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Australia's centre-right govt 'wakes up' to Islamophobia, swears by multicultural legacy

By Neeraj Nanda*
In an interesting turn, the federal government in Australia, which is led by the centre-right Liberal Party, has slammed incidents of Islamophobia gripping the country, calling them ‘completely unacceptable’. A media statement from David Coleman, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, has referred to a report released by the Charles Sturt University to point towards the danger.
Titled “Islamophobia in Australia” and released this year, the report suggests that hate incidents are not just a problem for Muslims, but would need national engagement if Australia is to maintain social cohesion and live up to its multicultural legacy. Becoming an annual feature, this is the second “Islamophobia in Australia” report.
Citing 349 incidents reported in 24 months (2016-17), this and the previous reports indicate only the ‘tip of an iceberg’, as under-reporting of hate crimes and related incidents is an ongoing problem worldwide, it suggests.
The report, prepared by a team of experts led by chief investigator Dr Derya Iner from Charles Sturt University’s Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, offers a multi-faceted analysis of verified incidents reported to the Islamophobia Register Australia by victims, proxies, and witnesses in the two-year period.
A news report on the Charles Sturt University website says, “The report shows predominantly Muslim women and girls are being targeted with verbal abuse, profanities, physical intimidation and death threats in public places, most often while shopping, and most often by Anglo-Celtic male perpetrators.”
It continues, “Insults targeting Muslims’ religious appearance and religion was the highest in both reports online and offline, with almost all women respondents (96 percent) targeted while wearing hijab”, adding, “The situation for Muslim children was particularly concerning and underscores the need for prevention strategies in schools.”
The report says that experiences of Islamophobic abuse start for children in pre-school years “when they were accompanied by their identifiably Muslim parents”, even as pointing towards a strong intensity of hate rhetoric, pointing towards how it groomed the Christchurch terrorist who carried out terrorist attacks in New Zealand earlier this year. It says, the terrorist was “active” in Australia three to five years ago.
Online and offline, people have detailed how they would like to murder all Muslims, and yet there appeared to be no investigation or prosecution, raising serious questions about the fitness of existing laws, the report regrets, adding, following the previous report’s trend, the most severe level of hate, wanting to kill and/or harm Muslims, was the most dominant rhetoric, consisting of one-quarter of the entire online cases.
Online, there were dynamics of contagion at play with communities reacting to the perpetrator’s posts with supportive emojis, comments, and shares. Sadly, the intensity of hate rhetoric was also present in physical cases, with 11 percent of the 202 offline cases, including death threats, says the report.
The fact some Australian Muslims could not go about their ordinary life without receiving a death threat from a stranger opens serious questions about how Muslim identity has been publicly crafted, s the report notes.

Tip of the iceberg

Dr Iner asserts, the number of incidents discloses only the ‘tip of an iceberg’, as under-reporting of hate crimes and related incidents are an ongoing problem worldwide. “This is especially the case where continuous anti-Muslim sentiment in political and media discourse becomes normalized, desensitizing the public,” she say
Insisting, “With Christchurch in our minds, we cannot afford to be complacent”, according to her, “Social cohesion is something that must be nurtured and repaired by all of us for the well-being and security of Australia.”
Referring to the report, Coleman, in his statement, said, “Freedom of religion is fundamental to Australian society. Australians of all religions should be able to practice their faith free of prejudice. The instances of discrimination against Australians of Islamic faith which are documented in the report are completely unacceptable.”
Pointing out that the Morrison government in no way tolerates racial or cultural prejudice against any group, and that in this year’s budget, the government invested $71 million into a package of measures designed to strengthen our social cohesion, Coleman added, “The behavior outlined in the report is condemned in the strongest terms – Australia as a nation utterly rejects racism and religious discrimination of any kind.”
Dr. Sharif As-Saber, associate professor at RMIT University and a member of the Victorian South Asian Communities Ministerial Advisory Council, says, “Unfortunately, Australia is not immune from various forms of discriminations, abuses and vilifications.”
He adds, “Religious and racial discriminations including hate crimes are just a few of them. It is better to acknowledge the reality while there should be concerted efforts by the governments and various community groups and religious leaders to combat and mitigate such problems. In other words, ‘engagement’ is important!”
Meanwhile, the Islamophobia Register Australia is launching a crowdfunding campaign as it relies on community funds to maintain its independence. The next report will include data from before and after the Christchurch tragedy, it is learned.
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*Editor, South Asia Times, Melbourne

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