Police, politicians and the media unleashed a wave of Islamophobia in response to the protest in Sydney against the film The Innocence of Muslims.
In words designed to stoke anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism, NSW Premier O’Farrell warned Muslims not to, “bring from overseas ethnic protest to this country”.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard made similar comments, saying the events had, “no place on the streets of our country” and declared it “not the Australian way”. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen added to the xenophobia by threatening to cancel the visas of any non-citizens who were involved in the protest.
Their words helped reinforce the idea that all Muslims are prone to violence, extremism and terrorism, ideas that politicians and the mainstream media have worked hard to drum up over the last decade.
Politicians and commentators have demanded universal condemnation of the protestors’ actions. Yet a day after the Sydney protest, teenagers at a party in Perth participated in a violent riot, throwing bottles and rocks at police. One teenager was stabbed. But there has been no wave of condemnation or statements from political leaders declaring their disgust, because the party-goers were not Muslim.
Some in the Muslim community as well as The Greens did condemn the protest, blaming it for playing into the stereotypes about Muslims.
But the media and the police have seized on slogans on a tiny number of placards in order to tar the protest as a whole as “extremist”. Their mock outrage is just hypocrisy. Where is their outrage over the killing of Afghan civilians by Australian soldiers?
An Australian soldier who had served in Afghanistan commented on Facebook after the rally that Muslims involved in the protests should be killed with sniper rifles and machine guns, and all Defence Minister Stephen Smith could say was that this might endanger Australian troops in Afghanistan!
It is also clear that the police were responsible for the violence at the rally. Video footage and eyewitness accounts show that up to 150 police charged at demonstrators, using pepper spray and batons. Two people were taken to hospital after being bitten by police dogs.
No similar protest of 300 to 500 people in Sydney has faced such vicious policing in recent years. It is only when Arabs and Muslims gather, it seems, that the police resort so quickly to such tactics. The police lashed out in exactly the same way when hundreds of Arab and Muslim youth joined an anti-war protest in Sydney in 2003.
While Sydney’s protests were not organised or supported by the bulk of the Muslim community, they took place in the context of systemic racism and discrimination faced by Muslims living in Western countries since 9/11.
The continual process of regime change, war and occupation imposed on Arab and Muslim countries by the West has rightfully generated anger and outrage and been justified by crude racism against Muslims.
The Islamophobic backlash since the rally is only the most recent chapter.
There has been a continous campaign waged by the right about the supposed incompatibility between “Western values” like democracy and Islamic values and culture to justify the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The shocking impact of this racism has been confirmed in opinion polls. A 2006 Gallup poll found that four out of ten Australians believe Islam is “a threat to our way of life” and an Essential poll last year found 57 per cent were concerned at the number of Muslims living in Australia.
Countries like France have institutionalised the anti-Muslim hysteria, banning the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in schools and making it practically impossible to build new mosques.
So it should come as no surprise that many Muslims feel that they are under attack.
We need to reject the racism being directed at the Muslim community and stand against the hypocritical accusations of violence and extremism from the media, governments and the police.
By James Supple