by Ghali Hassan
Given the relatively low frequency of reporting on Muslims and Islam in general in the media, it is not surprising that the Western media displays a distorted image of Islam and Muslims. Television programs and the print mainstream media have perpetuated the stereotypes of Islam and Muslims for years. Media images of Islam are omnipresent and are part of Western culture of racism and imperial design. Islam has always been seen in the West as violent, barbaric, anti-democratic, anti-human, anti-rational, etc. The aim is to turn Muslims into an enemy people, to be regarded collectively with contempt and scorn.
Since the attacks on America (9/11), media speculation has pointed the finger at Muslims. A Muslim is portrayed as “terrorist”, a “refugee” or “militant”, but seldom a real human being. The term “Islamist” is used as a catchall term and many Muslims have been arbitrarily detained, simply because they are Muslims. It is the Islamist who provided social and health services the government neglected to provide. It is they who wanted democratic elections and honest government. Similarly, many of Islam?s concepts have gone through process of reduction. For example, the concept of Jihad, the spiritual, intellectual and social components have been stripped away, and have been reduced to war by any means including ?terrorism?. Other connotations of Jihad, including personal struggle, intellectual endeavour and social construction have evaporated.
For Muslims, nothing could be further from the truth, Islam is peaceful religion, and peace is an essential precondition for ?submission? to the ?will of God?. Muslims like any other people believe in freedom, justice humanity and democratic principles. They really want to control their own affairs. They don?t want to be pushed around, ordered, oppressed, etc. A critique of Islam, like a critique of any religion or ideology that has doctrines preventing people from exercising their moral sense, solidarity, and reason, is welcome.
After 9/11, racism against Muslims and Islam became a form of “free speech” in the West. Muslims and Islam were subjected to widespread abuse and bashing. Publishing houses competed to make money from this commercialised business of producing books made up of rubbish and fabricated images of Islam and Muslims. Countless obscure university scholars and intellectuals suddenly appeared on TV screens and treated as “experts” on Islam by the mainstream media. They project the manufactured and distorted images of Islam. This corporate picture of Islam is a depressing and misleading one.
In Australia, Muslims have been the subjected to unprovoked racist attacks. Muslim women wearing traditional clothes were spat upon, physically assaulted and had their scarves ripped from their heads. Mosques were firebombed and Islamic schools and other community facilities vandalised or deluged with hate mail. Following the Bali bombing, the Liberal government of John Howard saw an opportunity to inflame the situation by targeting innocent Muslims as “terrorist suspects”. Without any substantiated evidence, homes of Muslim students in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth were raided by Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, seizing properties and interrogating terrified Indonesian families. Muslims are the only people who remain whom one can indulge in bashing with impunity.
A study on racist attitudes conducted by the University of New South Wales in 2003 found one in eight Australians interviewed admitted they were prejudiced, particularly towards Muslim Australians. The study, conducted by a team led by geography lecturer Kevin Dunn, also found some Australians were living in denial of such prejudice though 80 per cent of those surveyed recognized racism was a problem.
Dr. Dunn writes that Australia has a “hard core of racists” and that some of the country’s worst racism is found especially in more “working class” suburbs of Sydney and Brisbane. However, this is not the case. Racism in Australia is institutionalised and systemic. It is not only just confined to working class Australians. It is like blaming the abuse and torture of Iraqi POWs by US occupying forces on “a few bad apples”. Furthermore, while there remains “persistent intolerance” to Aboriginal and Jewish Australians, anti-Muslim sentiment is “very strong”, the study observed.
Racism in Australia is not new phenomena, and it is not prompted by the 9/11 or the Bali bombing, as suggested. Racism is a diet feed continuously to the public by conservative political parties and mainstream media. Evidence of surveys carried out in Australia in the late 1980s found Muslims are the most discriminated and victimized Australians.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HR&EOC), the Australian Government agency, reports evidence about a rise in violence against Muslims and Arabs. A key finding of the report was that 90 per cent of female respondents reported experiencing racism abuse or violence. However, the Race Discrimination Act - which covers Jews and Sikhs - does not recognize Muslims as an “ethnic group” and protection of Muslims under Australian federal law is limited. “While the government has created a climate where many non-Muslim Australians live with a perception of fear of Muslims, it is Muslim and Arabic Australians who are living in a state of real fear, based on their frequent, sometimes daily, experience of physical and verbal abuse and discrimination” write Sarah Stephen in Green Left Weekly, the only honest newspaper in Australia.
