By: Nasrin Amin
I begin with the Islamic greeting – Peace be upon you.
I am a mother of three children, IT professional working for a large financial institution. I am humbled by this opportunity to express concerns about the violence and physical attacks happening towards Muslims and in particular Muslim women wearing headscarves. I myself have faced such attacks on a number of occasions during the past few years and most recently on last Thursday.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that I am not representing any organisation or group. This letter is based on my observation and experience. I would like to mention that I have great respect for those politicians and journalists who are professional, responsible and do a wonderful job in fulfilling their duties.
However, today when I will be referring to the term “politicians” and “media reporters”, it will include only those who are suffering from Islamophobia and sickness of racism. It is not worth mentioning their names. From the media coverage, we all know who they are.
I will start with my favourite quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” To keep us alive as a vibrant nation, it is time to STOP the silence and be vocal about the things that matter.
Historically, Muslim women have always been proactive in stepping up and expressing their opinions on pressing issues. Aisha (May God be pleased with her), the wife of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him) was known for her strong personality and up until now she is well known for voicing her strong opinions on controversial issues. More recently, Malala Yusafzai, Noble Peace Prize winner, is another example of a Muslim girl who stood up for her right despite living in oppressive environment.
It is a great honour for me to be here, at the same time, it is also a shame that I need to stand up for my basic right, that is – freedom to practice my religion without being fearful of racism in 21st Century Australia. It probably would have been more befitting to do so during 1492 CE, during the period of inquisition, or during the anti-Semitism era around 170 years ago, or more recently maybe in a third world country.
In fact, the fear of racial attacks is so widespread in the community that a number of my well wishers advised me “speak softly, be careful, choose your words carefully” – this is due to their genuine concern that after writing this letter, I might have to face personal attacks and home invasion by unwelcomed guests. However, given what is happening recently, we cannot be just silent. Did the oppressed ever get freedom by being nice? Someone needs to say something and that’s why I am writing. I have a great hope that my voice will be heard.
We need to realise that the recent attacks on Muslim women is actually a symptom of a major underlying issue – that is “Racism in Australia”. We need to analyse the root cause of this issue to understand what has led us into this situation before we can stop it and prevent it from happening in the future. I will present four main root causes to racism in Australia and then suggest possible solutions.
Firstly, there are a few politicians who are suffering from Islamophobia and using it to promote fear and hate-mongering in our community. These politicians are somehow linking our Islamic dress code to terrorism. Their hidden agenda is further fuelled by the glossy misrepresentation in the hyped media. As a consequence, there is no doubt that Muslim women are oppressed in this country not by the Muslim men but by these ignorant politicians.
To be more specific, some of the politicians have made ridiculous comments about burqa and they find it as “Fairly confronting”. It is even more appalling to see that media is sensationalising these silly comments and then running disturbing polls such as – “should burqa be banned from Australia”. Even more disturbing to see that one of the Senator used the memorable photo of Afghanistan’s first female Police officer to promote burqa banning and to associate terrorism with Islam. Anyone with a little brain will understand – what does the burqa have to do with terrorism and overseas political issues? They are making it look like that wearing burqa is a “crime” that needs their judgment to confirm if it is “legal” or not and to make us feel like a second class citizen. Clearly, they lack respect for our freedom and liberty to wear whatever we choose. These intolerant politicians undoubtedly do not share Australian values of multiculturalism and mutual respect.
Shouldn’t we have learned some lessons from our history? Yesterday, their focus was on the Jewish, Chinese and Indian communities. Today, they have turned to the Muslim community. And tomorrow, who knows, they may even complain about the dress code of our beloved Virgin Mary (Peace be upon her). Her dress code certainly does not conform to their wishful thinking. And if she were present today, who knows, she probably would have been asked to pack her bags and leave this country -because she believed in the Law of God and because she was not born here. It is time to STOP this madness.
According to Islamic teachings, Muslim women are essentially emulating the modesty of Virgin Mary (Peace be upon her) and she is one of our main role models. If the dress code of a Christian Nun is a symbol of her devotion to her Lord, why is it interpreted so differently when a Muslim women does so for the exact same reason? This truth is grossly misrepresented in the media being labelled as so-called “oppression”. We don’t need these politicians to “liberate” us, as we are already proud to choose what we wear that is befitting our dignity and modesty. So let us be free.
I am proud to say that I go to work wearing Islamic attire. Unlike the narrow minded Islamophobic politicians, my colleagues are open minded, highly skilled professionals. They do not take my dress as “confronting”. They do not judge me by how I look or what I wear and they respect me for my qualities.
Secondly, our politicians are dividing communities by targeting Muslims based on association of faith in the name of “National security”. In this dark regime, the recent home invasion proves that we have lost the safety and security not only on the streets but also at the privacy of our own homes. Muslim women are seeing that their children, husbands, fathers, brothers and close relatives being taken away in custody without being charged and purely based on “suspicions”. The media is assisting these fear mongering acts by misrepresenting facts, for example, describing a plastic toy sword, that was found during one of these home raids, as sharp like a razor that can kill someone when in reality it cannot even cut a cucumber. As a nation, we all will have to live with these disgraceful memories of such humiliating and harassing acts that “terrorised” innocent victims.
