'Australian Muslim' is not an oxymoron


Abbott hides behind Muslim cariacature puppets. Artwork by Chris JohnstonDuring the past few weeks we have seen the prospect raised of a 'Jihadi watch' scheme in schools. It would aim to 'show teachers and students how to spot the signs of a potential terrorist' such as students 'getting into trouble, having fights with people of differing ideology and drifting away from friends.'

Unfortunately, these signs are common in teenagers to the point of being expected. Behavioural shifts which are usually indicative of stress, mental illness or merely growing up, are being recontextualised for Muslim youth, taken as a sign of an intention to run off to join ISIS — a group whose ideals have more to do with geopolitics than Islam, regardless — or carry out a random beheading.

'Jihadi watch' has been described as a 'required' program to 'combat radicalisation and extremism in schools', but functions as a 'justified' kind of bigotry. Beneath the surface, it simply reaffirms the already-pervasive pre-emptive criminalisation of Muslim youth.

There is a particular anatomy to the process of othering. In any context, the formula consists of propaganda, hatred, division, suppression and control. It is done through calculation, strategy and legislation, and aided greatly by polarised public opinion.

I'm from Perth. Some people would dispute this due to my brown skin and non-Anglo name. But I was born here, and have lived here, on unceded Whadjuk-Noongar land, for my entire life. Still, people like me are too often considered Australian only by law, and not by sociocultural connotation.

Mainstream views of Muslim people are not favourable. We are one vast, homogeneous Australian ummah, disparate from wider society, unable and unwilling to 'integrate' — or so goes the narrative I have heard rehashed over and over across mass media for a decade; the definition I've grown up with.

Our men are depicted as hypermasculine, savage caricatured prone to violent pursuit of power and domination; our women as helpless, subservient victims of culture.

But the term 'Australian Muslim' is not an oxymoron, despite this government's relentless attempts to redefine our identities via absolutes. When you raid our homes and gun down our kids, you are also raiding your own homes and gunning down your own kids.

Islamophobia, whether on a national or individual scale, didn't begin with this government, nor will it end with this government. But the increasing harm of these policies is surreal to observe. Before Cronulla, we were alien; post 9/11, we are criminal, immediately suspect.

Omar Bensaidi described his experience with Islamophobic police brutality last month. Ahmad Rahmany explained why he was targeted during counter-terrorism raids. Dr Yassir Morsi shone light on the motives behind widespread Islamophobic protests. Anti-Muslim action is frequent and well-documented.

Where is the justice in such a pervasive and intrusive prejudice against minorities? As Muslims, we exercise caution for fear that any one of our words or actions, however insignificant or benign, may be construed as a symptom of that vague evil: radicalisation.

In recent days, the government has announced plans for welfare and citizenship revocation for radicalised 'foreign fighters' and 'hate preachers' — nebulous terms that are open to wide interpretation and misuse. George Christensen, a Nationals MP, further called for these revocations to extend to anyone perpetrating 'anti-Australian behaviour', referencing his idea of Sharia law.

'Counter-terrorism' in Australia is instantly, overtly and deliberately directed toward the Muslim community. It is self-evident that this type of rhetoric fuels segregation and statelessness. 

Though tempting, I wouldn't describe the LNP's behaviour as a waging of war on Muslims; war implies that we are half of this conflict, that that we may fight back with equal strength. As a mere 2.2 per cent of this nation's population, we want only to be left alone to carry on with our lives.

Many of us were born in Australia and have never wanted to live anywhere else. Muslims, as a heterogeneous people, have not turned on this nation; this nation is turning on us.

Somayra IsmailjeeSomayra Ismailjee is an Australian-born, Perth-based writer of Karen, Gujarati and Kashmiri heritage. Her work has appeared in New Matilda, Right Now Inc and Media Diversified, among others. Tweets @somayra_

Artwork by Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Somayra Ismailjee, Muslims, September 11, Cronulla riots



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Congratulations Somayra Ismailjee. A very timely and necessary article. Australians, by and large, being cut off from 'the real world', don't realise how insular and fossilised their attitudes are. We claim Judeo-Christian heritage but don't live up to its original inclusive spirit. In fact the main problems with the world, not just Australia, is that each group, whether religious, national, or social, think that they are the only ones that matter, and act accordingly. But just as one human body is made up of trillions of cells, each with its own life, but combining with others to form organs and structures that in turn combine for the good of the whole, so the Great Human Body, The Human Race, needs to begin to imitate this exemplar before it is too late.

Robert Liddy | 15 June 2015  

"...this nation is turning on us", writes a proud Muslim Australian girl. I weep. We must all help. Mary MacKillop College in SA and many other Catholic schools and the public education system embraces Australian Muslim students. Society must follow. Thanks for your fine, true young voice.

