Discrimination. A word that carries so much baggage and history, and continues to remain a topic of important political and societal conversation today. 

Australian Muslims, like other minorities, are not exempt from being on the receiving end of discrimination. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released a document last month detailing the instances of abuse and Islamophobia that the Muslim community in Australia has faced. 

Exploring cases of abuse and religious-based discrimination, the document further described the legal framework and political context that this abuse occurs in. 

But is discrimination against the Muslim population something new? Many would answer with a decisive “no”.

After the unfortunate events of September 11 in New York, which received condemnation from Muslim communities and leaders across the globe, vilification of the Muslim community reached unprecedented levels. 

The anti-Muslim rhetoric pouted on various forms of media at the time – namely TV, radio and print media – added salt to the wound, alienating based on ethnicity, faith and people being ‘Arab’. 

This was not limited to the media, either. High-ranking politicians didn’t help, sometimes fanning the flames at inopportune moments of rising anti-Muslim strife, occasionally cloaked in their newly developed laws pertaining migrants and the exams they needed to complete prior to entering Australia.

So what do Muslims need to do to protect themselves from religious discrimination, while holding onto their values of Islam?

The answer is not so simple. 

Understanding and appreciating multiculturalism in the world isn’t something the Australian government (or law enforcement, for that matter) can police. It’s not something that can be resolved by one report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Anti-racism will not actualise by one article about the importance of social cohesion and appreciation of multicultural backgrounds in Australian society.

Respect isn’t enforced, nor is it immediate. It’s gradual and inter-generational.

We can leave our mark as respondents to racial vilification – in the age that demanded it so very much – and stand against anti-Islamic discrimination. 

But we shouldn’t hold our breath for it to happen in light of reports or policies set in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and the various States and cities.

Solutions will follow the appropriate diagnosis

The Australian Human Rights report found an alarming experience across Australian Muslims. It found that “Australian Muslim communities across Australia noted a correlation between negative media and political narratives and an increase in aggression and violence targeting Muslims.”

This means that anti-Muslim sentiment — contributed to by the giants of mainstream media and bigoted politicians — is central to the racial discrimination and vilification of the Muslim minority in Australia.

This sentiment was also shared widely during the unfortunate terrorist attacks in Christchurch in 2019. 

Two mosques were gruesomely targeted to be the recipients of an Islamophobic, racially motivated, right wing extremist attack upon innocent Muslim worshippers in the heart of New Zealand.

What more could have been expected, when previous Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had tied religious extremism to Islam and furthered anti-Muslim rhetoric, as James Fitzgerald wrote,

“Despite showing sympathy for the victims of the Christchurch attack, Scott Morrison’s past anti-Muslim rhetoric is not forgotten.”

Scott Morrison had famously earlier stated,

“But here in Australia, we would be kidding ourselves if we did not call out the fact that the greatest threat of religious extremism in this country is the radical and dangerous ideology of extremist Islam.”

The unfortunate reality is that Scott Morrison wasn’t the first politician to make such remarks.

Tony Abbott, following his removal from the Liberal party, stated,

“Islam never had its own version of the Reformation and the Enlightenment or a consequent acceptance of pluralism and the separation of church and state.

It’s not culturally insensitive to demand loyalty to Australia and respect for Western civilisation. Cultures are not all equal.”

It seems only a natural consequence of these comments that the alienation and discrimination of the Muslim community has happened – and continues to take place. 

Muslim men and women are tired of the anti-Muslim rhetoric spouted by political leaders that should instead be standing for their rights and freedoms. 

Religious beliefs and religious groups should not be vilified, misrepresented or misinterpreted – especially from those seen to be the most senior in everyday life. 

For how long will Lebanese and Iraq-born people (or those from the Middle East more broadly), for instance, continue to be at the receiving end of unwelcome remarks in a society that aspires to be inclusive and claims to be proud of its multicultural values?

A person’s religious position – be they Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim – should not be the cause of feeling any less Australian. 

Similarly, the report found that Muslim women were also quite likely to be targeted by racial discrimination, based on their adorning the hijab. It found that:

“The negative reporting about Muslims on morning breakfast television programs and talk radio was also raised at multiple consultations and participants expressed their views that this led to an increase in Islamophobic incidents towards Australian Muslim community members. Community members discussed how inflammatory statements on these programs would often lead to an increase of verbal and online attacks towards visibly Muslim community members, particularly women wearing head coverings.”

Muslim women do not demand that non-Muslim individuals wear what they wear, or believe what they believe. They only demand the basic form of human decency – to live in tolerance and social cohesion.

Advocacy needs to be channelled properly and actually make a difference in our communities. The solution to many of these problems is education – not so much reports by the race discrimination commissioner. 

It’s about making young Muslims feel welcome. About providing adequate facilities for Muslim women to live comfortably whilst adorning the hijab. 

The political issues that Australia holds with countries like Indonesia, the Arabic speaking nations, Afghanistan, and others, should not translate to vilifying the millions of innocent people that seek to live within Australia – if they don’t already. 

Instead, those Muslims that live in Sydney, Melbourne, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and beyond should be revered for what they stand for – people that chose Australia to be the land they contribute towards and help grow in. 

Change starts by education – in primary and High School, University and public forums.

Change starts when politicians do not vilify Middle Eastern, Afghan or Turkish families but instead work with them and find cohesive solutions to problems that may be affecting that and other demographics.

Change starts when the Halal food industry isn’t made out to be some terrorist funding industry that sends money abroad for actions contrary to that indicated by international law – as unfortunately alleged by an Australian politician. 

From Canberra to our homes, we must all realise the significance of this report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, and begin to move towards change. 

And change will happen, God Willing.

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