Women condemn Howard's Islamophobia


The following statement was endorsed by a large number of women and women's organisations across Australia last week following PM John Howard's latest anti-Muslim comments.

We are a group of Australian women from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds who stand together in condemning the Prime Minister for the peddling of his Islamophobic views.

After ten years of playing the race card, the Prime Minister's inflammatory comments about Muslim Australians this week represent a new low for community relations. Last week, it was federal Coalition member Danna Vale demonising Muslim women as little more than breeders. This week the Prime Minister racially sledges the Muslim community by singling them out as antagonistic to Australian culture. Howard is unambiguous in his racialised message when he states, "It is not a problem that we have ever faced with other immigrant communities who become easily absorbed by Australia's mainstream".

The Prime Minister fails to show any knowledge of either the history of immigration in Australia or the experiences of waves of immigrants who have suffered similar racialised views and assaults by his own ethnic group. His comments demonstrate both prejudice and ignorance writ large.

We take particular issue with the Prime Minister's remark that the "Islamic community's attitudes towards women is out of line with mainstream Australian society". The very same accusation that a "culture" has "poor attitudes to women" was used by Anglo settlers in Australia to attack Aboriginal communities from the earliest days of colonisation. Such accusations were made against each new group of incoming migrants as a way to assert superiority, to whip up the fears of the existing population and to keep control over the latest arrivals.

Extreme attitudes towards women are not unique to Muslims, or to any other group for that matter. To say so is playing tawdry politics. Respect for women in both the public and private sphere has never been high in any society, and Anglo Australia is no different. If the Prime Minister seriously believes traditional Aussie beach culture respects women, then he needs to revisit the classic Australian text Puberty Blues for a reality check.

While the Prime Minister publicly demonstrates his ignorance about history and wilfully whitewashes his own ethnic group's attitudes towards women, he shows even less knowledge about Islam. His comments display a serious ignorance of the religion itself, and of the diversity of practices and views of thousands of its followers.

The ongoing Islamophobic views being expressed through the media via politicians like John Howard directly feed and propel the attacks on the Australian Muslim community, the Cronulla race riots being the end result. Where is the Prime Minister's concern for the countless Muslim Australian women and girls who have been attacked, abused, spat upon and had their scarves pulled off by mainstream Anglo Australians? Why doesn't this extreme form of violence against women and girls warrant his special attention?

Finally, the Prime Minister asserts that it is his "right and duty to express his thoughts". As Prime Minister of a multi-racial, multi-faith nation, we believe it is the duty of a Prime Minister to show political and moral leadership, and not to pander to the lowest common denominators, those being ignorance, fear and prejudice. Sexist and misogynist views are widespread throughout the entirety of the Australian population. No one community has a monopoly on poor attitudes to women. It crosses party lines.

How ironic that these latest comments coincide with the public release of a Sydney Morning Herald commissioned poll of voter attitudes which has found that half of voters believe Australia has become a meaner place in the ten years since John Howard became Prime Minister. Is it any wonder with a sledger for a Prime Minister? What a legacy!

From Green Left Weekly, March 1, 2006.
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