So as the final week of this campaign comes to a close, I’d like to say that my journey through this campaign has taught me a lot. Though initially I was interested, it was only after talking to people and following the social streams for these conversations about Islamophobia that I realised how important and prevalent this issue is. I cannot stress enough how deeply entrenched Islamophobia has become around the world. With continuing burqa bans (most recently, Austria) and media misrepresentation, trudging through comment sections has become exhausting. The hate comes disguised in many other issues such as national security, feminism and even the housing crisis.
Whether you choose to believe in God or not, whether that is the one God or many, your religious freedoms should remain your own. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the idea of freedom as practiced in the West is to allow everyone to make their own choices even if you completely disagree with them. I’m not saying to stand by and watch oppression or actual terrorism but just because somebody decides to follow a certain religion or dress a certain way does in no way mean that anyone has the right to take that away from them. Restricting individual freedoms by telling Muslim women what they can and can’t wear is exactly the opposite of what we stand for.
However, there is good out there. Throughout the course of this campaign, many stories and individuals have touched me and helped me understand that there are so many people unable to see another human being being treated differently simply because of their belief system. Though Islamophobic incidents have been so common, under-reported and lacked intervention, I think there’s a real chance for us to change these statistics. So many organisations are already supporting the cause. Here’s some you should definitely check out.
There’s always something you can do and reporting an Islamophobic incident as a witness is only one extremity you may have to do. However, it’s important to recognise your role as an individual and realise that there are so many daily instances where you see or unconsciously find Islamophobia. The first step is recognising you have the responsibility to combat it. It is definitely worth checking out our previous blog posts here, here and definitely here!!
This week I have another personal story to share. It’s a retelling of Aysha’s Islamophobic experience. She’s in her twenties and this incident occurred in south-west Sydney. Although born here, her roots are in Lebanon and she wears the scarf as testament to the strength of her faith.
One day while standing in the queue for her local ATM she was approached by a lady who immediately started yelling at her. Her abusive language included asking whether Aysha wanted her head chopped off and whether she even knew what her people were doing in the Middle East. Aysha didn’t respond, instead choosing to ignore the attacker and hide her emotions. Although this was in the middle of a busy street, no other person attempted to engage with the perpetrator but one woman in the queue engaged Aysha in mundane conversation in the clear hopes of distracting her from what was happening. After some time the perpetrator left, still continuing the abuse while walking away. Aysha decided to report the incident to the police asking them to ensure it was categorised as an Islamophobic incident. However, this was not followed up despite their assurances while she was reporting. Aysha realised how intimidating and dangerous her local area had become to her, somewhere she had lived all her life.
“Up until that time, I could confidently walk around my neighbourhood, it was home and I felt it was simply not OK to make me feel so unsafe in the place that I grew up in.”
Again, Aysha’s story is one of hundreds. Islamophobic incidents can strike anywhere at anytime and luckily for this one Aysha had someone willing to intervene even if it was in a small way. In any Islamophobic incident, reporting it to the police and asking them to categorise it as Islamophobic, you should always take additional measures. Reporting an incident to the Islamophobia Register is very important! In addition to providing tailored resources to deal with the problem, the Islamophobia Register will use the data as research to push for reform and make sure it never happens again.
Before we move on to a new week, I wanted to share another of the personal stories that has stayed with me and really guided me in exploring the issue of Islamophobia. This is the story of someone I’ve grown up with since birth and who is still my closest friend to this day. When she told me her story, at first I felt outrage then I felt sadness and finally, a calm acceptance. Then I asked myself, why do I feel acceptance? This isn’t NORMAL. It isn’t FINE and it definitely isn’t trivial. Zayneb wears a hijab as a symbol of her Muslim faith and here’s her story.
“I was taking the bus to uni last Monday, same as I always do. Headphones in and Opal card ready. I took my seat near the back doors of the bus so I could get out quickly when the UWS stop came. I usually just look out of the window while I wait for the bus to start but that day I just glanced around at the other passengers for a minute when I made eye contact with one lady. She was in her 40s I would say and she was Caucasian with brown hair. I really don’t know what I did to set her off, our eyes only met accidentally for a second but she got up and started making her way towards me. At first I just looked away, thinking she was just moving seats or something but from the corner of my eye I saw that she was standing next to my seat and waiting for me to look at her. When I turned to her she started speaking and her face was going all red. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to know what she was saying so I was a bit hesitant to take my earphones out. After about a minute I actually did take my earphones out to be blasted with,
“- and you really should go back to where you came from! You can’t wear that thing around here! This is Australia!”
