When he took over as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull distanced himself from efforts to encourage Islamophobia, warning, “we must not vilify or blame the entire Muslim community” for terrorism.
But his response to the terror attack in Brussels in March, that left 32 dead, had him sounding just like Tony Abbott. Turnbull tried to scapegoat and spread fear about refugees, blaming “porous borders” that have allowed the movement of refugees into Europe for letting in terrorists. And he didn’t miss the chance to claim that it was “strong border protection” here that was keeping us safe.
Yet of the five bombers, four were born or grew up in Brussels, and the fifth was born in Sweden. Only one of them had posed as a refugee in order to return from Syria.
Turnbull went further, blaming terrorism in Europe on the “failed or neglected integration” of Muslims. This echoed Abbott’s claims that there was a problem with Muslims where some weren’t prepared to, “be on ‘Team Australia’”.
Such comments only further the racist idea that the entire Muslim community is suspect. And they can only increase the discrimination and isolation that Muslims suffer, encouraging more people to turn towards extremism.
It is this, combined with the murderous wars that Australia and the West are waging across the Middle East, that is fuelling terrorism. The number of civilians killed and wounded in Afghanistan was over 11,000 last year, the highest on record 14 years after the war began. In October the US bombed a Médecins sans Frontières hospital, killing 40 people.
Belgium, where the latest attacks took place, has sent troops to the war in Afghanistan, as well as Mali and Libya, and participated in bombing raids in Iraq in 2015.
Brussels, and its suburb of Molenbeek in particular, has been labelled a “jihadi breeding ground” and “Europe’s terrorism capital”. Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel declared last year that the suburb, “was involved in almost every terrorist attack of recent years”. But their efforts to ramp up the police raids and targeting of the Muslim community will only make the problem worse.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, the government imposed a lockdown on Brussels, after it emerged that several of the suspects were from the area or had been living there. One, Salah Abdelsam, was believed to be in hiding in Molenbeek.
Shops, schools and public transport were all ordered to close for a week. Police carried out at least 20 raids across the city. There were 37 arrests, but police only managed to charge five people with any offence.
Such heavy handed police tactics only further marginalise Muslim communities and make people more hostile towards the police.
Local resident Farida Aarrass, part of the Parents Campaign against Police Violence, said, “You could hear terrified children shouting and crying. Now everyone here is frightened.
“It’s becoming unbearable. All the parents are worried that their children could be beaten, locked up or taken away as terrorists—which they’re not.”
Nordine Saidi, an activist in the Brussels Panthers campaign group, told Britain’s Socialist Worker, “The daily presence of the police is one of the main reasons people feel unsafe.
“They come down in huge numbers, creating a sense of being under siege, encircled by an occupying army.
“There have been serious incidents linked to these interventions, often classed as ‘anti-terrorist’.
“People stopped by the police experience ethnic profiling, humiliation and racist language. And if they resist they are charged.”
Unemployment is 40 per cent in Molenbeek for people under 25, and many young people turn to drugs or gangs because of lack of other options.
Increasing the use of police repression will do nothing to address the hopelessness and discrimination they face.
Muslims have become one of the main targets of racism all across Europe. In Britain teachers and social workers are now obliged by law to spy on students and families to identify signs of extremism.
In March nursery workers suggested referring a 4-year-old to “de-radicalisation” classes after his pronunciation of “cucumber” was mistaken for “cooker bomb”.
In France there have been at least 3200 police raids since the terror attacks last November. Police have burst into mosques, homes and even restaurants, placing between 350 and 400 people under house arrest without court approval. “This abuse has traumatised families and tarnished reputations, leaving targets feeling like second-class citizens,” according to Human Rights Watch’s Izza Leghtas. Far right parties are fanning the flames of racism.
We need to stand against Islamophobia, and the efforts to scapegoat refugees and Muslims for terrorism.
By James Supple