belonging to no one’ and it denied the Indigenous peoples the right to negotiate treaties and to claim ownership of the land.
The Indigenous peoples did not farm or fence the land like the Europeans, and many of their dwellings and shelters were not permanent like the ones built by the Europeans. When the British arrived, they decided that Australian land was not being used and did not belong to the Indigenous peoples. The arrival of the First Fleet into Sydney Cove was the start of the battle for the land of Australia.
Indigenous peoples did not own the land like Europeans did; the land owned them. The British became familiar with an Aboriginal man, called Bennelong, in the early years of the colony. Bennelong declared that Goat Island was his family’s home. This surprised the British settlers; they thought that the Indigenous peoples were nomadic and had no fixed home.
Indigenous peoples have a very close relationship with the land; it is their spiritual home. Indigenous culture and spirituality was inseparable from the land; every part of their lives had a connection to it. Land to Indigenous groups is not private land; it cannot be bought or sold. It is not owned by any one person but rather the land, and all the things living on it, needs to be looked after and cared for by the clan. The survival of the Indigenous people depended on knowing the land, and knowing which resources were available at certain times and in certain locations.
The land to survive
If necessary, the Indigenous peoples moved between camps to gather and collect food. Indigenous groups lived in territories and there were boundaries between the lands of different groups. These boundaries were not recorded on paper but were clearly understood by all groups, and were held in the memories of the elders. Rivers, mountain ranges and other landforms provided borders that were understood by everyone in the clan. Some territories could be shared between different clans, but to enter the homeland of another group required negotiation and ceremony. It also meant that the visiting group had to return the deed and allow access to their land. Indigenous peoples also knew what was happening in distant lands through trade relations, and through Dreaming stories and songs that were learnt from other groups.
Like the Indigenous peoples, the Europeans needed land to survive. The Europeans, however, wanted to claim as much land as possible, without sharing it with the Indigenous peoples. The colonists cleared and then fenced the land so that it could be used to grow crops or farm cattle or sheep. The rivers and creeks were fenced off and the Aboriginal peoples were not permitted to enter the land or to visit their sacred sites. Very quickly, the Aboriginal peoples were not allowed to access the land that provided their food and water.
The British saw the Australian continent as a series of frontiers that were there to be conquered. The land needed to be ‘discovered’ and ‘civilised’. Many lives especially on the side the ingenious people – Aborigines were lost as the British settled the land across Australia.
The ‘Easterners from the West’
Some people in Indonesia call Australians as the ‘Easterners from the West’ and some others call them as the ‘Westerners from the East’. The reality is that until now it seems Australians (white Australians) still have difficulties to integrate with the community of nations in the East including with Aborigine people, their hosts in Aborigines Land.
On the contrary these ‘Easterners from the West’ blame Aborigines for not being able to integrate into the western culture and they don’t respect the well-established rule in the world civilization that the new comers or the immigrants who should (or make efforts to) integrate into the local/national culture of the host country (land).
The Australians still prefer to have close relations and cooperation with the Western countries rather than Eastern countries. They are even still acting as merely imperialist exploiters of the Eastern countries including Indonesia, a Muslim majority country.
Islamophobia and racial attacks
Recently a Woman’s head bashed and then pushed off the train in racial attack on train in Melbourne.
A woman has been left traumatised after her head was smashed into the side of train carriage during an apparent racial attack in Melbourne’s north.
The 26-year-old victim was on an Upfield line train outbound on Thursday night when she was approached by another woman, who began hurling abusive and racist remarks. The woman grabbed the victim by the neck and hair, and forced her head into the wall of the carriage several times. She then pushed the victim off the train as it rolled into Batman Station in Coburg North. Senior Constable Michael Potter said the incident occurred as the train approached the station about 6.55pm on Thursday night, September 25, 2014.
He would not confirm the race of the victim, despite Chief Commissioner Ken Lay urging members of the Muslim community to come forward to report racial abuse in the wake of heightened terror alerts and the stabbing of two police in Endeavour Hills last week. Senior Constable Potter said releasing details about the woman’s race could identify her or potentially lead to further attacks. Two men, who police believe may have witnessed the assault, approached the victim and offered help. Senior Constable said police were still in the process of reviewing and obtaining CCTV footage of the attack. He said there were no Protective Services Officers rostered at the station when the woman was attacked.
