Why are two Muslim girls causing a stir in Australia?

An Australia Day billboard featuring two girls in hijabs was taken down after the company that put it up was threatened. After fierce online debate, a crowdfunding campaign has raised money to bring it back and put up more.

Photo by: australiaday.vic.gov.au
Photo by: australiaday.vic.gov.au

The photograph of the two girls wearing hijabs at an Australia Day event, was removed from a site in Melbourne.

Updated Jan 21, 2017

What was the reaction?

The social media reaction was intense.

Many people criticised the image, displayed in Cranbourne, Melbourne saying it was "divisive" and did not reflect Australia Day.

Supporters of controversial senator Pauline Hanson from the One Nation Party, who in her maiden speech in 2016 called for a Muslim immigration ban, attacked the image in online forums. They said the billboard was “anti-Australian” and “too politically correct”.

The company behind the billboard, QMS, allegedly received multiple threats and abusive message from far-right wing groups. The matter is being investigated by the Victorian government.

But there were many who defended the billboard.

“We are a multicultural nation, if you have a problem with that, maybe you should leave,” Facebook user Gina Rose posted.

Victoria's Multicultural Affairs Minister Robin Scott said Australia Day is about bringing people together and celebrating diversity.

“It’s very disappointing to see a small minority attacking proud Australians for their love of their country," Scott said.

“Anyone who considers this a victory needs a refresher on the true meaning of Australia Day," said Scott after the billboard was taken down.

What is Australia Day?

It is a national public holiday celebrated on January 26, which commemorates the arrival of the first British settlers in 1788. It represents the day Australia was declared a British colony however it is not celebrated by many members of the Indigenous community. Indigenous Australians see it as “Invasion Day” and associated with dispossession and genocide.

How has this affected the girls?

Lawyer and community advocate Mariam Veiszadeh, who spoke to the girls and their family, told TRT World the girls "feel scared" after the billboards were removed.

"The girls and their families were shocked...that shock turned into bitter disappointment to hear that the billboards had been removed because people had made violent threats against them," Veiszadeh said.

"The girls were very conscious of the Islamophobic reaction to the billboard and the families were trying their best to shield them from the negativity."

Veiszadeh said the family was heartened by the support they received and are happy the billboard will be put up again.

"I've been speaking to them family several times daily since the fiasco first started and the girls are very excited that they will be up on a billboard again," said Veiszadeh. 

How did the billboard company respond?

Outdoor media company QMS immediately took the controversial billboard down, after threats and complaints.

The company declined to comment but it is assisting the Victorian government with their investigation. 

How has the wider community responded?

Thousands of people have donated money to an online campaign to reinstate the advert, raising more than $160,000 AUD (approximately £113,000).

The advertising agency behind the campaign, Campaign Edge, wants to also put up more billboards in cities across Australia.

Dee Madigan, the creative director of Campaign Edge, told the Guardian Australia she started the campaign because she "felt like the bastards were winning."

“There was a haul of photos of a lot of people from different ethnicities but the one they pick on is the two Australian Muslim girls and these are the same people who complain that Muslims don’t assimilate," Madigan said.

It’s just not OK and it feels lately like there’s been – with Hanson and even Trump – more permission for people to be more overtly racist.

- Dee Magidan, Campaign Edge

"This was just sort of a chance to fight back at that, because I think a lot of these racist groups think there’s a lot of them out there, that they’re the silent majority."

How have Muslims in Australia reacted? 

Many said they were concerned.

Helen Kapalos, from the Victorian Multicultural Commission, told ABC News the racism experienced by the Islamic community was unprecedented and was eliciting "genuine fear." 

Australia is multicultural, with people from over 300 ancestries and over 200 languages.

But there has been a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in recent years, which has led to an increase in assaults against Muslims on public transport. Last year, a national poll found 1 in 2 Australians wanted to ban Muslim immigration. 

In 2014, the Islamophobia Register Australia was founded to document increased reports of verbal and physical attacks against Muslims.

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies