Keep Islamophobia on the fringes where it belongs


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.

Stop the Mosque in Bendigo Facebook pageIt 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 opportunity to drop the phrase 'death cult'. It is a phrase echoed in submissions to a senate committee inquiry into 'third party certification', which was set up under a moral panic over halal labels on Vegemite and other food products.

Senators Cory Bernardi and Jacquie Lambie continue to insist that halal certification funds terrorism, despite evidence from the Australian Crime Commission and Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) that the link does not exist.

With their anxieties validated, it is no wonder that anti-Islam groups are energised — to the extent of launching a political party this week. The Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA) seeks to emulate Dutch politician Geert Wilders' Party For Freedom, with policies like banning full face coverings in public and removing Australia from the UN charter of refugees.

Its senatorial line-up includes Q Society's Debbie Robinson, anti-halal campaigner Kirralie Smith, and outspoken former army officer Bernard Gaynor, who had lodged a submission to the Bendigo council against the mosque on the grounds that 'every time a mosque is built in Australia a little bit of this nation dies and is replaced by the Middle East'.

Pronouncements like this may be freely made, of course, no matter how much Islamophobes portray themselves as victims of political correctness. Corrections regarding racial vilification and incitement are more properly determined in the court, so it is not groups of people like Muslims, lefties or moderates who are oppressing them but the laws that operate in the secular democracy they purport to defend.

Still, it is not unreasonable to be concerned that a new political party, along with some degree of collaboration between far-right groups around local issues, might normalise the sort of views that find expression in abuse and violence against Muslim Australians, and conceivably extend to other minorities.

Muslim Australians, in the end, will have to have more faith than their detractors in the robustness of systems that ensure the safety and flourishing of all citizens. The question is whether those in power will add to that robustness or subtract from it.

Fatima Measham

Fatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She tweets @foomeister .

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, Bendigo Mosque, Islam, racial vilification, Australian Liberty Alliance, Cory Bernardi



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Existing comments

Fatima, the smile your photo shows does not match the seriousness of your topic. The frustrating issue for many (I’m sure) is that we don’t hear or see much evidence of the diversity within Islamic Australians. This surely feeds into the conservative cultural narrative. I agree with you that the language of Tony Abbott was appalling, but then so he was, and there are many like him still within the Coalition government, just to start with.

smk | 23 October 2015  

“ … the social upheaval that they (Muslims) are accused of causing is actually being enacted by those who hate them”. This has to be the most intelligent and perceptive comment I have seen regarding this issue. For every dollar spent on the so-called ‘de-radicalization’ of Muslim youth, another three might usefully be spent ‘de-brainwashing’ Islamophobes who go on a public rampage thinking that building a mosque equals turning Australia into the Middle East. And if you find it difficult to hear or see evidence of the diversity among Islamic Australians, smk, I suggest you get out and about and meet a few of them.

Paul | 24 October 2015  

Fatima, the issue I have with your opinion article overall is that it is short on facts and long on sentiment. The Bendigo mosque funders, AIM (you mention) and HAI have proven links to terrorism, on many levels. You can't ignore that or pretend it is not true. Google Human Appeals International and AIM. You'll find those evidence based links. You also look away from the true sources of concern of the 'Islamophobes' the Islamic teachings in the Qur'an, Hadith and Sunna which inspire faith-based terrorism for the purpose of a global caliphate. For all your pretence, you would have far more integrity and credibility if you examined why there is a concern with Islam, yet not with the Bahais, Quakers, Seiks, Protestants, Hindus, Taos or Budhhists. I'd suggest you expand your reading material to broaden your mind. But your name suggests you've most likely been captured so your views can only been interpreted as taqiyya, the Islamic practice of deception. Thanks for your time, Simon.

Simon | 24 October 2015  

Simon, the problem I as an Australian Muslim have with your 'opinion' is that it's (predictably) short on any actual relevant evidence, and long on vague insinuations. Long too on the sort of 'connect the dots' conflation which has become the established norm for those who object to any and all things 'Islamic' in the public sphere - mosques being just one of these. You claim that the "true concern" of opposers to the mosque is "faith-based terrorism", but fail to demonstrate any knowledge at all of the precise faith held by the actual individuals who seek to build and patronise this particular mosque, let alone any evidence to suggest that they might be planning terrorism or the overthrow of our government. No, the "true sources of concern of the Islamophobes", as you've demonstrated, is irrational phobia - hence why that label in this instance is completely apt. And in the interests of a 'broadening of the mind', may I suggest you learn what the (Shia) term 'taqiyya' actually means. It does not mean a general permission for any Muslim (or anyone with a Muslim name) to lie about their true beliefs and intentions. And a Muslim who disagrees with your assertions is no more proof of 'deception', than a person floating on water is of witchcraft.