The victim had boarded the train at Flinders Street, but it is unclear when her attacker boarded and alighted the train. The offender is described as fair-skinned, about 177 centimetres tall, of solid build with short, brown hair and light eyebrows. She was wearing baggy jeans, a puffy black hoodie and runners. Anyone with information – in particular the two men who helped the victim – is asked to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or visit crimestoppersvic.com.au.
Aussie Muslims threatened by wave of Islamophobia
A fresh wave of Islamophobia has swept through Australia, threatening the country’s Muslim community as they witness a rise in racially-motivated hate crimes, Press TV reports. Community leaders have urged Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to condemn Islamophobia in the country, after reports of Muslim women being verbally abused and mosques defaced.
A number of Muslim figures in the country have also reportedly received death threats. Australia’s grand mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, as well as other religious leaders called on the Muslim community to exercise restraint and reject the ISIL Takfiri cult’s call for Muslims to indiscriminately kill Australians.
Earlier this week, Australia announced that it was deploying armed security forces to guard the country’s parliament after it allegedly foiled a plot by militants linked to ISIL Takfiris in Syria and Iraq to carry out “public executions.” The rise in hate crimes targeting Muslims in Australia comes after the government announced plans to introduce new anti-terror legislation in parliament. The new laws would make it illegal for an individual to deliberately counsel, promote, encourage or urge a terrorist act while police would be also granted powers to secretly search the homes of suspects. On September 18, 15 people were arrested after some 800 state and federal police forces raided more than one dozen locations in Sydney.
The Australian government says that up to 60 Australians are fighting alongside the ISIL Takfiris operating in Iraq and Syria, while another 100 are actively working to back the terrorist group inside Australia. Observers believe the US and its allies, including Australia, are directly responsible for the rise of Takfiri terrorist groups such as ISIL in the region because of their interventionist policies, particularly in Iraq and Syria.
Islamic leaders in Australia have called for restraint amid a series of recent threats and attacks against Muslims and mosques in the country. On Wednesday, September 24, 2014, Australia’s grand mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, as well as other religious leaders called on the Muslim community to exercise self-control and reject the ISIL Takfiri cult’s call for Muslims to indiscriminately kill Australians.
“The recent so-called ‘fatwa’ from overseas, making reference to Australia as a target, has no religious authority and must be rejected,” the religious leaders said in a statement, adding, “We call on everyone to exercise restraint and civility. We must not let emotion take over common sense.”
This is while Muslims and mosques in Australia had been targeted in a backlash over fears about potential terror attacks.
In recent days, extremist groups vandalized mosques and spray-painted threatening messages on property and cars.
“A number of women, particularly in hijab, and children have been verbally abused and threatened… . In one case, a western Sydney mother and her baby were spat on and … [the baby’s] pram kicked. In another, a man in Perth tried to rip the scarf off a woman’s head,” said Mariam Veiszadeh from the Islamophobia Register.
Australian jihadists fuelling Islamophobia
The Australian government has announced plans to introduce new anti-terror legislation in parliament after allegedly foiling a plot by militants linked to the ISIL in the country. Under the new laws, a terrorist act would become illegal and the offence would carry a maximum five-year jail sentence. The legislation would also make it illegal for an individual to deliberately counsel, promote, encourage or urge a terrorist act while police would also be granted powers to secretly search the homes of suspects. Canberra believes up to 60 Australians are fighting alongside the ISIL Takfiris, while another 100 are actively working to back the terrorist group in Australia.
Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh in his article titled “Australian jihadists fuelling Islamophobia” published in The Canberra Times, June 26, 2014, wrote There may be more than a 100 Australian Muslims fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. In security circles, these people are assessed as high risk for Australia. Their militant ideology and practical knowledge of weapons use could pose a threat to Australian society upon their return. But the risk they pose is actually far greater than the immediate security threat. They threaten the very social fabric that has fostered Muslim communities. They put Australia’s tradition of multiculturalism at risk and offer fodder to Islamophic commentators who see all Muslims as terrorists at heart.
There is an old saying in Persian: it takes one fool to drop a stone in a well, and many wise men to bring it out. This proverb captures the Muslim experience in Australia. There is no doubt that some Australians feel uncomfortable with the Muslim presence. Muslim traditions, habits, and beliefs are often seen as alien and confronting. The Howard government tried to capitalise on this anti-Muslim bias to bolster its position by looking and sounding tough towards asylum seekers, generally from Muslim backgrounds. The under-current message was simple: Muslims are governed by un-Australian principles and an inferior value system. This was a blatant political gimmick. But it tapped into a vein that has proven too rich to be ignored by subsequent governments. The latent Islamophobia presents a challenge to Muslims in Australia. And many Muslims have risen to it.