I’d never really experienced such a direct confrontation before then so I was sort of shell-shocked, I guess? I mean of course you hear stories about people who’ve been in this sort of situation but when it’s actually happening to you, you just don’t know whether to ignore the person or give in to your feelings and tear up. I looked around the rest of the bus and there were 3 or 4 other people there plus the driver but everyone was just ignoring it or trying to look busy. I think that was when I felt the worst. After she’d run out of steam she went and sat back down in her seat but the whole way she was just glaring at me while I tried not to make eye contact or show her that she’d hurt me. Everyone I told later was completely sympathetic but there was nothing they could do for me after the fact and it was pretty disappointing.”
Like I said in my last blog post, stories like this are very common and when it happens to someone close to you, you feel completely helpless that you couldn’t do anything for them in that situation. Even more so, you’re angry and saddened by the people who were there and could have done something but never did. Instead, they left a 21 year old girl to fend for herself simply for being who she is. That’s why I implore you, dear reader, that you realise how much of a difference one word can make. Had anyone even said ‘stop’, the situation could have been so different. Nobody likes a racist and it takes just one person to speak up before others will back them. Never be the bystander who doesn’t say anything. Take a look at this or this to know how you can make a difference in the lives of other helpless victims.
This week I want to start sharing the personal stories which inspired this campaign in the first place. Our very first story comes from fellow WordPress blogger Yusra Zainab. In her experience she writes:
“I was mocked by a girl for my faith. I was insulted on the face over a matter that any muslimah would find highly offending. I was told, …. I can’t say that. I just can’t. It was something like being humiliated for my reservedness towards the other sex. A mockery that hit the point of my hypocrisy in faith. Being told that I actually wasn’t what I potrayed to be and ‘she knew’.
Embarrassing, I know. But that happened. And the girl was visibly enjoying her work.
The situation was well tackled by my lovely friends while I sat quiet feeling within myself the effect of her words. It had damaged something. While a part of me wanted to shout back at her and put her in her place, the other sensible part, acted intelligently and kept unexpectedly calm. I shook hands with her as we left and made sure it was followed by a kind smile.”
Stories like this are all too common. A hijab is the main way to identify those of the Islamic faith and so, women are the main target of racist tirades. Though in Yusra’s situation her friends were there and willing to stand by her, in many cases, this does not happen. Furthermore, the effects of such an incident are felt throughout the rest of your life. Knowing that there’s an issue with yourself and that your difference is not embraced but rather shunned is a cause of sadness to the extreme.
it is also worth pointing out that in many cases, perpetrators are not directly Islamophobic but indirectly. It is important to notice the signs and intervene. For example, if someone tells an Islamophobic joke, it is often worth asking why it is so funny. Many people will be embarrassed and hopefully not attempt the joke again. It isn’t about ‘lightening up’, it’s about changing thought processes one question at a time. If you have a story to share, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Remember, one word can make all the difference.
In our last blog post, I told you how to prevent Islamophobia from happening in the first place. However, a large number of Islamophobic incidents are always occurring and people are unaware of who to contact or what to do when they are confronted. Here’s what to do when you find yourself in that situation.
1. Step in after you’ve analysed the situation
If you see a Muslim being harassed, you need to look at the situation and ask yourself, ‘what is the best way to approach this situation?’ For the majority of perpetrators, they do not like fighting back and if the victim has another supporter, they are far less likely to continue the attack. The following guide created by Maeril is a perfect example for what you can do, directly or indirectly.
2. Report the incident to the correct authorities
The police, of course, are the number one place to report an Islamophobic incident. However, there are many other organisations that specialise in the recording and analysing of Islamophobic incidents in particular.
The Islamophobia Register Australia was actually created by Muslims for Muslim incidents in response to the growing anecdotal evidence suggesting a rise in incidents of Islamophobia. It’s been a real innovation for Australia, providing more data than anyone before. If you need to report anything there, the link to report is very easy to access and simple to fill out. Don’t hesitate. If you’re feeling particularly repulsed by what you saw, I would encourage you to share your experience so that you raise awareness of this social issue and people around you can learn from it.
