One of my primary school students was spat at as she was walking through the mall a few years ago. She wasn’t doing anything other than walking with her mother, who was wearing a traditional headscarf. The part of the story that upset me the most was when I asked her how she felt about it and she said she had actually begun to get used to it. The term ‘Islamaphobia,’ is appropriate because a phobia is a fear with no rational element to it and the cowards who harass children like my student had no reason to fear or hate them. The fact that the ignorance that encourages this type of behaviour is so widespread that we have coined this new term to describe it both saddens and embarrasses me.
I’ve probably immediately painted myself as left-wing, but I don’t see myself that way. I try to consider issues in a balanced way and can be convinced by a well-reasoned argument. I respect facts and detest hatemongering in any form. With the regrettable march by the United Patriots Front and Reclaim Australia, I thought I would try to consider what sort of fears motivate people to this behaviour.
A friend of mine located the 24 points RA claims to be marching over. It is a pretty diverse list, much of which is not even specific to Muslims and much else are demands for things which already exist and are not under threat. It would take too long to address all of them- although I did get a chuckle that one of them was, “Equality and tolerance of all races and religions.” However one of RA’s core stated purposes is to protect Australia from the spread of the Islamic religion, as if it is something to be feared. I thought I would consider some of the possible reasons for such Islamaphobia.
Our recent armed conflicts have been against Islamic forces and there may be more to come
I won’t deny that some of the most publicised threats to international security seem to come from Islamic nations (such as Iran) and groups such as ISIS. Of course others might point out that equally strong threats to international security come from tensions between Russia and NATO over Ukraine, tensions between China and the USA over the Spratly islands and tensions between North Korea and pretty much anyone. I fully support our armed forces overseas. Yes recently a number of enemies they have faced have been Muslim, but so are some of our own soldiers as well as some of our allies. Have people noticed that Iran is doing just as much, if not more, to fight ISIS on the ground than the West is? In conflict, our armed forces have to discriminate between what is and isn’t a threat and I don’t think those marching this weekend have figured out how to do the same.
Fears about terrorism
I am also concerned about the growing threat of terrorism in the future (along with the threat of climate change, mass extinction, our oceans filling with plastic and Skynet becoming self aware- OK maybe not the last one). Sadly it is probably a matter of time before another terrorist attack that takes more innocent lives. They might be a Muslim extremist, but they could also be a self-proclaimed patriot like Anders Breivik or Dylan Roof. It is worth noting that in the last 70 years, terrorist attacks have been carried out by religious and ethnic groups of every religion, as well as rogue individuals so let’s not be too certain that the next attack will be from Islamic extremists either.
I acknowledge that our security agencies are at higher alert status and have stopped several intended terrorist attacks recently- and probably more we haven’t heard of. However not all terrorists are Muslims and neither are all Muslims terrorists. ABS figures estimate there are approximately half a million Muslims in Australia. If these people were as dangerous as some in the media make out, there is no way our busy security agencies would be able to stop them all.
Living in Australia, there are a number of possible threats to my life. There are certainly violent and dangerous people in our communities. Just keep your eyes open late at night around the pubs and clubs and you will see how quickly some people choose violence. Sadly, in 2013, approximately 430 people were murdered in Australia and the number of serious assaults was larger again. In that same period, we have had no deaths from terrorism in this country. If you are really worried about the threat of being murdered, you might need to become a hermit and hide in the bush somewhere, because it seems all types of Australians are just as bloodthirsty.
Actually, Islamic fundamentalists killed less people than dogs, crocodiles or spiders in 2013.
There were also over 1400 deaths due to vehicle accident. If you are thinking about marching on Saturday, have you also thought about demonstrating against dangerous driving? Have you even considered your own driving and made an effort to be less aggressive or reckless? That would contribute a whole lot more to the safety of Australians than anti-Muslim demonstrations.
According to the Cancer Council, around 2000 people a year die from skin cancer, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when we start looking at deaths form preventable illness. Tens of thousands of people die from heart and lung problems of which tobacco and obesity are major contributors.
I’d suggest banning tobacco and fast food would be a whole lot better for Australia than banning Halal food.
The atrocities of ISIS
It is not in question that ISIS is an abhorrent organisation, whose actions are indefensible and an affront to human decency. If you would like to form a protest march against ISIS or demanding ISIS members not be allowed into Australia, go right ahead. I don’t think anyone will have any problem with that.
Where my problem comes from is when these savages are equated with the peaceful Australian Muslims in our country. The person who cannot differentiate between these two is becoming an extremist themselves and is part of the problem. Would I like to see more prominent Muslims being more vocal in their denouncements of some of the atrocities we see abroad? Sure, but that is a tenuous link at best to suggest that Islam is a violent or hateful religion. Almost all of the aggression, ugliness and violence I have experienced in this country has come from the Anglo Saxon population that the UPF and RA presumably seek to reclaim it for.
