City Hub

Islamophobia on the rise again

The Lindt Cafe in Martin Place December 2014, when a gunman took 18 people hostage. Credit: Wikimedia commons



The damning findings of the Lindt cafe siege, handed down in the coronial inquest last week, revealed not only that NSW Police should have stormed the Lindt Cafe before Man Haron Monis shot Tori Johnson, but that they were ill-prepared to deal with terror negotiations.The devastated families of Lindt Cafe Siege victims Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson have hit out at the police’s handling of the siege.

The development comes just days after the Manchester Arena crisis, when a suicide bomber blasted thousands of concert goers at an Ariana Grande gig. The global psyche was cast to the reverberating global fear that Islam is a breeding ground for terrorism. The events borne of terrorism are an assault against humanity and barbaric acts of cruelty that are to be condemned. But Muslims in the Australian community are imploring Australians not to draw assumptions about Islam based on the radicalisation of the minority.

The calls come as the World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Fifth Khalifa (Caliph), His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad condemned the terrorist attack in Manchester, labelling it “completely opposed to the teachings of Islam.”

Lisa Berrahal, Community Engagement Officer at the Muslim Women’s Association of Australia, said that Islamophobia within Australia is worsening as the media perpetuates stereotypes around Islam and terrorism.

“Older generations of Muslims report that they felt far more accepted than younger Australian Muslims… Mis-representations of Muslims and Islam as a whole and a lot of fear mongering is causing more and more Islamophobia,” she said.

Ali Kadri, spokesperson at the Islamic Society of Holland Park expressed fear that the perpetuation of myths around Islam will continue to worsen as acts of terror, such as those in Manchester, occur.

“The most common of the misconception is that Islam and its teachings are the sole reason behind terrorism…mostly it’s the lazy and sensationalist journalism, which perpetuates stereotypes, based on actions of obscure and often fringe elements within Muslim community.

“On top of it are the terrorists groups, who for political reasons continue to mislead young men and incite lone wolf attacks such as the one in Manchester. There is a third wheel in pushing this narrative and that is extreme right,” he said.

Last week marked the start of the holy month of Ramadan, a time in which Muslims fast and engage in prayer as they celebrate the handing down of the Qu’ran to Muhammad. According to Mr Kadri, Ramadan is a form of Jihad. Ms Berrahal said that too often Jihad has been misunderstood to mean a declaration of war against other religions.

“The true meaning of Jihad is “to strive” or “exert strong effort” in the way of god… The Quran itself only uses the word Jihad in the sense of using one’s wealth and self towards a good cause.

“The word Qital is mentioned instead for fighting, however the Quran is clear that Qital (fighting) is only to be done in a just cause, namely freeing people from oppression and when all other means have been exhausted,” she said.

Muhammad Rachmat Akbar, an Indonesian Muslim from Jakarta, said that contrary to much of the fear mongering around Islam, it is a peaceful religion.

“The majority of Islam think [terrorists] are not Muslim. They just used the Muslim name to destroy our religion. Once they are terrorist, they are terrorist. Not Muslim anymore,” he said.

Just last week Senator Pauline Hanson spoke out on Twitter, sharing her speech in Parliament arguing for a ban on Islamic immigration to Australia. In her Tweet she argued that second generation Islam is becoming increasingly radicalised, and the Manchester attacks is evidence of this. But according to Ms Berrahal, linking Islam with terrorism reflects an inherent bias.

“There was a terrible attack over the weekend in Portland where a white supremacist was hassling two muslim women and then killed 2 men and injured a third for trying to help the ladies. This is being referred to as a hate crime but if the perpetrator was muslim it would be classed as terrorism,” she said.

In Senator Hanson’s Parliamentary speech arguing in favour of a ban on Muslim immigration, she relied on an Essential survey conducted last year, revealing that 1 in 2 Australians supported a ban in Muslim immigration. This survey, however, was scrutinised for its online sampling methodology, as opposed to the more reliable random sampling method. A Roy Morgan survey conducted in 2015 comparatively revealed that only 28% of Australians oppose Muslim immigration. Mr Kadri said that all religions are susceptible to this sort of bias.

“Islam like other great faiths is inherently tolerant but just like other faiths can easily be hijacked by those who have political agenda… I am afraid that things are getting worse and sometimes I wonder that this may end up in a holocaust of Muslims in the west,” he said.

While evidence is still unclear around whether the perpetrator of the Lindt siege, Man Haron Monis could have been considered a terrorist working for Islamic State, the Lindt Siege was indisputably a terrorist incident and Monis was a Muslim who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Nonetheless, the radicalisation of a minority of Muslims should not institute bias against all Muslims. Despite this, findings by the the Australian Human Rights Commission revealed that many Muslim Australians suffered systematic racism following the siege.

“Many participants labelled anti-Muslim discrimination a daily or regular occurrence, particularly following the Sydney Lindt café siege in December 2014 and heightened concerns about national security,” according to the report.

One former student at Macquarie University, Tom Boyce, said that many Muslims at his university identify themselves as Australian, despite claims by Senator Hanson that Muslims struggle to assimilate in Australian culture.

“Even before 9/11 Muslims faced discrimination and islamophobia because headscarfs and veils were seen by non Muslims as indifference between Christians Jews and Muslims. Most Australian Muslims do like to practice Islam in moderate ways while embracing Australian ways of living,” he said.

While Man Haron Monis and the perpetrator of the Manchester attacks were both Muslim, the barbarism of the minority should not reflect on the majority of Muslims. For instance, Monis’ criminal record not only indicated a history of violence, but also that he was becoming increasingly radicalised. Similarly, evidence coming from Manchester is slowly revealing that the police had Alman Abedi on their radar. According to Mr Kadri, Australians should embrace the multiculturalism that it prides itself in, and dismiss unfair associations between Islam and terror.

“I am afraid that the vast majority of the people who don’t belong to either of these camps are slowly getting radicalised by rhetoric from politicians like Trump, Hanson etc. in [the] absence of a counter narrative from other leaders and this is especially true in Australia,” he said.

Ms Berrahal said that the media has a large role to play in debunking myths around Islam, rather than reinforcing them.

“I think we can minimise public stigma of Islam by more inter-faith events and dialogues. Also show casing more positive Australian Muslim personalities who demonstrate that they have no problem loving Islam and Australia simultaneously. There is so many positive things happening within the muslim community but unfortunately this isn’t shown by the media,” she said.