Peter Goers | 15 June 2015  

Thanks Somayra for your thoughtful piece pointing out the hypocrisy of anti-Muslim policies. Despite many examples in the past, people seem unaware that the is 'othering' could easily happen to any group and is the basis of social division and can only lead to worse outcomes for all of us. Let's fight ignorance and bigotry, not minorities.

Karen | 15 June 2015  

Muslims such as yourself are indeed not oxymoronic, Somayra. I would suggest that although it may be hurtful to perceive the authorities as victimising Muslims (very much as I am hurt by the erroneous and damaging persistent tarring of all Catholic priests as paedophiles), the bigger picture has also to be entertained. The Catholic Church is widely vilified by society because of the actions of some very bad priests. That is not the fault of Catholicism but of the offending priests, but greatly accentuated by the failure of Catholic authority to address the terrible scourge, eradicate it and expel the evildoers. So it is with Islam. There is no doubt that the worst international terrorism this world has seen for a long time is almost exclusively perpetrated by radical Islamic elements. As with Catholicism, this society vilifies and condemns Islam because of the actions of the evil doers and because of the failure of Muslim authority to deal with it and eradicate it definitively. The Catholic Church has accepted the fact of paedophilia in some of its practitioners and has condemned it publicly and made very significant steps to eradicate it, (Since 1990 when the number of reported cases of paedophilia reached 38% of all cases reported over the preceding 50years, the rate has fallen to 2% by 2011,and I would suggest is continuing to fall). Similarly the Muslim community must do the same with radical Islam. Then it will benefit by more widespread acceptance as one with the whole of society. Islam needs to undergo the type of cleansing catharsis that Catholicism has undertaken in relation to paedophilia. Such requires the abandonment of introspection and abject failure to recognise the problem. The problem is radical, terrorist style Islam, not the Islamic faith, just as Catholicism's problem was evil priests.

john frawley | 15 June 2015  

My initial thought was that if Ozzy-Muslim is an oxymoron, then so is Ozzy-Christian. I have long been telling people we not a Christian country. But there are Australian Christians. I think Mr Abbott is doing no one any favours by the ramping up of the rhetoric. I was not born here ; the thought does cross my mind about what I would have to do to get my citizenship revoked. And could I bear to live in England? Great article

Stephen Clark (An Anglican priest) | 15 June 2015  

In my lifetime we have feared all kinds of things: the yellow peril, the Greeks and Italians, Reds under our beds and Vietnamese .Each wave has brought good and bad things to our culture: mostly good. We fear what we don't know and I feel shame to have a government that capitalises on our lack of understanding and compassion.

Margaret McDonald | 15 June 2015  

When I was a child, "Irish catholic" was a term of scorn. We were discriminated against and sometimes considered treasonous. My mother was born in Australia; her father came from Ireland as a baby. My father's ancestors came from Dublin, from a line of Irish protestants, including a clergyman. My protestant relatives were sometimes nasty to me because I was catholic.This tendency to prejudice seems to be inherent in human nature. To be fully human we need to strive against it. When it is encouraged by public figures and becomes enshrined in government policy, history shows that a nation is in serious trouble. Our leaders boast of judeo-christian values: the histories of Jews and Christians contain some horrific tales of persecution not dissimilar to the deeds of IS. As for names, my christian name is very Irish. My surname before I married was a corruption of a Huguenot name.My paternal ancestors were European Huguenots who had to flee persecution from massacring Catholics. I may even have Muslim blood through my Irish ancestors. Now of course, I am an utterly respectable white middle class Australian. I delight in shocking my mildly racist acquaintances with my story. what is their hidden story?

Sheelah Egan | 15 June 2015  

Sadly, my experience is that we are seeing a variant of the "Tampa Bay" racism from the significant minority of Australians who believe you need to be WASP to live here. Both the Government and Opposition are pandering to these people.

Geoff | 15 June 2015  

Before 9/11, few young non-Muslim children knew words which now are ‘common parlance’ e.g. Jihad, Muslim Terrorist, Caliphate, Koran etc. etc. Your, “Beneath the surface, it simply reaffirms the already-pervasive pre-emptive criminalisation of Muslim youth.” is insulting and misrepresents the issue. It reflects a bias toward “Poor-bugger ME, the victim Muslim”.
In Muslim countries, it is Christians who are persecuted, Massacred, Murdered and subjected to inhuman and heinous crimes. What I find strange is that terror organisations like ISIS (?) are waging war on non-Sunni Moslems as well.
When large numbers of Muslim ‘immigrants’ and ‘boat people’ arrive in England, Denmark, Germany, Italy, France etc. many wear out their initial welcome. Some reasons for this is reliance on Welfare Services and often its abuse – This creates difficulties we didn’t experience with the Italian, Greek and other European migrants that swarmed to Australia in 50’s and 60’s.
You state, “the formula consists of propaganda, hatred, division, suppression and control.” Your leaders would receive more respect if they had attended the Conference called by the PM. Instead, many justified themselves for NOT appearing. If they are not prepared to negotiate – what hope is there for understanding and reconciliation?
Your article “polarises opinion”. Your ‘victim perspective’ that “Mainstream views of Muslim people are not favourable.” is not true. As a Catholic I daily read the Q’ran. I have many Muslim friends in Australia, in Saudi, in Indonesia and other Muslim countries I have lived in. Your belief, we believe, you, “are one vast, homogeneous Australian ummah, disparate from wider society, unable and unwilling to 'integrate” is bizzarre and not factual.
If you want to help your people then work at positive rather than keep imposing on us the negative images you promote. This nation is NOT turning on you. You are turning in on yourself.

