Tony Abbott’s terror scare has led to a vicious wave of racism against the Muslim community.
Abbott has taken every opportunity to stoke division. The debacle over the burqa in parliament is the latest example. First Abbott described it as “confronting”, following Senator Cory Bernadi. Then he appeared to go along with an offensive plan from Speaker Browyn Bishop and Senate President Stephen Parry to segregate women in burqas who entered parliament’s public galleries. After a backlash he quickly backed down. But he had already broadcast the message that Muslims are a potential threat.
The idea this is some kind of security issue is a joke—Abbott himself admitted he wasn’t aware of anyone in a burqa ever attending parliament house. Everyone who enters the building is already required to go through airport-style security scanners.
This rhetoric has given confidence to racists everywhere to go on the rampage.
Muslim community advocate Mariam Veiszadeh has helped set up an Islamophobia Register to document the rise in racism.
She told Solidarity, “Ironically the Islamophobia Register was launched the night before the first set of raids. In the weeks beforehand I had already been hearing about incidents of Islamophobia.
“We’ve been really concerned at the frequency and increase in the level of violence. In those first days when we started we were hearing about women being verbally abused and having their hijabs pulled off their heads.
“We heard about a Muslim woman being viciously bashed on a Melbourne train and then thrown outside the train when the door opened. The intensity of the violence is just shocking.”
In Brisbane a Muslim prayer room was covered with racist graffiti, as were mosques in Cairns and Mareeba in north Queensland. There have been numerous threats of physical violence, including incidents where a man carrying a knife invaded a Muslim school in Sydney, and a group of Afghans playing soccer were threatened by another knife-wielding attacker.
“I’ve had a friend of mine actually tell me that she’s too fearful to leave her house with her two children, because we’ve heard about mothers who’ve been attacked and in one incident a pram was kicked with a baby in it,” said Mariam.
“It’s scared the living daylights out of people. As my friend said to me, it’s one thing for them to attack me but if it happens in the presence of my children, how will I defend them?”
Police are adding to the climate of fear with routine harassment and suspicion of anyone who looks Muslim.
Three men at the football in Sydney were left “furious and humiliated” after they were detained by police for half an hour, following a report from a spectator who thought they were using their mobile phones “suspiciously” during the match.
Lawyer Adam Houda says that, “I’ve received, maybe, over 24 calls from different people who have been detained, arrested, interrogated at airports, just moments before they’re about to depart on their flight.”
These include a senior imam leading a group on the haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, who was detained at Sydney airport for two and a half hours, and as a result missed his flight.
A naval officer claimed he had been assaulted outside his home by two Middle Eastern men, before later admitting he had made the incident up.
This is all in addition to the obscenely dramatised, over-the-top terror raids. Tony Abbott himself explained these as a “show of force”. What this means is spreading fear across the whole Muslim community.
Labor leader Bill Shorten at least acknowledged the problem, writing an open letter to the Muslim community saying, “Labor will continue to work with you to stop misinformation, bigotry and prejudice directed at the Australian Islamic community.”
But Labor shares the blame—they have backed the new anti-terror laws and the police raids without criticism, saying that, “if Labor was in Government…[it] would take the same approach”.
It is clear that many in the Muslim community have had enough. The head of the Islamic Council of Victoria criticised the police for rushing to declare 18-year old Numan Haider, shot dead in a confrontation with police in Melbourne, totally at fault prior to any serious investigation.
Whatever his actions on the day, it is clear he had been under police monitoring and harassment for months.
In both Sydney and Melbourne there have been broad public meetings organised to oppose the Islamophobia and show support for the Muslim community. Standing up to the scare campaign in the coming months will be crucial to undermining Abbott’s attempts to spread fear and division.
By James Supple