I wonder would we be treating Christianity in the same way if the IRA was still active?
It seems clear to me that the spread of Islam in Australia poses little threat to my safety, so I will turn to some of the other objections raised against Muslims in Australia.
What if Sharia Law becomes adopted within Australia?
I personally have some strong objections to Sharia Law and would hate to see it given any legitimacy in Australia. This is what makes this one of the most pernicious arguments used by the right- it is compelling to people who don’t realise that it is improbable at best. Chapter five of the Australian constitution expressly states, “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion or for imposing religious observance,” so any accommodation of Sharia Law would require a significant change to this celebrated tenet of our constitution. This could not be done by stealth, as it would require an act of parliament and overwhelming public support. Moreover, time and again, politicians from both major political parties have publically declared that there is no room for Sharia Law in Australia. As the then Attorney-General, Robert McCellend, stated in 2009, the government is, “…not considering and will not consider the introduction of any part of Sharia law into the Australian Legal System.
Women are mistreated in Islamic communities, especially where elements of Sharia Law are used instead of State and Federal law.
There are examples I have heard, of anecdotally and occasionally reported, of some pretty shocking treatment of women, but this is hardly a problem restricted to the Muslim community. I’m tipping you won’t find a high proportion of Muslim women occupying the battered women’s shelters which are reported to be struggling to meet demand for their services. If Reclaim Australia want to make a genuine stand about violence against women, then I applaud that. I just hope they will be there to support other campaigns against domestic violence.
Islamic leaders promote violence and hatred of Australia.
Now I agree that radicalisation of Australian Muslims should be a concern, if it is happening freely. Hopefully if it is, it is something authorities have sufficient powers and resources to prevent. While I don’t believe that further oppressing and alienating the Muslim population is likely to reduce radicalisation, I don’t want to use this as an excuse for it either. There is no excuse for radical extremes on either side of this debate. A criticism I have heard levelled many times against Australian Muslims is that they do not come out and condemn violence within their own community enough. I should just point out that fear isn’t a crime. You also don’t hear many Anglo Saxon residents speaking out about criminal gangs in their own streets. It doesn’t mean they agree with them.
I am particularly puzzled by protests about Halal food. I didn’t feel I knew enough about what Halal certification entailed so I had a bit of a look on the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s website (http://www.afgc.org.au/about-afgc/our-policies/halal-certification/)
Having read it, as far as I am consumed, if a manufacturer wants to make the commercial decision to get their product Halal certified, that is their right. It is not extortion or discrimination, just a simple choice. If you don’t want to buy Halal certified food, don’t. Presumably it will be slightly cheaper than the halal alternative. I’m struggling to see what people are getting upset about here. Yes a small proportion of the profit will go to the Islamic organisation responsible for certifying it, but I would be more concerned about profits from my purchases going to textile companies that utilise sweatshop labour, or bolstering the profits of other companies who are poor corporate citizens. As I said earlier, if we are going to talk about food companies in Australia that are a threat to our prosperity the real discussion should be about fast food, which contributes to numerous deaths each year and places a much larger burden on the health system.
The problem with half-truths
As the spread of Islam demonstrably poses little danger to me, RA appears to have assembled a grab-bag of half-imagined threats that they have snowballed together to frighten me. However, this prevents them making any meaningful argument, as it is hard to be taken seriously when you are standing next to someone holding a sign saying, “Muslims are terrorists,” or something similar.
The sad thing is I actually think the RA movement could make a couple of valid points to our national dialogue, especially in relation to political correctness, the selective interpretations of freedom of speech, and the insular communities that ethnic groups often form within Australia. Clearly there is proportion of the population who feel they are not being heard. Unfortunately the group drowns out any telling arguments with its eclectic blend of generic anti-Muslim messages, which they apply to all. That is where I take exception- save your anger for those who deserve it. On Monday I have to explain to the Muslim children in my classroom that they are every bit as valued and every bit as Australian as the rest of the class.
Right, I tried to keep this short (yes this really is me being concise). I truly am concerned about events like Saturday’s rally. It is grouping a large number of fears, many of which are overblown or unrelated to one another, artificially creating a nebulous sense that our way of life is under threat. I have tried to show that when considered objectively and individually, these arguments should hold little concern for people. Whatever the intentions of the organisers, I have no doubt that the overriding atmosphere and message from the rally will be anti-Muslim, contributing further to harassment of peaceful law-abiding Australian citizens by uneducated thugs who think of themselves as ‘patriots’. I have tried to show that the only Muslims we need to fear are the extremists, but that doesn’t excuse us becoming extremists ourselves. Problems are rarely solved by the addition of more extremists.