Friday, 14 July 2017

Time to take a stand against Islamophobia

Written by Rebecca Beisler

The Islamophobia Report released this week revealed many disturbing things.  

Researchers analysed 243 verified reports to the Islamophobia Register. Of those reports, 67.7 per cent of the victims were women while 68.5 per cent of the perpetrators were men.

Of the woman targeted, nearly 80 per cent were wearing the hijab. In 30 per cent of cases the women had children with them.

Dr Derya Iner, Principal Researcher and Editor of the Report, warned reports to the register were likely to be the tip of the iceberg, and that many more cases went unreported.

Perhaps the most alarming statistic uncovered is that three out of four victims suffered alone, with bystanders staying silent. They watched and did nothing.

That was challenging to hear.

I know in public places when someone is being offensive or racist my own gut reaction is to put my head down and look the other way.

The vital point to be taken from the Islamophobia Report through its figures and its stories is that the effect of these attacks is very real on victims and their families.

Speaking at the Sydney launch of the report at NSW Parliament on 11 July, author Randa Abdel-Fattah reflected on its findings through the lens of her own experiences as a Muslim mother.

She gave the example of being yelled to “F… off, Arab terrorist” while dropping her children at school.

Randa’s account of the difficult conversations parents must have with their children to explain such abuse underlines the impact of Islamophobia on the next generation of Australian Muslims.

“All parents seek to protect their children from the ugly realities of racism,” Randa said. “Yet racialised minorities do not have the luxury of speaking about race and Islamophobia in intellectual terms, as part of classroom conversations or Harmony Day assemblies. Islamophobia is forced upon families as a lived experience.”

The Islamophobia Report included comments from victims on how the abuse continues to impact on them.

One read, “I’m terrified. I stay awake waiting for something to happen. My kids aren’t allowed outside as I’m worried something might happen.”

I spoke to a Muslim school teacher at the launch who made a direct correlation between the research and her own life.

“This is real,” she said to me. “People do not think of the suffering some of us go through.”

She told me about her own experience of violence as a veiled Muslim woman. Of being driven at by a car while crossing the road before the man behind the wheel slammed on the brakes and wound down the window to yell that she should go back to where she came from.

Today she is still unable to walk across the road without someone being beside her.

As a teacher, she said she could see the change in the demeanour of young Muslims as they tried to process the abuse directed at them and their parents.

The Islamophobia Report was divided into two sections, Institutional Islamophobia and Individualised Islamophobia drawing links between the two.

As Randa Abel-Fattah said, “political climates can either embolden or restrain individual perpetrators of abuse.”

Uniting Church theologian Rev. Dr Clive Pearson wrote a chapter in the report on Islamophobia and Religion. He looked at how groups or individuals opposing Islam, including high-profile Christians or political groups such as One Nation, have appealed to the Judeo-Christian heritage of Australia to make a case against Islam.

By examining such examples of Islamophobia in the political sphere and in media reporting, the report underlined the “normalisation” of Islamophobia and the “othering” of Muslims in our community.

Interestingly, while the research showed there were spikes in Islamophobia surrounding acts of terrorism, in most cases the content of insults did not refer to terrorism.  

Reflecting on the data, Dr Iner said it was important to ask of perpetrators, “Is the real problem terrorism or is it the visibility of Muslims?”

One positive in the report showed that non-Muslim Australians were active reporters of Islamophobia.

Clearly, there is a strong majority of Australians who are not hostile to Muslims.

Indeed, the Uniting Church enjoys a very positive relationship with the Muslim community. This year we co-hosted Iftar meals during Ramadan in three cities bringing together Christians and Muslims to get to know one another.

So how do we move from this spirit of friendship to tackling the problem of Islamophobia in the wider community?

I guess by keeping doing what we’re doing and inviting more Church members to join us. The more times we meet with Muslims and build on our friendships the bolder we will become in our response to Islamophobia.

I think that’s the right Christian response.



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