Muslim organisations have learnt plenty about the need for proactive engagement. In the past, Muslim organisations were generally concerned with their own community affairs. These were inward-looking organisations/communities. They often reacted to events and external criticisms about their beliefs and traditions, feeling dejected with accusations and pointed questions that implied a link between Islam and terrorist activities. The sense of victimhood was a defining feature of Australian Muslims.
But in the last decade, many old and new Muslim organisations have tried to get on the front foot. They have come to realise they will never be taken seriously by the broad public, let alone the tabloid press, if they limit their public activity to issuing statements to deny the presumed link between Islam and terrorism, and protesting Muslims’ innocence. Muslim organisations have tried to offer alternative views and set the agenda, rather than wait to be called by a frantic journalist on an urgent story. Islamic leaders now engage with NGOs, policy and opinion-makers, as well as government departments and the police to help reset relations between Muslims and the broader community. Their message is simple but powerful, Australian Muslims are part of the solution.
This proactive engagement, however, has caused a stir within the Muslim communities and presented the Muslim leadership with a new and unlikely challenge. This one emanates from the fringes of Australian Muslims, and draws on suspicions of the government agenda to stigmatise any Muslim organisation that engages with government agencies. As a result, Muslim organisations are often forced to work on two very different levels. On the one hand, they work with a range of government and non-government organisations to bolster social harmony and a sense of shared purpose. On the other, they work at the community level to dismiss allegations of betraying Islam. This is a daunting task and they look all the guiltier to their radical critics for trying to deny such outrageous allegations.
This is where the fool and wise men analogy comes in. A few misguided Muslims who choose the path of adventurism and break the law to join the ranks of ISIL undo years of hard work by Islamic community organisations. They perpetuate an image of Islam as fanatical and bloodthirsty, damaging the Muslims’ reputation in Australia. Ultimately, they play into the hand of Islamophobes who make life hard for the law-abiding Muslim citizens of Australia, concluded Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh from the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University.
The Rise of Islamophobia in ‘White Australia’
Ghali Hassan in his article titled “The Rise of Islamophobia in ‘White Australia’” published in Global Research, writes “A BARE-CHESTED youth in Quiksilver board shorts tore the headscarf off the girl’s head as she slithered down the Cronulla dune seeking safety on the beach from a thousand-strong baying mob”. Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 2005.
Islamophobia in Australia is not something suddenly appeared over the horizon because of the weather. To the contrary, racism against Muslims has always been part of Australia’s psyche. Whether it is against neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia or Muslim Australians; the pall of racism is permanently hovering over Australia. Government policies, including the criminal war against Iraq and the introduction of the so-called “anti-terrorism” laws have legitimised racism against Arab and Muslim Australians.
The Runnymede Trust in Britain defined Islamophobia as: “The unfounded hostility towards Islam. It refers also to the practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and to the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs”. Islamophobia is anti-Semitism, which “has fed racist hostility against people of Middle Eastern, Arab and South Asian origin and has in turn been bolstered by racial prejudice and xenophobia”.
The “war of civilizations” against Muslims
Islamophobia is encouraged by the Howard-Bush claims that they are engaged in a “war of civilizations” against Muslims. Islamophobia is growing rapidly in Australia in that it is now not uncommon to see white male Australians abusing Muslim women (wearing the Hijab or headscarf) in buses, on beaches and on the streets of Australia’s big cities. “Aussie” males are real machismos when it comes to women. It should be noted that insulting or harassing Muslim women wearing the hijab is not an offence in Australia, as this considered part of the Bush-Howard mission of “liberating” Muslim women.
Australia has no Bill of Rights and no federal Religious Freedom Act. Only Queensland and Victoria have recently extended the anti-discrimination laws to cover religious vilification, and this has strong opposition from the Christian parties. In all other Australian states racism is part of free speech, but criticising the Government complicity in war crimes in Iraq is not. Anti-Muslims hatred and racism are central to the Government policies in “multicultural” Australia.
Australia’s shallow “multiculturalism” produces ‘an ethnicised Muslim identity’ subjected to racism and discrimination in education, at work and in public. It consciously and deliberately enforces the “Others” feeling in the general community, and creates a mentality of superiority among ‘White Australians’. It requires subordination of those who are from ethnic minorities. Shallow “multiculturalism” is designed to marginalise ethnic groups and isolates them into ghettoised communities. This form of institutionalise racism reinforces the disadvantage already experienced by members of the Muslim Community, and restrict their integration in the wider Australian community. At the same time, Anglo-Saxon values are presented as a unique paradigm applicable to the whole community, if not the world at large.
