Green Left Weekly asked a number of people active in Sydney's Muslim
community to share their views on why anti-Muslim prejudice has
developed such roots in recent years, and what can be done to change
Dr Akbar Khan, president of the Islamic Association of the Western
Suburbs, Sydney, is deeply concerned about the implications of
Australia's “anti-terrorism” laws, and initiated a public meeting in
the western Sydney suburb of Auburn on June 19, with speakers from
across the political spectrum. It attracted a crowd of some 500 people.
Khan explained that he felt it was important to let the public know the real story about the anti-terror laws, that they were mainly being used against Muslims at the moment, but that they may be used against other groups in future.
“The news media is against us. People are only getting one side of the story; we need to make them aware of the whole truth”, Khan told GLW. “People tell me I shouldn't be doing this, but someone has to take the courage to tell the truth.” He labelled the series of arrests of Muslim Australians on terrorism charges “an election stunt”, adding: “The government wants to frighten and terrorise the people, convince them that the government is doing the right thing.”
GLW also spoke to Waleed Kadous and Agnes Chong, who set up the Sydney-based Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network (AMCRAN) in May. The group has published a know-your-rights booklet for Muslims called ASIO, the Police and You, to be launched at the end of this month.
Asked why so many people have been sucked in by the fear campaign against Muslims and terrorism, Kadous said: “People are likely to ascribe behaviours to `others' that they would never consider doing themselves. One unfortunate example of this was the Tampa affair. The idea that anyone would be willing to throw their kids overboard to get into a country is just ridiculous. We would never, for example, think that people from Britain or France could do such a thing. But because they don't know Arab or Islamic culture, they think that Muslims could do such a thing.”
Asked whether she thought Islamophobia was intertwined with racism, Chong pointed out that “people do not seem to realise that Muslims cannot be defined as any race, or an ethnic group. Yet people insist on labelling Muslims as Arabs, or Lebanese only, while there are Muslims on every continent of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.”
Kadous said: “I think the government has a track record of `wedging' the community. In the 1998 election it was against the Aboriginal community, in 2001 it was against boat people, and it looks like in 2004, it's the Muslim community's turn.”
Khan expressed his disgust at the refusal of the Labor Party to oppose the Coalition government's agenda, pointing out: “If a person with guts stood up and opposed Howard, it could make a difference.”
Khan said he was happy to work with anybody who is prepared to tell the truth about what the government is doing. He felt that solidarity between Muslims and non-Muslims was very important, citing as an example the open day that took place at the Rooty Hill mosque on July 4. “For people who have the wrong idea about Muslims, who wonder what goes on inside of a mosque, they can come and find out.”
Kadous and Chong both agreed that solidarity between Muslims and non-Muslims was important. Chong told GLW: “The voice of a victim crying foul does not have the same weight as the testimony of a bystander. If we work together I think the voices will be much stronger and we would be much more likely to make a difference.”
Kadous pointed out: “In the particular case of AMCRAN, we have had great support from the non-Muslim community, from organisations like the Civil Rights Network, the UTS Community Law Centre, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, the Greens and Green Left Weekly. Plus we have also received a lot of support and encouragement from countless individuals, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.”
Chong added: “When we first approached these organisations about our anti-terrorism know-your-rights booklet they were all very supportive and enthusiastic. I think people realise that this is an important issue that is really slowly eating away our civil rights (and sanity) that needs to be addressed.”
“Muslims are in many cases involved with the peace groups around Sydney, because almost all of them oppose the war on Iraq”, Kadous explained. “I think what's exciting about this work is that it is bringing people on both sides into contact with one another.”
Sarah Stephen, Sydney
Green Left Weekly, Issue #589, July 14, 2004.