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Islamophobic racism is a blunt weapon

  • 15 November 2016


It is an enduring personal tragedy that I can never think of 'zinger' responses to hurled insults until having ruminated and turned them over in my mind for some time. It is, perhaps, the effect of living the intellectual, academic life that I must cogitate on a statement before I feel ready to supply a well-reasoned reply.

Unfortunately for me, the white male hoon in his 20-year-old unroadworthy car has long-since roared away from the traffic lights after shouting out some unremarkable and unoriginal statement: 'Go back to where you came from you [expletive] terrorist Arab.' Kilometres later I'm ready to shout out: 'I would, but Doncaster East is becoming way too pricey for the likes of me.'

But how come an ordinary white Aussie sheila with some five- or six-generations worth of Anglo and Celtic colonial settler heritage on both sides might be subject to such racist barbs in 21st century Australia? A delicately-pinned scarf and a long dress signal to every testosterone-overloaded yobbo that I'm a Muslim. And to an unsophisticated racist, all Muslims are Arabs and all Arabs are terrorists.

If I took off my headscarf it would be problem solved; I'm back to being a perfectly acceptable white Australian woman, unless I reveal my religious identity in other ways — in the food I do and don't consume or the prayers I perform every day even when I'm away from home.

Most other Muslims don't have that luxury. Skin colour, names, accents, and other embodiments of belonging to historically-Muslim racial groups indelibly mark them as Other.

Prejudice is a power relationship that places one group of individuals at the top of a hierarchy of privileges against which all other groups are negatively compared to varying degrees. Thus, disability, skin colour, ancestral heritage, education-level, gender, sexual-orientation, religious adherence, socioeconomic status, refugee status and more are all barriers that hinder a person's access to privilege. Imagine being a poor, black, African, disabled Muslim lesbian refugee!

This is why racism is not only for those at the top of the hierarchy — historically, the WASP male. To challenge the prejudices of those lower down in the privilege hierarchy through, say, education or socioeconomic status, via mechanisms like affirmative action, is to endanger the level of privilege they tenuously possess. Which brings me back to Islamophobia.

Islamophobic racism is a blunt weapon. It is aimed just as devastatingly at non-Muslims who look a bit too Muslim: brown