“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
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”.
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”
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’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
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’,
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
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
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.
Global Research Contributing Editor Ghali Hassan
lives in Perth, Western Australia.