Australia projects self-image as a “tolerant”, “welcoming”, and “Fair Go” country. Anglo-Saxon Australians often hallucinate about their images and their “easygoing lifestyle”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Australians work much longer hours than any other member of the OECD countries and obesity among Australians is rising at unparalleled rates. Violent crimes and violence against women are among the highest in Western countries. Racism is widespread, but it is buried in shallow ground. “Deep down we have this fear of people who are different from us”, said Tasmanian Labor MP Harry Quick. Like the French, Australians are living in denial of deep-seated racism.
The elitist Anglo-Saxon rule
The country is ruled by an elitist Anglo-Saxon dominant class to which smaller ethnic groups have to conform. It systematically advantages the Anglo-Saxon class and marginalises (subordinates) the non-Anglo-Saxon ethnic groups, such as those from Muslim and Arab backgrounds. This creates a permanent under the surface racial mentality, which is often exploited by politicians, rightwing thugs and other groups within the Anglo-Saxon class. Australia’s “Fair Go” was meant only for white Anglo-Saxon Australians, with a dividing line between the dominant and the subordinate classes.
All over Australia the gap between ‘the have’ and the ‘have not’ is widening steadily, with well-documented racism against ethnic minorities, particularly against Muslims. The Anglo-Saxon rich are congregating around the beaches and in leafy suburbs, while the poor are pushed further into the poorer suburbs – where most of the about 300,000 Muslim Australians live – with little prospect of finding decent employment or education.
A recent study on racist attitudes conducted by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 2003 found one in eight Australians interviewed admitted they were prejudiced, particularly towards Muslim Australians. The study, conducted by a team led by geography senior lecturer Dr. Kevin Dunn, also found some Australians were living in denial of such prejudice though 80 per cent of those surveyed recognized racism was a problem. When asked if they ever met a Muslim. ‘NO’, they said.
A report, entitled ‘Respect and Racism in Australia’, prepared in June 2004 by Racism Monitor Group of the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS) reveals that; Australian Arabs Muslims community “has been and continues to be unfairly targeted” specifically, and that racism is so frequent that “it has become almost accepted” and Muslims do not feel ‘entitled’ to make complaints. Racism against Muslims is openly promoted, and continues to contribute to decrease in the process of integration. It is propagated by politicians as a tool to instil fear in the community and justify draconian policies.
The racist “White Australia Policy”
As it has been predicted, the “Anti-terrorism Bill”, introduced here recently has encouraged, if not incited Islamophobia. The new laws enforced a pre-existing fear in the Muslim community. Muslims are made to feel alienated, and (as if they) do not truly belong in Australia. The Bill, as it is called, designed specifically to discriminate against Australians from Muslim and Arabic backgrounds. The recent violent attacks on members of Australia’s Muslim Community were just a few cases.
At least 5000 “White Australians” invaded the south eastern Sydney suburb of Cronulla’s foreshore and beachside streets on Sunday (11 December 2005) chasing two young Muslim Australians of Lebanese origin. Racist thugs and Neo-fascist opportunists attacked and assaulted individuals and small groups of Muslim Australians. The racially motivated violence, which has been boiling for sometimes is misleadingly portrayed in the media as “the local boys trying to protect their beach and community”. It is also alleged that the violence is in retaliation to a rumours that Muslim youths assaulted two lifeguards earlier this month.
The media – the most controlled in the Western world – not only play a crucial role in inciting and legitimising these criminal acts. They also ‘perpetuate historically inherited stereotypes and cultural imaginaries that form part of the national collective memory bank’. Anti-Muslims hatred is a best seller in Australia. TV, radio, the printing press and publishing houses are competing for the best available distortion of Islam and Muslims. In fact one can become a celebrity overnight in Australia, by simply producing a distorted image of Arabs and Muslims. It is a topic promoted as much as playing Cricket.
Media grunts led by the right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt of the Melbourne Herald Sun, Janet Albrechtsen of Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper, and Alan Jones of Sydney Radio 2GB and others are fuelling racism and influencing community’s attitudes. Indeed, Alan Jones is encouraging racially-motivated violence against Muslims on his popular redneck talk. Anti-Muslims hatred is rising because of media bashing of Muslims and Government policy of incarcerating of the mainly Muslim refugees. “Sections of the media took [the attack on Cronulla beach] far too far and one can only surmise that the way this issues was dealt with on talkback radio amounts to incitement”, said Mr. Keysar Trad, president of Islamic Friendship Association of Australia.
