Testing the thesis . . . Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause (continued)
Signs were all contradictory.
Someone wrote: “Leave now before we behead your mother and bury you all with pigs.” “Your [sic] next whore” posted another, with an image of a decapitated pig attached. These were two of the messages recently tweeted at human rights activist Mariam Veiszadeh, lawyer and Muslim Community advocate, a 30-year-old Australian of Afghani heritage who has endured a barrage of abuse since being singled out by racist group The Australian Defence League earlier in 2015.
“We’re coming to deport you tonight pig fucker.” another tweet said. “Leave our country now or we bury you with the pigs.”
This is the treatment one can expect to endure in Australia if one has the audacity to be a Muslim woman with an online presence who speaks out against racism.
Ms. Veiszadeh is a well-known community advocate, a lawyer by training who serves as an ambassador to refugee group ‘Welcome to Australia’ and runs the ‘Islamophobia Register Australia’, which records assaults and abuse of Muslims. In 2014 Ms. Veiszadeh started the viral ‘Women in Solidarity With Hijabis’ – WISH campaign, which aimed to draw attention to the physical and verbal harassment many Australian Muslim women suffer. In her efforts to expose and fight racism, she had made herself a kind of bigot’s focal point. As her prominence had grown, and her social media campaigns had taken off, the targeting of Ms. Veiszadeh had intensified. In a recent incident which has resulted in legal proceedings, a young woman allegedly accessed Ms. Veiszadeh’s personal Facebook page and left a series of racist comments.
Ms. Veiszadeh’s crime had been publicly objecting to a Queensland Woolworths store selling singlets decorated with the Australian flag and the slogan “If you don’t love it, leave”.
Any Australian could immediately identify the racial undertones of that catchcry, but Ms. Veiszadeh was nonetheless hammered for expressing her outrage.
The attacks on her proved that those who claim to object to the extreme iterations of Islam – including the treatment of women – in fact find nothing more infuriating than a successful, well educated Muslim woman, who immediately began contributing after being accepted as a refugee. Ms. Veiszadeh’s family fled Kabul in 1988, eventually settling in Australia in 1991.
While the tone of the threats against her had been harrowing, Veiszadeh has also found significant support, with Australians of varying background expressing their disgust at her treatment.
That support increased on 23 February 2015, as Ms. Veiszadeh encouraged her twitter follower to report three accounts sending her threats. And they did – many of them, but not before #IStandWithMariam got trending, drawing a response from at least two Federal MPs.
On the same day that the Liberal member for Reid tweeted his support for a Muslim anti-bigot, Prime Minister Abbott alarmed Muslim groups by singling their communities out, sacrificing their public safety and standing in the eyes of other Australians.
The government’s attitude against Muslims sought to build legitimacy on the assumption that they are a hostile outsider group in Australia, prone to ignoring domestic law and custom, and the civil rights of fellow citizens.
But the end goal of venomous insinuations has been to allow the passage of legislation which eats away at privacy, civil rights, and due legal process. Even if one is not a good little bigot living in the nation’s whitest suburb, the government could still soon be sifting through years of one’s phone and internet data – no warrant needed.
Ms. Veiszadeh is trying to scream over the dog-whistling, but as a lawyer she is also a symbol of the kinds of processes, procedures, and checks on executive power against which the Abbott Government consistently battled.
It was Ms. Veiszadeh who acted within and respected Australian law, not the supposed patriots who went after her, or the government which subtly – and sometimes not so subtly – gives a nod to their racism. (M. Chalmers, ‘Australia, Where standing up to racism ensures you’ll endure an eternity of racism’).
By early 2015 it seemed official: the Australian Government was at war with Muslims and Islam. Many, too many actually, Australian politicians and the racist media are fanning the flame of prejudice and racially-motivated violence against Muslims. Anti-Muslims bigotry has become the most important issue in Australian politics – often in common parlance. The purpose is to demonise Muslims and connect Muslim Australians to U.S.-led war in the Middle East and justify Australia’s direct complicity in U.S.-led aggression in Syria and Iraq.
As David Marr wrote: “Mapping the Australia of old race fears is one of the tasks of the Scanlon Foundation’s impeccable annual surveys of social cohesion. The 2013 survey found 25 per cent of us have “negative sentiments” about migrants from the Middle East. That’s the national figure. In suburban Brisbane add another 10 per cent. On the Atherton Tableland dislike edges up to 42 per cent.
Polling in a handful of centres in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia shows 28 to 45 per cent of those living in these rural and suburban communities troubled by Muslims.
Pollsters don’t call the issue race. They call it cultural diversity. Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University who conducts the surveys for the Scanlon Foundation says of Australia: “There is a core of 10 per cent and a wider group around 25 to 30 per cent with strong negative views towards cultural diversity.” And those numbers seem to be growing”. (‘David Marr on race, votes and free speech‘).
First one should look at how Australia treats Muslim Australians.
Already in 2014 the Social Cohesion report, published by Monash University and the Scanlon Foundation, found that Australians were five times more likely to hold negative attitudes towards Muslims than any other religious group. The Abbott Government and the media were bearing full responsibility for the rise in Islamophobic and racially motivated attacks against Muslim Australians. (‘Mapping social cohesion 2014 – Scanlon Foundation’).
Just as the bloodletting in Iraq and then in Syria began, the Abbott Government had begun a vicious campaign against Muslim Australians and Islam.
Repeating his mentor, John Howard, Abbott said not long ago: “If someone [Muslim woman] walked into a bank with a full covering of their body, I’d be fretting about it. There are legitimate security issues that people have when someone walks into a public place where you cannot identify them.” Prime Minister Abbott was attacking the few dozens of Muslim women who wear hijab or niqab. It is “confronting” to see people like these, said Abbott. The Abbott Government was displaying the same fear-mongering attitude, scapegoating refugees and Muslim Australians to win votes. (G. Hassan, ‘Australia’s declared war on Muslims’).
Muslim Australians are discriminated for being Muslims. The niqab or hijab is a pretext for persecution and used to encourage attacks on Muslim women. In the whole of Australia there are perhaps only a few dozen women wear the niqab or the hijab, and they are mainly from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.
The impact of this vicious campaign is to feed a tide of Islamophobic and racially-motivated violent attacks on Muslim Australians. A December 2014 ‘Victorians’ attitudes to race and cultural diversity’, on data from the 2013 survey, found that about 40 per cent of Australians feel “cold” towards Muslim Australians, Australians of Middle Eastern, African backgrounds and refugees. (‘Victorians’ attitudes to race and cultural diversity: findings from the 2013 survey’). It is most likely those Australians who feel “cold” have never met a Muslim Australian, an African Australian or a refugee. Their knowledge of Muslims, Africans and refuges is acquired from a daily diet of xenophobia supplied by ignorant politicians and their racist media. The Muslim Legal Network collected a large number of anti-Islamic assaults and acts of violence, including threats made against the Grand Mufti of Australia. “In one case, a western Sydney mother and her baby were spat on and her pram kicked. In another, a man in Perth tried to rip the scarf off a woman’s head. Several mosques around the country have been threatened, egged, vandalised and a pig’s head impaled on a cross”, said Ms. Veiszadeh. In addition, the vicious campaign is designed to foster fear and prejudice in the non-Muslim Australian population.
Tomorrow: Testing the thesis . . . Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause (continued)
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.