It’s a scary time to be Muslim in Australia. On 18 September, anti-terrorism raids in connection with IS were conducted in Sydney and Brisbane. Australia’s terror alert has also been raised from medium to high for the first time in over a decade, despite a lack of any knowledge of any specific attacks to come. The combination of sudden mass action and little specificity has lit a fire of fear and hatred under Islamophobes nationwide.
There have been spurts of bizarre, misleading messaging. These include letterbox drops of anti-Islam material, such as the leaflets that have been dropped in Queensland letterboxes over the past few days. For the most part, lacking any clear direction but downhill, fear and hatred is flowing towards the most visible and vulnerable. Attacks are routinely being directed at Muslim women who cover their hair. One incident that has particularly caught national attention is the case of a woman attacked while traveling on a train in Melbourne. Her attacker verbally abused her and then bashed her against the train wall before pushing her off the train when it arrived at Batman Station. The widespread disgusting behaviour is at the point where attackers trying to rip off people’s hijabs is getting routine.
The political realm is just as hostile a place. I have previously written here at Global Comment about Rise Up Australia, a fringe far right political party with an anti-Muslim platform; according to the Sydney Morning Herald, party leader Danny Nalliah describes Islam as a ‘death cult’. He says that there has been a significant increase in interest in his party since the counter-terrorism raids. In the political mainstream, some in federal parliament have launched a plan to relegate Muslim women who cover their faces to glassed in areas, alongside schoolchildren, where everyone else is allowed to sit in the public galleries. It’s pointed discrimination.
In spite of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s disagreement with the ban proposal, his calling burqas a ‘confronting form of attire,’ among similar dogwhistling from the Federal government, has only stoked the flames of hatred. There is a rhetorical divide between Abbott’s “Team Australia” and, fairly transparently, those who don’t entirely assimilate, who are positioned as representing a terrorist threat. Muslims in particular are being scapegoated as outside of Team Australia at a time when the federal government is trying to drum up jingoistic support for a war.
One of the creepiest, saddest parts of all this is how defences of Australian Muslims are largely being framed in terms of their being “Australian first” (see this Perth Now piece), or just like everyone else. Many Aussie Muslims, like many of their fellow Australians, are bursting with national pride, and all are of course as Australian as the next Australian. The troubling part is that they have to justify their Australianness at all and that they have to invite the rest of us into the details of their lives so that the public can judge whether their faith is a threat. It’s not fair.
Whether you uncritically wave the Australian flag, or feel ambivalent or outright angry about aspects of Australian life and governance, you deserve to be as safe and accepted as the next person. To ask people to prove their personal love of Australia is skeevy at best, particularly as Australia is currently an incredibly hostile, Islamophobic place that isn’t loving Muslims back.