200 attend Melbourne Islamophobia meeting

Issue 
A rally in Melbourne on April 14 to counter the rise of Islamophobia in Australia. Photo: Ali Bakhtiarvandi

About 200 people attended a meeting on Islamophobia on May 31. The meeting was co-chaired by Steve Jolly, a Socialist Party member and Yarra city councillor, and Monique Toohey, a board member of the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV).

Toohey told the meeting that the harassment of Muslims had made many of them fearful of going out in public.

Ghaith Krayem, the president of the ICV, said that under proposed new laws people could be deported by the decision of a minister, based on suspicion, with no right to challenge claims made by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

He also said that statements by ministers that "people have the right to be bigots" have given a green light to the abuse of Muslims.

Academic Yassir Morsi argued that Islamophobia is a form of racism.

Lawyer Robert Stary said that since 9/11 more than 50 pieces of "anti-terror" legislation have been passed, including laws enabling pre-emptive arrests. The government has spent $30 billion on the "war on terror", but this has not made us safer. He said that one aim of these policies is to suppress dissent about Australia's role in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Stary said it is not only Muslims who are affected. When Australia's Tamil community provided humanitarian aid to Tamils in Sri Lanka after the December 2004 tsunami, three Tamil men were arrested and charged with aiding the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Omar Merhi, an Electrical Trades Union organiser, told how his brother was jailed on "terrorism" charges, based on one conversation, even though this conversation did not lead to any practical action.

Mel Gregson, representing the No Room for Racism group, said that although it is essential for anti-racists to outnumber racists when they try to hold rallies, this is not enough. She said the government is the main source of racist ideas, which some other people take up in more extreme form. To counter the government's scapegoating, it is necessary to put forward alternative solutions to the problems of society. For example, to deal with homelessness, money should be spent on public housing instead of on brutalising refugees.

In the discussion period, Socialist Alliance member and Moreland city councillor Sue Bolton spoke of the need to unite the anti-racist movement, bringing together left groups and the communities suffering the effects of racism. There are now two separate organising collectives in Melbourne.

Bolton also spoke of the need to mobilise against government policies towards refugees and Aboriginal people, and against the "anti-terror" laws.

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