Islamophobia: Australia's Newest National Sport

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Australia is one of the safest countries in the world. Until last week we didn’t particularly fear “terrorism” or war on home soil, because these horrible events are far removed from our daily reality, encased in 30-second soundbites we ignore over our dinners.

We’re more likely to fear bushfires and the holiday road death tolls along with our world-beating killer spiders, snakes, sharks and occasionally, crocodiles.

But we don’t fear these things regularly. We’re unlikely to come into contact with them on a daily basis. We do, however, come into contact with people. And if you live in western and north-western Sydney, where the majority of the “anti-terror” raids occurred last week, you are likely to run into *shock horror* a Muslim.

Last week, Australia woke to the front pages and shrill cries of breakfast radio and TV anchors acting as a government mouthpiece, trying to convince Australians that the war against the Islamic State, the militant Sunni group which has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria, had arrived on our shores.

And not just on our shores, like the “hordes of boat people” who apparently threaten the freedoms we enjoy, but also flourishing in our suburbs – near hospitals and schools and shopping centres.

Every day places so far from the dusty battle fields in the Middle East.

For most Australians, the information on IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL has been limited, filtered through sexed-up stories of “Jihadi war brides”, shocking images of beheadings and crucifixions and the sensationalist executions of three westerners – two journalists and an aid worker – filmed with all the suspense of a Hollywood drama.

The reality that nearly 60 Australians are estimated to have left the country to fight with IS forces has been abused constantly by the Abbott government to try and draw Australians into believing IS is a threat to the freedoms Australia has built off Aboriginal suffering and poverty for the past 200 years.

These events are undoubtedly shocking, but if your main source of information is the mainstream media, you’ve been sorely let down. There has been very little analysis on whether these threats are valid, and certainly no explanation of how it justifies an estimated $500 million a year “humanitarian” military intervention into a foreign country, and far-reaching, invasive laws which target one section of the Australian community. 

Today, renowned American journalist Glenn Greenwald condemned the Australian political class’ “unhinged, fear mongering orgy over terrorism”.

On the Abbott government’s concerning anti-terror laws he wrote:

“The Australian government wasted no time at all exploiting this event to demand ‘broad new security powers to combat what it says is a rising threat from militant Islamists.”

Even by the warped standards of the west’s 9/11 era liberty abridgments, these powers are extreme, including making it ‘a crime for an Australian citizen to travel to any area overseas once the government has declared it off limits’.

“Already pending in that country is a proposal by the Attorney General to make it a criminal offense ‘punishable by five years in jail for ‘any person who disclosed information relating to ‘special intelligence operations’; the bill is clearly intended to outright criminalise WikiLeaks-and Snowden-type reporting and the government thus expressly refuses to exempt journalists.”

Greenwald criticises Abbott’s recent speech to Parliament as a “shameless” exploitation of terrorism fears to “seize greater power”.

“Abbott assumed the grave demeanor and resolute tone that politicians in these situations don to convince others that they’re the modern incarnation of Winston Churchill: purposeful, unyielding, and courageously ready for the fight. He depicted his fight as one of Pure Good v. Pure Evil, and vehemently denied that his nation’s 10-year support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq plays any role whatsoever in animosity toward his country in that region (perish the thought! – ‘It’s our acceptance that people can live and worship in the way they choose that bothers them, not our foreign policy’). And, most impressively, he just came right out and candidly acknowledged his real purpose: to exploit the emotions surrounding the terrorist arrests to erode liberty and increase state power, telling citizens that they will die if they do not meekly acquiesce.”

Sadly, just as all over the world, the greatest victims of “terrorism" have been Muslims themselves. How you define “terrorism” is up to you, but I would suggest the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians killed by western forces would count as victims as well, just as the innocent children of Gaza who are still recovering from a murderous assault by Israel earlier this year.

And the people who are most likely affected by Abbott’s response to this purported IS threat are Muslim Australians, who represent diverse ethnic groups across the country and yet are being targeted as one homogenous mass.

I attended the Lakemba rally held on the day of the shocking raids last week. The anger was clear, but the mood was solemn. A 12-year-old boy whose home was the subject of one of the raids spoke of his experience and was so obviously traumatised it raised the question of how the Abbott government can expect to placate a community who are so used to being targeted and ostracised by mainstream society, and whose hurt only continues to compound.

Since the raids, a torrent of hate has been unleashed towards Muslims across the country. Last week, a Muslim woman in Auburn awoke to find her car spray-painted with anti-Muslim slogans.

A rally on the Sunshine Coast against a planned mosque descended into outright hate with 500 people turning up.

One man, quoted by the Sunshine Coast Daily said, “It’s a disgusting religion. I’m in the Catholic Church over the road and I’d hate to think it was opposite. It’s evil and I’m totally against it.”

The waves of abuse on social media has also highlighted how open bigotry has become, as if the disgust around the Islamic State has given a free pass to intolerance.

Secretary of Salam Care, Rebecca Kay told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week that she had received a number of reports of intimidation across western Sydney.

“We had some Aussie ladies standing making gun movements with their fingers towards some Muslim ladies,” Ms Kay told the newspaper.

“It’s trivial… but it does affect people…. They seem to be more upset at first rather than scared. But then they do get scared that it might happen again, and they start worrying about whether they need to protect their children.”

While anti-semitic remarks and other racial attacks regularly attract condemnation in Australia – in fact can be used as justification to fire a popular newspaper columnist – the widespread vitriol against Muslims in the wake of these terror raids has been sadly underplayed.

Why is this so?

The biggest victims of this “terror threat” are not the suburban keyboard warriors afraid of random alleged beheadings, but Muslims, who should have the right to practice their religion free from persecution.

Sure, it's easier to fear them than more immediate threats. It's easier to take out our fears from a position of power, backed by a media that has been actively promoting Islamophobia. You can't abuse a shark or crocodile or a holiday road death toll.

But that doesn't make it ok. And it doesn't smooth over the fact that this government is trying to exploit a foreign fear of terrorism to pass severely invasive powers over a targeted community just because you don’t feel safe. 

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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