Australian conservative politicians follow the footprints of their counterparts in the US, the Islamophobic Christian Right. In November 2002, Reverend Fred Nile, leader of the rightwing Christian Democratic Party, and well known for his bigoted views, issued an inflammatory call for the New South Wales state government to ban Muslim women from wearing traditional Muslim clothes in public. His remarks directly contributed to the climate of racial hostility, cultivated by sections of the media, which has already led to a series of racist assaults on Muslim women and attacks on mosques. However, Prime Minister John Howard supports these racist views. The PM said, it would be better, if Muslim women were “less conspicuous” at this time, and that Mr. Nile “speaks for many people”. These are the same racist tactics used by the rightwing US Christian evangelist, Pat Robertson, the Baptist Jerry Falwell and the Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who are preying on the abuse of Muslims and Islam to advance their messianic fascist ideology.
Welcome to Australia?
The Australian tourist board doesn?t mention Baxter Detention Centre in its tourist promotion drive.
In Australia, Muslim refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war torn countries are completely removed from humanity. They are detained in remote centres and stripped of their human rights and dignity. They are portrayed as “illegal” immigrants and “potential terrorists”. The fact that thousands of illegal immigrants are white Anglo-Saxons living and working illegally in Sydney and Melbourne shows how tolerant Australia is. Illegal immigrant it seems, if you’re not white.
Muslim refugees are detained, women and children included, in remote prisons called “Detention Centres”. The largest of these centres is South Australia’s Baxter Detention Centre or “Australia?s Abu Ghraib”, as recent German tourists call it. Baxter Detention Centre “is a chilling sight, surrounded by barbed wire and towering electric fences humming with 9000 volts. No life can be seen from the outside: all buildings face inwards, and there is only the long, lonely road that winds out from Port Augusta at the remote apex of South Australia’s Spencer Gulf, past mangrove swamps and into the vast plain that vanishes into the distant Flinders Range. If it is sobering from the outside, it is so much more when the gates slide shut behind the asylum-seekers sent there under Australia’s policy of mandatory detention”, reported the New Zealand Herald on 22 May 2004. ?It is like a prison here?, one inmate told the Herald. ?There is a fear in us when we see the cameras everywhere and the doors are all electronically opened. They only gave us a room with a toilet inside, like an en suite … It is only a land with grass and all around us there are rooms that other people live in. We can see only the sky and the grass?. Most of these refugees are Muslims from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq dreaming to see the Australian “freedom”.
A new report by Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, titled “A Last Resort?” found Australia’s immigration detention policy breached the international Convention on the Rights of the Child by seriously failing to protect the mental health of children, provide adequate health care and education and protect unaccompanied children and those with disabilities. Members of the HR&EOC visited all the immigration detention centres in Australia and took evidence from a large number of detainees and organizations. The report noted that between July 1999 and July 2003, 2184 children passed through Australia’s mainland detention centres. At its height in June 2000, the Australian detention system had 164 babies in detention. The report also noted that violence and despair, self-mutilation and suicide, and the infliction of severe, long-term psychological damage are common in these centres.
Not all lost, many decent and courageous Australians have rejected this racist and inhumane policy. Rural and urban organizations, and individuals are working very hard to defend the right of refugees and expose the lies and deception perpetuated by the government. “The thing that keeps people going in the refugee movement is the personal contact with asylum seekers - meeting people behind the razor wire, hearing their stories, seeing their despair. We are involved in a struggle that is both political and humanitarian. The politics makes us angry; the people make us care”, writes Anne Coombs of Rural Australians for Refugees, an informal group of concerned citizens.
Thousand of Muslims (Iraqis and Afghanis) have been killed as a result of US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, adding to the thousands of innocent Muslims killed or imprisoned since the “end” of these wars. The so-called “democracy” and “freedom” have been denied to the people of Iraq and the people of Afghanistan. The “war on terror” is a distraction, and it is nothing but an extension of globalisation fuelled by anti-Muslims racism to wage war and control vital resources located in the Muslim world.
With the destruction and occupation of Iraq by US forces, we are witnessing more dramatic misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims. Muslims who opposed to this imperial ideology are portrayed, as “terrorists”, and Islam will continue to be reduced according to this Western ideology.
Ghali Hassan lives in Perth, Western Australia.
Article courtesy of CounterCurrents