There’s a hashtag doing the rounds on Twitter – #wearascarfday – urging people to don a scarf in support of Australia’s Muslims. There’s a perception – and not just amongst well-meaning lefties – that life is about to become very difficult for our Muslim community.
Even Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is warning that if there was to be a backlash against Australian Muslims as a result of yesterday’s counter-terrorism police raids in his state and in NSW, this would play “into the hands of these terror groups” and that instead, Australians should visit a mosque. Show their solidarity.
Good advice and the strongest indication yet that our politicians and our security authorities don’t really know if any negative reaction to the raids from both sides of what looks like a social divide can actually be contained.
There’s clearly fear – on both sides.
Fear of the Middle East’s latest jihadist militia, Islamic State. Fear that young Australian born Muslims are being caught up in the euphoria of the declaration of an Islamic State caliphate and answering the call. Fear that “other” Australians inclined to intolerance, might mount their own homegrown attacks against Muslims.
Last night, in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba, a spontaneous gathering of people expressed these fears.
It was peaceful and despite social media calls for people to make their way to the protest, it was small – just a few hundred people. Some of the protesters carried placards saying: ”Stop terrorising Muslims.” They were angry too that women and children had been caught up in the raids, ousted from their beds and homes in the early hours of the morning as police raided their homes and searched for their human targets and incriminating evidence.
It would have course have been a frightening experience. As frightening as the thought that a “random person” could be beheaded in a public place for Islamic State’s propaganda campaign. And there’s the rub, so easily pitted as freedom vs. tyranny, good vs. evil, us vs. them.
The government and the security apparatus will be banking on most of us being willing to see it these black and white terms.
But for the Muslim community, the majority of which is peaceful and happy to be a member of Tony Abbott’s “Team Australia”, the raids and the rhetoric around them are not so easy to accept.
Many Muslims see themselves as unwanted, viewed with suspicion, the enemy. They see their kids, especially the males, being singled out and watched, along with ridiculously simplistic and offensive media reports about their communities and their way of life and protests about the intended building of mosques as well as arguments mounted by ignorant politicians (well, one in particular) about the need to ban the burqa.
Fear creates intolerance and since 9/11 Muslims have lived with this.
Yet still, when genuinely frightening evidence is offered of a genuinely frightening threat to innocent people, as it was during yesterdays dramatic raids, people ask why young Australian Muslims are so angry they gravitate towards a militant cult masquerading as a religious movement and claiming to be a state. What they don’t do, is tell themselves that the number of these angry young men is very small and that the vast majority of Muslims are peacefully living in the Australian community, as productive and aspirational as the next non-Muslim family.
Nor do they accept that being Muslim, even in largely tolerant Australia, can be a gruelling life experience.
A few weeks ago, a tradie came to my home. Lovely guy. Great worker. He disappeared for a bit, just as I was looking for him to ask a question. He was praying.
Deeply apologetic, he seemed to be confessing that he was a Muslim. When I asked why he was telling me this, he said: “Not everyone feels good with a Muslim in their house.” He felt he needed to hide to pray.
That’s the sort of underlying fear some of them live with. It’s the sort of fear some “other” Australians refuse to acknowledge. Perhaps if we did, young Muslims wouldn’t feel so angry.
*Monica Attard OAM is a five-time Walkley award-winning Australian journalist – including the Gold Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism 1991. She’s also the lucky recipient of an Order of Australia for services to journalism. Monica has hosted the ABC’s PM, the World Today and Media Watch as well as Sunday Profile. She spent 28 years at the ABC, during which time she was the corporation’s Russia correspondent reporting the collapse of communism. That experience led her to write a book, Russia: Which Way Paradise? which was published in 1997. You can follow her on Twitter: @attardmon.
* Featured imagine via SBS and AAP