International media has noticed the impact on vulnerable people as a result of the Islamophobic rage sweeping our country. Alan Austin reports.
Until recently, surfer-eating sharks, kangaroos disrupting air traffic and Naomi Watts have been the main topics of bulletins about Australia.
But in recent months Australia has been in the news for its highly visible sexism, racism and climate denial.
The world has reading in recent days damaging reports of a Muslim woman assaulted on a Melbourne train a week ago. Unfortunately for the Abbott regime this is being linked to government actions.
New York-based International Business Times headed its item:
‘Alleged Muslim Woman Attacked on Train Raises Questions of Anti-Muslim Views in Australia’
The story quotes Scanlon Foundation survey findings that “19 percent of Australians struggle with some form of racial or religious discrimination”. It claims “racism is at its highest level since Scanlon Foundation began the survey in 2007”.
That report was picked up in Venezuela and by an international Muslim news network based in California.
Mindful that more people read headlines than stories, the UK’s Daily Mail led with:
“Woman’s head is battered against train carriage by female attacker who shouted racist abuse.”
Events were then reported in the context of Victoria’s anti-racism police campaign:
“The racial abuse has come to light only a few days after Victorian Chief Commissioner Ken Lay encouraged the Muslim community to report any racism they experience following the death of teenager Numan Haider who stabbed two police officers last week.”
Reports in some countries suggest the attack reflects a recent change in atmosphere.
Iranian news service IRIB claimed,
“A Muslim woman has been assaulted and racially abused before being thrown from a moving Melbourne train, as anti-Muslim sentiment hit new highs in once-tolerant Australia.”
IRIB then added some historical context:
“Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population. In post 9/11-era, Australian Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.”
The story – frequently embellished with the unfactual “moving” train – lost nothing in the telling by French news outlet Oumma Media which described the Melbourne woman as a victim of “an Islamophobic rage that is reaching a crescendo” – d’une fureur islamophobe qui est allée crescendo – in Australia.
Turkey’s influential World Bulletin directly linked the attack to Government policy:
“Prominent Australian Muslims say their community is being unfairly targeted by law enforcement and threatened by right-wing groups, as the government’s tough new policies aimed at combating ‘radicals’ threaten to create a backlash.”
“Abbott insists the measures are not meant to target Muslims, but Sydney-based criminal defence attorney Adam Houda says it is already clear that they have resulted in racial profiling.”
Egypt-based Onislam.net linked the attack to recent police raids on “terror” suspects:
“The anti-Muslim sentiments further increased following last week’s anti-terror raids, deemed the biggest in Australian history, in which 15 people were arrested from north-western Sydney.
“The raids were followed by a huge number of anti-Muslim attacks, including a mosque being defaced in Queensland and direct threats issued against the Grand Mufti of Australia.”
All this follows widespread international reportage of a racist rant against Asian commuters on a train near Sydney in July. That coverage was fuelled by this disturbing YouTube video.
The cumulative effect of these news events and other conspicuous recent actions of the Abbott Government has been to shift the perception of Australia from a progressive, confident, independent nation keen to shed its colonial baggage – including white, Anglo, male supremacy – to a more insular, fearful place in need of a powerful ally.
The prestigious New York Times last Wednesday ran an extended piece about Abbott’s puzzling enthusiasm for engagement in the Middle East:
“Though he has been in office only a year and has had meager experience in foreign affairs, Mr. Abbott moved quickly to send a squadron of fighter jets and 600 military personnel to the Middle East to be ready to join the fight against the militants in Iraq and Syria, even before President Obama formally rallied American allies.”
The Times questions the benefits of this for Australia, and quotes former defense official professor Hugh White, now at the ANU:
“Abbott thinks of brave little Australia standing up with the United States for what is right. The only things that keep the world swinging on its axis, in his mind, are the men and women — mostly men — who speak English as a first language and who are willing to go out there and do the hard yards.”
From media reports abroad, this shift is not perceived positively. Especially as it appears to impact vulnerable Muslim women in Australia.
Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist now living near Nîmes in the South of France. His special interests are the news media, religious affairs and economic and social issues which impact the disadvantaged.
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