Around 80 people attended a public meeting in Sydney to oppose the wave of Islamophobia following the government’s theatrical anti-terror raids and its military deployment to Iraq.

Lydia Shelly, a founder of Islamophobia Register and a member of the Muslim Legal Network explained, “Muslim women have been physically attacked, verbally abused, had their property destroyed—often in the presence of their children. Yet we are told by the government and the media that Islamophobia does not exist”.

The Muslim community faces a high level of police harassment, she said. One man who heckled Scott Morrison on his visit at Lakemba Mosque later received a knock on the door from the Federal Police. Fatima Ali, of the Arab Council Australia, discussed the roots of Islamophobia in previous wars and over a decade of anti-Muslim hysteria since 9/11.

The forum was an important attempt by anti-racist activists to reach out and show support for the Muslim community. The networks developed put us in a better position to respond to further terrorism hysteria, police raids or Islamophobic attacks.

Islamic groups have spoken out against the government and some refused to meet with Tony Abbott. However Muslims feel under siege.

Islamic communities will bear the brunt of the new anti-terror laws. At the same time, these laws broadly undermine civil liberties, as Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, discussed. ASIO’s unprecedented power to access and modify personal computers with a single warrant will make it easier to spy on all of us. Wendy Bacon, Professor at UTS’s Centre for Independent Journalism, spoke on the ramifications for journalists. Stuart Rees, Founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation, discussed how the scaremongering about terrorism has been linked to the new war on Iraq.

The meeting was backed by a broad coalition of Greens, students, anti-war and refugee rights activists and the left, and chaired by Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi. Abbott is using his terrorism scare to distract attention from his hated budget and plummeting approval ratings. Opposing this will be a key task in the coming months. This forum was an important contribution.

By Eliot Hoving

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