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Islamophobia is a frequently discussed term these days. The term was first used in La vie de Mohammed, prophète d’Allah (Biography of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad) by Alphonse Etienne Dinet and Sliman ben Ibrahim in 1918 (in French). At first it meant to have negative prejudice towards Islam/Muslims but in present it has changed. Now, along with the previous definition, Muslims are also treated like a racial group. If Islamophobia would be defined from its component words; Islam referring to the religion itself and phobia meaning irrational fear; it would mean irrational fear towards Islam/Muslims. However, the current demographic is contradictory as race means to divide people into groups based on their perceived biological characteristics. The current population of Muslims is 1.6 billion which are found in every continent—all with different appearances and different cultures based on the country they are living in. This paper will discuss Islamophobia in Australia.
Afghan Muslims had first migrated to Australia in 1860 as camel drivers to explore the dry areas and later settled in the region. Over the 1870s, Malay Muslims had been recruited for pearling. In the 19th century, two mosques were also built; one in 1861 in Marree and the other in 1888 called The Great Mosque of Adelaide. One of the first Muslim celebrations was recorded in 1884 when 70 Muslims gathered for Eid prayers. In the early 20th century, immigration of Muslims had decreased due to White Australia Policy which meant only people of European descent (English speaking) were allowed to migrate. This resulted in Albanian Muslims only to be allowed into the country. Albanian Muslims, incidentally, also built a mosque in Australia. However, due to the need for population and economic growth after World War II, steps had been taken to abolish White Policy Australia. In 1973, Racial Discrimination Act was finally passed which stopped the racial categorization politically and so the immigration of Muslims from different areas had started; bringing in Muslims from all over the world. According to the 2011 census 2.2% of the Australian population are Muslims, which were from Lebanon, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and etc.
Nonetheless, during all this time, Muslims had to face lots of violence in Australia. Yet, at the beginning the violence towards Afghans was not on the basis of religion it was more on economic grounds and the racism of white and black. As Afghans had brought camels which could survive the travelling for a longer time compared to horses and they worked for cheaper wages, this favored them in getting more opportunities. The locals already disliked the Afghans as they weren’t white; but the addition of being more economically strong triggered more hatred towards them. This led to some attacks on the Afghans such as the three brothers who operated a bullock team in Bourke-Wanaaring area attempting to repel the competing camel men by launching a physical attack. When this was brought in the court, the District Court dismissed the case saying that it lacked in evidence. Also, during the same time there was another incident where an angry teamster shot the passing camel men, Said Dal. Furthermore, at this time there were Asian populations which were way more compared to Afghans, which brought a fear to the locals that they would lose their whiteness. This had later provoked them to create White Policy Australia, due to this policy only Albanian Muslims could come into the region. At this point, Muslims still being allowed into the country and make a mosque for themselves shows that they still did not have any prejudice towards Islam.
The hostilities towards Muslims had begun during the Gulf War, it started more as an anti-Arab sentiment. There were many ways through which they were targeted; one significant way was through media. The radio was using abusive comments such as “Arab and Muslims are “importing into Australia their fanatical, irrational beliefs and hatreds … [advised to] go back and be there [with Saddam]’ and told ‘If you don’t like it, rack off’”. Also, a letter was sent to the Committee of Arab-Australians requesting that they return to their countries, and that the government would happily bare their expenses to send them back because they were not wanted. Moreover, there were open messages to Arab and Muslim communities to demonstrate their allegiance to the Australian nation, its laws and its values and both to denounce, yet somehow accept blame for, the evils of Saddam Hussein. It had become a wide known fact that women wearing hijab or men wearing turbans were Muslims and these appearances belonged to Middle East countries so anyone appeared to be from Middle East were assaulted. From here the equation that Muslims equals to Arabs was created. Therefore, many Muslim women were assaulted by strangers tearing their headscarf away in public spaces who were not Arab, rather had South East Asian background. There is also an account where Sikh men were assaulted mistaken for being Muslim as they wore turbans. In 1991, there was evidence presented from HREOC (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) which showed that Arab-Australians was one of the most vilified groups in Australia.
In 2001 World Trade Center was attacked, this event further spiced up the situation for Muslims in Australia. Around that time Lebanese-background immigrant had sexually assaulted 70 girls who belonged to white background. Since it was a Middle Eastern country the link was directly made with the Muslims and all the blame was brought on Muslims. One of the party leaders, Pauline Hanson, said that “A lot of these people are Muslims, and they have no respect for the Christian way of life that this country’s based on”. This action taken by the Lebanese, had triggered locals to assault Muslim and Arabs sexually eventually. There were anonymous calls made to western Sydney Islamic school which had threatened to abduct and rape pupils. In 2001, there was a big flow of asylum seekers in Australia, they too faced a lot of opposition from the government which refrained from helping them. One such event was when Afghan refugees were refused to enter in Australia. Over the decade there has been multiple time where Islamic communities have been built and have tried to attack the safety of the country; one such event was when a man known as “Ahmed Y” created a small group which advocated the idea of making the Australia an Islamic State. From 2011 onwards, due to the uprising of ISIS, they have been targeted locals for recruitments which has feared the Australian government. So they have now stopped several Jihadist from leaving the country. In 2014, there was a protest against the Australian food committees to stop certifying their products as halal; they claimed that the fees charged for certification is used in funding terrorist groups.
Overall, there’s a common view that Islamophobia started after the September 11 attacks but as a matter of fact, it has existed in the Australian society for a long time. However, it has become more prominent since the Gulf War. During the 20th century, Muslims being immigrated into the country shows Australia’s increasing acceptance of the Muslim community. Nevertheless, the event after the Gulf War such as Muslims being violated on streets, stopping them from entering their country, and protesting against them proves that it did boost its aggression towards it. Perhaps if the community would be given a better education about the diversity of Muslim community it would stop all the discrimination against them. The academic system should advocate the locals that Islamic community comes from all over the world not just Middle East.
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