How can we tackle the rise of Islamophobia?

Protest against racism in Sydney. Photo: Pip Hinman
Thursday, July 7, 2016

Election after election of racist and Islamophobic rhetoric from both major parties, combined with a growing swarm of far-right outfits, is resulting in violent hate crimes.

A car firebombed at the Thornlie mosque in Perth on June 28 and racist graffiti on the wall of an Islamic college are the latest in a string of attacks. Hundreds of people were praying inside the mosque and it was only a matter of luck that no one was injured or killed.

A few days earlier a pig's head with Islamophobic graffiti was left outside another Perth mosque. Last December a pig's head was left in a toilet at the prayer room at the University of Western Australia. A student preparing for daily prayers found it.

Political leaders have condemned the attacks, yet they always fall short of calling them terrorism or a result of the racist rhetoric their parties and the mainstream media pump out.

In none of these attacks have police reacted as they did in October 2014 when they raided 15 homes in western Sydney and confiscated a few plastic swords. You can buy these Shiite ceremonial swords at night markets all over Sydney: you would struggle to cut fruit with them. Yet police considered them more dangerous than, say, a car burning within metres of hundreds of people praying.

We have never seen any pressure put on far-right leaders and organisations, such as Blair Cottrell and the United Patriots Front, to condemn these actions.

In fact, most political leaders do the opposite. Just days after the attacks, immigration minister Peter Dutton linked asylum seekers with terrorism and implied the Paris attacks last year happened because Europe had lost control of its borders.

The fact that people who risk their lives on leaky boats and try to cross multiple borders without any papers could be fleeing terrorist attacks seems to escape Dutton, or that burning cars outside mosques with racist graffiti and pig's heads might fit the definition of terrorism.

In Australian law an act of terrorism is when “the action is done or the threat is made with the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause”. But when it is done to Muslim people, according to Australia's political and media establishment, it is not terrorism.

Australia has committed continual acts of violence against minorities, such as in detention centres, where women and children are sexually abused and medical aid is denied. Or when Aboriginal people are removed from their land through the forced closures of Aboriginal communities and their children are taken away from their families.

The world's media told us every detail of the victims of the Paris attacks in December, but have said little about the victims of the Baghdad bombings that killed more than 200 people on July 3, one of the worst attacks in Iraq's capital in many years.

Neither has Facebook “united the world in its common grief and humanity” by creating a wave of profile pictures featuring Iraqi flags as they did with French flags after the Paris attacks. Western lives are clearly more important than Muslim lives.

The racist attacks across England during the Brexit vote in which immigrants have been bashed and halal food shops bombed shows that the political and media establishment do not just tolerate, but encourage the ideologies that lead to racist hate crimes.

As its victims become increasingly angry about austerity, that anger must be diverted so it does not seriously challenge the establishment. In England, as in Australia, the ruling class is trying to tie it to racist movements and divert it away from progressive challenges.

We will not defeat racism and Islamophobia in street battles between a few ultra-rightists and ultra-leftists, as some advocate. Such confrontations not only alienate those most under threat — Aboriginal and Muslim communities — but often put them in more danger of racist attacks.

Instead, it will be defeated through initiatives such what happened in Moreland, Victoria after women were attacked on trains and halal shops were threatened. Four hundred people, representing 60 organisations, including Muslim and Aboriginal communities, took to the streets on May 28 in a mass demonstration against racism.

It will be these broad alliances, which put those most at risk of racism and Islamophobia at their core, that can challenge the racism and Islamophobia that permeates through Australia.

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