Many flawed reasons have been provided to justifying the violent attacks against Muslims and to cover up racism as central to the violence. The racially motivated attack in Cronulla “is revenge for the Bali bombings and the September 11 attacks”, declared Bruce Baird, a Federal Liberal backbencher in Canberra. It seems that the destruction of the Iraqi society and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi women, children and men by the Anglo-American armies is not a sufficient holocaust to satisfy Mr. Cook violent revenge. Whatever the reason was, “it shows that there is underlying racism running deeply in the Australian psyche”, said Huranda Seyit, director of the Forum on Australian-Islamic Relations. It is remarkable that Muslims are the first to call on Muslim youth in the Community to “calm down, and refrain from any further violence”. Why shouldn’t “White Australians” do the same?
Opportunist politicians have been the only beneficiaries of violence and racism against Australians from non-Anglo-Saxon backgrounds. “This is a great day” for Australia, said John Moffitt, leader of the Australia First Party, a rightwing collection of thugs. Others want to go back to the old days of “White Australia Policy”. Defunct racist politicians such as John Stone of the National Party are attacking Islam, and advocating the banning of Muslim immigrants and abolishing “multiculturalism”.
Liberal MPs Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos have repeatedly attacked Islam, using Muslim women dresses as the pretext to incite Australians to stand up against the Muslim hijab in schools. The purpose of this old “colonial feminism” is not to defend Muslim women rights, but to promote racism, denying Muslim women education, and their rights to wear whatever suites them. What have these two MPs said about the abuses and torture of Iraqi women by the occupying forces and their leaders? Instead of rejecting their views, the Government has encouraged this kind of racism, and allows Nazis-like groups such as the Australia First Party and the Patriotic Youth League to flourish.
Australian Muslim women were always the immediate targets of the racially-motivated violence. The daily Melbourne, The Age reported on November 13, 2005 that; “’Fatimah’ [a Muslim woman] was punched, kicked, spat on and abused, told to ‘go home to her own country and left with an injury to her right eye’. Her sister, she said, had a knife thrust towards’ her face”. The West Australian Sunday Times (13 November 2005) is labelling every Muslim a “terrorist”, and the victims are always, Australian women of Muslim backgrounds. ”I think families are staying home and avoiding going out, particularly women who wear the hijab, because we have seen that they are particularly targeted”, said Australian Arabic Council deputy chairman, Mr. Taimor Hazou.
Islamophobia is a serious threat to the Australian society. It is reminiscent to that of anti-Jews hatred in Europe in recent history. “Racism in Australia is rooted in every area of Australian society, from government to schools to courts to churches…. Racism is an endemic and chronic problem that must be addressed and solved”, writes the Australian author, Anne Pattel-Gray. “Racism is embedded in Australian culture and federal politicians should not ignore it”, added MP Harry Quick.
Sydney Police alleged to have evidence that Neo-Nazis and “white supremacist” groups, including right-wing politicians were among the crowd attacking Muslims at Cronulla beach. Meanwhile those who are promoting and selling racism are sitting and laughing in their party rooms, radio and TV stations, and editorial news rooms around Australia. In order for tolerance to establish its roots deep in society, the head of racism must be cut off and buried.
A tolerant non-racial society is an egalitarian society free of racial categories. “As Australia increasingly globalizes it must shed the ignorant roots of intolerance and embrace the multiplicity of nationalities already within its borders. If the North Cronulla riots are not incentive enough for change, then Australia risks a future plagued by disunity and disgruntled reaction to the faux ideals of egalitarianism”, writes Bede A. Moore, editor of The Harvard Crimson, a publication of Harvard University.
The racist “White Australia Policy” is not dead; it is still here hovering over Australia. What is needed is an anti-racism bill to protect marginalised Australians from the threat of racially-motivated violence, and to counter the rise of Islamophobia, concluded Ghali Hassan. (Global Research Contributing Editor Ghali Hassan lives in Perth, Western Australia).
*Senior journalist of ANTARA, The National News Agency of Indonesia. Pensioned from ANTARA March 2008 and since November 2012 joined Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) and now Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) (He can be contacted via emails: firstname.lastname@example.org)