Police, politicians and the media have unleashed a wave of anti-Muslim racism in response to the protest in Sydney against a film that mocks Islam. 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”. Tony Abbott went a step further warning that, “newcomers to this country…are expected to surrender their hatreds”. 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 will help 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.
Some in the Muslim community as well as The Greens have condemned the protest, blaming it for playing into the stereotypes about Muslims. But it is the media and the police who 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 was the outrage when shock jock Allan Jones used his mass radio audience to suggest that Julia Gillard be drowned in a chaff bag? Where is Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s apology for the killing of Afghan civilians by Australian soldiers?
The police have accused the protesters of violence. But video footage and eyewitness accounts show that it was police who were to blame for the violence. Up to 150 police charged at demonstrators, using pepper spray and batons. Two people were taken to hospital after being bitten by police dogs. There are even reports of use of tasers.
In Hyde Park towards the end of the protest, two lines of police surrounded protesters. An eyewitness from Green Left Weekly reported, “The police kept goading the protesters by shoving them back in coordinated waves of advance.” Police officers chased after protesters yelling “hit them” according to the Sydney Sun-Herald. Another eyewitness was told by several women that police tried to rip off their headscarves.
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.
In March, police tasered and killed a Brazilian man in central Sydney. A month later they shot and wounded two Aboriginal teenagers in King’s Cross.
Racism and war
The protest in Sydney is one of many around the world sparked by the anti-Muslim film The Innocence of Muslims. But the real reason for the protests is the systematic racism and discrimination faced by Muslims living in Western countries, and the continual process of regime change, war and occupation imposed on Arab and Muslim countries by the West.
In the wake of 9/11, we saw a surge in racist attacks on Muslims and Arabs as the mainstream media spread the message that all Muslims were suspect. This was reinforced following the London bombings in 2005, when the Muslim community as a whole was blamed for “home grown terrorism”.
There has been a continual campaign waged by the right about the supposed incompatibility between “Western values” like democracy and Islamic values and culture.
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 their religion and their communities are under attack. We need to reject the racism that is being directed at the Muslim community and stand against the hypocritical accusations of violence and extremism from the media, governments and the police.