The norm of any civilised society should be “innocent until proven guilty”. However, now it seems that the norm is becoming “guilty until proven innocent”. A joke commonly shared these days is “Innocent until proven Muslim”.
Let me quote a very relevant analogy by Khaled Beydoun, Assistant Professor of Law at the Barry University in US, (AlJazeera.com): “If someone living on my road whom I’ve never met, steals your bike, do I apologise for it? And if I did, wouldn’t you wonder why I was linking myself to crime?”
Likewise, I would like to ask the question why are we linking the overseas political issues with the local Muslim Community – is it due to “guilty” of association by faith? Although, the majority of the crimes in Australia are committed by non-Muslims, how many times do we hear in the news if the criminal was a Christian or Buddhist or Hindu compared to how many times we hear identifying a criminal as a “Muslim” in an attempt to link the crime to Islam.
It is time to admit that there are exaggerations of the reality to spread fear and taking out of proportionate actions to single out a community and religious groups without solid evidence. This doesn’t really seem to be consistent with the democracy and liberty that we preach. All these issues are definitely destroying our trust and causing unhealthy division.
Based on these, it is clear that these few politicians are suffering from fear and anxiety and seeing everything “red” coloured due to their skewed vision. In reality, they are the ones actually terrorising the whole country by their exaggerations and making us living in fear. The sad thing is that, they have successfully shared their fear-mongering views by using media propaganda to form public opinion. This has resulted in recent attacks, not only on Muslim women, but also on our children at Islamic schools, and prayer places.
Thirdly, another contributing factor to the spread of racism is that our legal system is not adequate to bring racial hate preachers to justice. Surely, there is a fine line between freedom of speech and preaching racism. No one at our professional workplaces would accept any racial vilifications such as asking people to pack their bags because of their faith – why should we be tolerating this type of racist behaviour at the Parliament, which is the highest institution of our country? Is it because they are above the law based on their position and authority? It is time to explore if there is a double standard in our legal system. We must demand higher standard of moral and ethical behaviour at the highest institution of our country.
Fourthly, all of the issues that we have discussed so far have contributed to the radicalisation of certain groups of people. This can be seen from the growing number of home grown terrorist organisations. They are now targeting Muslim women on the streets – yelling, waving and physically attacking. It is truly disturbing to know that recently, one of these organisations celebrated “Rape Muslim women day”. They are openly using social networks asking people to attack Muslims and yet they are walking free in the community. In a civilised nation, it is truly disturbing to see that our Justice system is overlooking the true terrorists and racist groups. If we cannot establish justice at our own home and stop these open hate preaching, then how we are going to establish justice in the world?
In summary, the violence towards Muslim women is consequence of the Islamophobic attitude of some of the politicians. The media further sensationalises their exaggerated fears. These in turn have contributed to the radicalisation of certain groups who are now attacking Muslim women.
Now that we have identified the root cause of the racial attacks: we need to think about what can be done to stop it and prevent it happening in the future as prevention is better than cure.
Firstly, introduce tougher anti racism law to bring the offenders to justice. We do not want to see double standard because position or authority. Clear guidelines need to be established to make them understand that Australia do not have a place for racists and certainly it will not be tolerated.
Secondly, educate the politicians and media reporters by providing mandatory compliance training about unconscious biasness. They need to learn how to promote cohesion in the community. We may even need to consider providing professional counselling services to those politicians who are suffering from excessive fear and anxiety.
Thirdly, outlaw and ban any racist person, groups or organisation that are promoting hatred based on race, religion or culture and bring them to justice.
Fourthly, Provide more resources to our Police force to implement justice effectively. Currently, many of us are even not reporting the racial or physical attacks, as they believe that nothing will be done about it. Based on my personal experience of racial attacks that I reported, it is true that nothing was done to bring those perpetrators to justice. I understand that it may be due to lack of investment and resourcing issue. The Police force definitely needs to play a great role in building trust and establishing peace and safety in the community.
Finally, raise more community awareness to STOP racism. We need to promote ads condemning racism using billboards, newspapers, social media and T.V networks. One of the examples of such community awareness initiative is by the mental health organisation beyondblue who promotes – “ Stop. Think. Respect.”
At the end, we need to think positive and be positive. It is true that majority of us are decent Australians who show great respect to each other. For example, last night as I was returning from work, in the train a man approached me and he said, “I support you wearing headscarf. I am sorry to see all these attacks happening”. Also, I have read on the news how a number of our wider community members physically defended Muslim women when they were attacked for wearing headscarves. We shall overcome this era and work together to build a great nation for our children where we care and respect each other.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of MuslimVillage.com.