Dr Karl H Cameron-Jackson | 16 June 2015  

ISIS has engaged in a bit more than “the random beheading” that Somayra claims. The following brief and very incomplete list of ISIS beheadings reveals it’s a systematic policy - 75 Syrian soldiers (July 15/14) ; 100 foreign ISIL fighters deserters at Raqqa (December 2014); 21 Coptic Christian in Tripoli Libya (February 20150; 28 Ethiopian Christians in Libya (See ISIL Beheading Incidents” – Wiki) . Then there are the numerous individual Western journalists and aid workers who have also been similarly executed since 2014. Perhaps one can’t blame ISIS butchering defenceless prisoners and “infidels” in this fashion. After all they are only following the example set by Mohammad. In 622 at Medina he had between 400-600 Jews of Qurayza clan to be beheaded. As it says in the Koran (Surah 47.4 – Shakir) “So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite their necks until you have overcome them”. Islam was a religion spread by blood and the sword and it seems that many Islamic fanatics still think it should be. In 2015 Somayra moans about the “Islamophobic police brutality” in Australia. The brutal fact is that virtually all terrorist plots and attacks here and most Western democracies have been hatched or staged by Islamic terrorists. And she wonders why counter-terrorism efforts are mostly directed against Muslim communities.

Dennis | 18 June 2015  

I was a teacher in Secondary schools mostly Catholic, for around 3 decades, my wife is still teaching in the Catholic System .We were and are required to watch for many issues with students which are far from our role or training as educators. My response to Somayra's fears is that most teachers will choose to ignore such a silly idea of implementing a "jihadi watch" in their schools. It's hard enough these days to do the core work of teaching without the added distraction of ensuring our students are 'politically correct' !

Gavin O'Brien | 18 June 2015  

I am an Australian Catholic whatever that may mean. Does that title mean that I am not a Roman Catholic? On ANZAC Day I spoke at a country town’s service to the reaffirmation of “The Spirit of Australia”. That which makes Australia, based on a Commonwealth on the principals of Social Justice, Equality for all and the Common Good, an envy of the rest of the world. Somayra Ismailjee, with some right emotion, proclaims herself as an Australian Muslim. She highlights the attempted politorisation (if that’s a word) of terrorism which, as we all know, is not restricted to only those who practice the faith of Islam. I thank her. During my life so far, I have prayed with Anglicans, Primitive Methodists, Muslims, Hindus, Wesleyans, Methodists, Australian Aborigines as well as New Guinean Highlanders (and I apologise for not really understanding their faiths) and Lutherans. May we Australian Australians continue in the Spirit of our Constitution and be sheltered by Almighty God to care for ourselves and everyone else who puts up their hands to become one of us in our land.

John Morkham | 18 June 2015  

Well measured words, Somayra, and deserving of a wide reading audience. The conflating of Islam with hardline radicalism and potential danger is something this government continues to propagate in an effort to foster further misunderstanding. The school's approach is doomed and damaging already.

Bill Wootton | 19 June 2015  

Not in my name, Somayra Ismailjee. Thank you for your apt observations.

Adrian Doesburg | 19 June 2015  

Somayra, Sadly I have lived here all my 55 years and have seen a lot and also been treated with xenophobia .. Last month, a young Muslim woman started a beautiful conversation on a long bus trip with me. Keeo up the dialogue. Some of us really want to hear it.

Angela | 21 June 2015  

The arrests in Melbourne typically show middle class prosperous people who want for nothing. Yet they had allegedly embarked upon a course which would have seen great harm come to pass. Why? It appears it is ether mental illness, islamic radicalization, or probably both. A religion that is stuck in the middle ages must create a great strain on young impressionable minds. It is almost schizophrenic to be a Muslim and live in an advanced democratic society. The treatment of the mentally ill is a hallmark of a compassionate society and the sooner these poor unfortunates receive suitable treatment the better. Islam has to change to be able to support its youth, but how if its roots have not changed. Perhaps a new chapter has to be written, one that shows the way on how to live rather than how to die, one that accepts minorities rather than persecute them. Australia has a great tradition in supporting minorities, LGBTi is but one group that society has changed and accepted. Islam however fails to accept LGBTi and represses womens rights. These failures and the failures with regard to mental illness is a blight on a religion that fails to change. Unfortunately their youth will continue to suffer unless the persecution stops.

Marvolo | 23 June 2015  

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