The terror attack against the Muslim community in New Zealand by an Australian white supremacist has once again brought attention to the ubiquitous anti-Muslim discourse in Australia.
More than 300 Australian Muslims, including journalists, academics and activists have thrown their weight behind a statement demanding that the Australian government take action for its history of anti-Muslim bigotry.
In light of the terrorist attacks by white nationalist Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch, New Zealand, the signatories warn that the 28-year-old Australian was a product of the hostile anti-Muslim environment that has been allowed to fester in Australia.
“For years, we have warned against the use of racist and discriminatory language in media and politics. We warned that this creates a culture of fear and hysteria that would inevitably result in exactly this type of attack,” the signed statement said.
“While our political leaders have expressed sympathy over the deaths of our brothers and sisters, there has been little responsibility taken for their own role in creating a political climate that has demonised the Muslim community for decades.”
Lawyer Zaahir Edries, a community advocate and one of the signatories of the statement, told TRT World, “Institutional Islamophobia, bigotry and racism is expressed frequently in Australian politics both overtly by parties like Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party and by other Conservative politicians like Cory Bernadi and Fraser Anning, who called for a ‘final solution’ with respect to Muslims in his maiden speech to the Senate.”
Edries added, “The rhetoric is also expressed less overtly by government policy on refugees and commentary by government politicians who marginalise migrant communities like Peter Dutton, a senior minister who suggested Lebanese migration in the 1980s was a mistake or George Christensen, his parliamentary colleague who attends rallies held by far-right fringe groups with openly racist ideals.”
Yassir Morsi, a politics and philosophy lecturer and author of the book "Radical Skin, Moderate Masks," said, “Far too many figures, including the country's PM, have made use of and profited from anti-Muslim sentiments.”
Speaking to TRT World, Morsi said he believes that anti-Muslim racism and bigotry in Australia can’t be separated from the wider “global, historical and European history of racism upon which the non-European, over the last 400-500 years which has been viewed politically both as a threat and at the service of Europe.”
Evidence of the ‘Muslim menace’ to Australia’s cultural values can be found as early as 1912, when it was presented as a case of concern.
Morsi argues that while racism and anti-Muslim bigotry is being stoked by the “media, politicians and right-leaning commentary,” it did not come from the right. Racism in Australia is deeply rooted in society.
“White Australia has had to maintain its dominance ... and racism is at the core of this,” added Morsi.
The polling company Essential Report has been monitoring Australian sentiment towards Muslims and it makes for sobering reading.
In 2017, the polling firm found that 41 percent of Australians would support a ban on Muslims entering Australia, in a similar way to that instituted by Donald Trump in the US, and more than 53 percent of Australians were very or somewhat concerned about the number of Muslims in Australia.
According to the latest Census, the Muslim population in Australia stands at 2.6 percent, but that hasn’t stopped more than 51 percent of Australians believing that the number of Muslims in Australia is anywhere from three percent to more than 10 percent.
In 2015 the Australian member of parliament and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson attending the Australian Senate in a burqa demonstrates sharply how anti-Muslim sentiment and discourse is generated.
Even as Hanson was condemned across the political spectrum for her actions, which was aimed at banning the face veil, there are however a multitude of ways in which ‘respectable’ Muslim hysteria is generated and tolerated.
Joshua Anthony Frydenberg, an Australian politician who has been treasurer of Australia and was deputy leader of the governing Liberal Party in 2015, suggested, “There is a problem within Islam,” with a number of politicians at the time backing his calls.
The role of the media was highlighted in the report Islamophobia in Australia, which stated, “Media reports about Islam and Muslims increased significantly in response to terror-related incidents locally and overseas with a corresponding rise in the number of articles that were pejorative and disparaging of Muslims and the Islamic faith.”
For as long as public personalities are able to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment, “you are more likely to make a career stoking racism rather than fighting it,” said Morsi.