Rashid.M | 25 October 2015  

Perhaps even quadrupling the money spent expelling silly ideas from peoples' heads might be way short of what is required.

Paul | 26 October 2015  

Simon the Regurgitator: A tiny amount of knowledge is a dangerous thing. "Google" most of those belief systems you nominate and if you're determined enough you'll find episodes of violence were you attempting you to fit them into your agenda. We're all human; all too human sometimes.

Ross | 26 October 2015  

When views and alignments to causes are irrational the matter is, by definition, not capable of treatment by reason. So you can write the reasoned article as you did, Fatima and get the responses which suggest that you wrote something else. Crazy stuff. Crazy but not unusual. Much of the problem goes back to Howard who said he was governing for "the mainstream"-dog whistle for nice WASPS like us and Abbott followed. That said the government focuses on changing "them". But how would it be if we acknowledged we have as allies of the USA attacked Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria and made things worse than before. These are not faith based beliefs, just facts of government.

Michael D. Breen | 26 October 2015  

Thanks Fatima, for your lucid and valuable arguments on a vexed issue. While some of the comments show that there is willful ignorance around, most comments take your points. Voices like yours need to be heard; keep casting light in what is often heated, ill-informed debate.

Myrna | 26 October 2015  

Fear. Isn't that what it's all about. Both sides feel that they are under siege. They fear losing their beliefs, values, traditions and culture. They fear violence. It's been torn out of perspective by a minorities on both sides. Fundamentalists appeal to these minorities. The media, with a bias towards bad news, fuels it. Politicians will grasp at media opportunities. The issue has to be solved at the ground level by the majority of people who simply seek a peaceful society to live, work, play, pray and bring up their children. Many with a religious bend will seek and heed the advice of their preachers and elders. Alas, these preachers and elders are also human. They are also exposed to the world. They rely on their holy books and interpret them as best as they can. Many will consider how their message will be received by their congregations. Can they afford to lose their members with an unpopular but true message? Can they strongly admonish those that are perceived as defenders of their faith and way of life if their approach is wrong? Will it affect the donations? They compromise. Exposed to a strong negative message through the media and to a somewhat neutral response from religious leaders, which way will the flock go? They will retreat into a defensive position and justify it. God is used. Power and money wins. Parents are the key to saving the souls of their children.

SimpleMan | 26 October 2015  

Fatima, I think that many ordinary Australians are afraid of the lack of caution in screening where Islamic immigration is concerned - so the persecutors get in with the persecuted. Also it worries people that the next generation of many immigrant families does not integrate but actually detaches from Australian society. I say this as a child of refugees who had nothing and to whom the Australian govt gave nothing but had to work at menial jobs to make their way here. Money is not the problem, resources are not. I would like to hear a senior imam publicly say that jihadis killing someone or blowing others up will not go to paradise, for some Muslims are being taught a different message “Everyone wants to die for Allah, we all want to live the best life in the hereafter and want to make it to the top of the seven levels of jannah (paradise),” Hamza told the ABC last night. Until a public united condemnation of this teaching is made in public ordinary Australians are within their rights to be skeptical about the imams and to be rationally fearful of future Islamic immigration.

Alice Larkin | 26 October 2015  

I have just been sent a terrifying u tube showing white French citizens being attacked. In France. They fear civil war is inevitable check it out Fatima.

Ann Bristow | 26 October 2015  

Do spare a thought for the ordinary Aussie Islamic person. In my rehab room, the Islam tea lady in *hijab; and I; daily exchange the Arabic peace greeting As-salamu alaykum *hijab=. headscarf worn by Muslim women to cover their hair; custom in Muslim societies of women to dress decently outdoors. No jihads here just vo vos

Father John George | 26 October 2015  

@Rashid.M According to one definitionof taqqiya I read, it allows Muslims to speak untruthfully of their beliefs or to commit normally blasphemous acts when they have a genuine fear of danger or persecution. Is this nearer the mark? If not, how do you understand it? i would especially be interested in hearing of its historical development.

Gerald Lanigan | 26 October 2015  

Mind you on my free day, in 1993 I visited the Lakemba Mosque, shoe-less, and before long was surrounded by Islam youth in a discussion on Catholic Confession!.. Such was the interest that ''a heavy" asked me politely to go. I did, grabbing my shoes out front-a most enjoyable experience in coal face ecumenics But I wouldn't try such in present atmosphere decades later-- though I have had many Islamic friends and studied koran in Asia at Ateneo de Manila Uni.

Father John George | 26 October 2015  

Something you might like to check out, Ann, is Andrew Hussey's 'The French Intifada'. It does require a little more effort than a YouTube clip but would still be worth your while. The sins of the fathers really are visited on the children.

Paul | 27 October 2015  

Some of the underlying sentiment is from the country regions where it appears that overtly visible displays of racism are understood at some level to not be okay anymore, but we can hate islam, because George Brandis said it was okay - so for some of the detractors it is about dressing up racism into a regionally socially acceptable form. Lets not forget that one of the more feared terrorists organisations in the late 20th century was the IRA, which was formed by a mainly catholic base. Perhaps terrorism should be seen as the the vicious actions of the deluded minority, and not associated with any one faith. Because if we brand all muslims as terrorists, surely we should brand all catholics as terrorists too.

Bryden | 27 October 2015  

1. The example raised by Bryden above of the IRA terrorist/Catholic link is a useful perspective on the Islam/terrorist situation we now face. No-one seriously held that Catholics the world over, or even throughout Ireland, were suspect terrorists, on the basis that the Irish Republican Army operated as it did. Nevertheless, even as a devout Catholic of Irish descent and proud of our ancestry, I and my parents would have deemed it perfectly acceptable and prudent for a state to refuse entry to Irish Catholics during the active years of the IRA terrorists, on the ground that it was suspected that IRA terrorists were infiltrating the innocent Irish migrants or visitors. Just plain common sense, not phobia. Australia and her allies interred citizens of German and Japanese ancestry during WWII for the duration of the conflict. Likewise the Germans with citizens of enemy countries. It would have been foolish for either side not to have done so, regardless of the merits of their case for war. What's the problem here? 2. Can I also note the glaring contradiction in the narrative of this post between the alleged "deep seam of xenophobia and racism" in Australia and the "laughably insignificant" numbers of that "deep seam" at rallies? I guess that according the left's ever non-falsifiable logic, the argument is that the paltry public turnout only proves it to be an exceptionally deep seam.

HH | 27 October 2015  

Hi Gerald. Hardly room here for a history lesson, but the origins of the word 'taqiyya' are from within Shi'ism rather than the broader Islamic world. A good account is given in the second half of the following article - - There is, as you mention, an inference drawn by most Muslims that recantation of faith is permissible under severe duress. The source for this belief is from the Quran: "Whoso disbelieves in Allah after he has believed — save him who is forced thereto while his heart finds peace in the faith — but such as open their breasts to disbelief, on them is Allah’s wrath; and they shall have a severe punishment"(16:106). The subsequent context given for 'forced', is persecution: "Then, surely, thy Lord — to those who fled their homes after they had been persecuted and then struggled hard in the cause of Allah and remained steadfast — aye, surely, after that thy Lord is Most Forgiving, Merciful" (16:110). There is however no oxymoronic general permission to lie for the purpose of spreading faith. None at all. On the contrary, the Quran condemns hypocrisy and falsehood repeatedly. Anti Islam bigots today take this specific exception and eagerly promote it as a common religious obligation. A dishonest reinterpretation to further their narrative of the observantly lying deceptive Muslim next door, with a 'secret' agenda for global conquest. All that's missing are the discovery of some 'Protocols'...

Rashid.M | 27 October 2015  

Thanks Rashid M.

Gerald Lanigan | 28 October 2015  

Thank you for your words against the tendancy towards religious hatred in this country. Unfortunately the era of "hate speech" has not died with the passing of Tony Abbot.

Peter Lee | 30 October 2015  

Great article Fatima!! The Catholic school I work at has been attacked by one of these lunatic groups just yesterday, because some of our Junior R.E. classes attended the local mosque open day, apparently we support Islamic State! Our students were appalled by the bigotry of this group.This makes me proud that we have intelligent, caring young Australians who reject this rubbish. While our leaders by and large lack a moral compass, I feel many of our youth, certainly in Catholic schools, do understand these issues and reject extremist rhetoric from both sides. I have just taken 85 Year 11 students to the Holland Park Mosque in Brisbane, this proved to be an enlightening and positive experience for them. They came away with a much better understanding of Islam and the problems facing ordinary Australian Muslims.By the way we also met with Taoist, Hindu,Jewish,Quaker, Buddhist, Greek Orthodox and Catholic worshipers and the students heard the same common message of respect, tolerance and peace from them all! Again, thanks for being a mouth piece of reason and intelligence in a debate often hijacked by those who are short on reason or decency!

Crispin Aldiss | 30 October 2015  

You and you parents, HH, may have deemed it perfectly acceptable and prudent to exclude NI Catholics during the period of IRA activity, but we didn't, and there were no adverse consequences for us. However, had we sent troops into the streets in Belfast of planes to bomb Derry, or denounced Catholicism as evil incarnate and slapped control orders on Catholic youths born in Australia, it might have been a different story.

Ginger Meggs | 31 October 2015  

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