Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


2015 in review: Islamophobia belongs on the fringes

  • 12 January 2016

First published 25 October 2015

A series of protests against a mosque in Bendigo and the launch of an Islamophobic party in Perth may be cause for concern — but only if political leaders fail to invalidate fringe views. Again.

It used to be the case that the sentiments against Muslims were so inchoate, and the people involved so disorganised, prone to infighting and uncommitted, that they were hard to take seriously. Most 'rallies' in various Australian cities over the years drew laughably insignificant numbers, with themes so absurd that they could only be dismissed.

However, since June 2014 when Bendigo resident Julie Hoskin challenged council approval for the Australian Islamic Mission to build a mosque for 300 or so Muslims in the area, protests have escalated. Far-right groups, all based outside Bendigo and usually at odds, have appeared on the scene.

Rallies in July, August and October this year have cost taxpayers nearly a million dollars to police. Many locals, who had assumed that the issue would eventually fade, are appalled that their picturesque town has become the setting for organised bigotry.

Such things, however, don't incubate in a vacuum. Generalised hostility against Islam is part of a continuum tracing back to 9/11. In Australia it is also sourced from a deep seam of xenophobia and racism. Recent atrocities in the Middle East, the Lindt café hostage crisis last year, police raids and arrests of suspected terrorists all contribute to a narrative of being under siege.

The counterpoints should be easy to make. First, Islam is not a monolith; it operates within different geopolitical and cultural milieus, like all religions. Second, based on statistics alone, the smart assumption is that Muslim Australians are rather ordinary and need not explain themselves. Third, the social upheaval that they are accused of causing is actually being enacted by those who hate them.

Fourth, our democratic systems and institutions are not so brittle that they must be defended against 'creeping sharia'. The irony here is that those who extol the virtues of Australian culture understand nothing of its fortitude.

There has been no such pushback against anti-Islam narratives, at least until Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister. Under Tony Abbott, the conflation of Islam and extremism became mainstream. In a six-flag national security speech in February, he remarked, 'I've often heard western leaders describe Islam as a religion of peace. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.'

Abbott found every