3. Learn from what you witnessed
This is the most important lesson. Islamophobia is a very real issue and no matter how many layers it’s wrapped in by politicians, there are very real people who suffer the consequences of hate speech every day. By denouncing Islamophobes and associating with the right people, there’s a lot you can do to help. Every individual can make a difference with just one word. Do not doubt the power you have. Find out more about what you can do here.
When confronted by the prejudice and discrimination faced both online and offline by Muslims, it often seems like an insurmountable barrier. Whether you are a Muslim or not, there is actually a lot you can do to overcome biases and every day Islamophobia. It is also important to realise that every person has a responsibility to challenge hatred they see and once you’ve looked within (see previous blog post) you must look outwards and know you’ve made a significant difference just by being a caring person. Here’s a few tips to get you started.
Whenever you see Islamophobic sentiment being echoed, speak up! Whether it’s a conversation on the train or a misrepresentation on TV, know that you have power as an individual to let your voice be heard. You’d be surprised by how many people will agree with you. Not only that but you’re telling people they are being discriminatory or prejudiced when they might not even realise they’re doing it. If they do realise it and you put a stop to it, maybe they’ll think twice about what they say the next time around.
2. Talk about it!
Get your friends and family together or anyone you know who fears Muslims or Islam in general and have a chat! Don’t be afraid to approach them, a frank discussion helps a lot! Take this further by talking to your Muslim friends or making new ones! It’s always better to get your uncertainties out in the open. Don’t be derogatory or intimidating, remember that not all Muslims are visibly Muslim.
3. Post about it!
Social media is such an important tool for creating social change these days. Even if you get disagreements, seeing your post forces people to think about the issue and helps shape your online interests and personality.
Hopefully you can put these tips into practice and understand that there’s a lot you can do! Stereotyping and discrimination only occurs because it is allowed to happen. You may not think that you can change entire attitudes but you’ll be another voice to the community against Islamophobia and together, you’ll be loud. One word can make all the difference. Extinguish the hate!
Having discussed the issue of Islamophobia existing, I believe we are ready to discuss the effects of the issue for Muslims alongside what our role in the issue may be. There is always a way to make a difference, even as an individual! Islamophobia is a society-wide problem, not just for Muslims. A lot of the time, many attacks are targeted towards other minorities, simply because of the fact that perpetrators believe them to be Muslim. Knowing that issues like this still have weight among us is a sobering fact and we should be doing all in our power to counteract the idea of restricting the freedom to practice religion.
So what’s the first step to countering the problem?
Admit that it exists and that you have a responsibility to engage with any incidents you witness.
‘Islamophobia’ is a term on par with ‘feminist’ in that the connotations around it have become warped and it has become a political statement rather than an issue. However, it is the only term which exists and though you may be hesitant to align yourself with it, you must because it exists and it continues to cause a lot of grief to Muslims.
I have discussed in previous blog posts how the media, particularly mainstream broadcast media, perpetuates myths of Islam being a religion of violence and its followers terrorists. Often, that which is different is to be feared. We cannot let this motivate us and though many of us believe ourselves to be worldly, unless we talk to Muslims or other cultural groups, most of our exposure is limited to mass media outlets. You cannot recognise implicit bias unless you know what it is. You may not even realise it but in many debates, you may only know one side and unless you actively go looking, you will never be exposed to another viewpoint. A lot of negativity is ingrained within you and you must be able to identify when this is holding you back.
One way to do this is to go talk to a Muslim person! Find out your differences and know that it’s okay for them to think differently to you! You may not follow the same religion but you do have the same ultimate goals and values in life. They are not there to threaten you. Another way is to go actively looking for arguments against that with which you have an issue. Do you believe the burqa should be banned for national security reasons? Here’s a reason why it shouldn’t.
Look to yourself. One word can make all the difference. No one can change your attitude if you do not try for yourself.
It’s sad that it has come down to this but this is a really important post!
I wanted to address the representation of Muslims in the media and how this is largely negative. Islamophobia and the negative connotations around the attitude are largely brought about by ignorance fueled by fear-mongering media outlets and public personalities.
Within the last decade, Muslims have been continuously framed in a negative light with Islam being portrayed as an extremely violent religion, a study by Saifuddin Ahmed and Jörg Matthes (2017) found. Often it is the journalists masking casual bigotry as a neutral line of questioning which takes the conversation exactly where they want it to be. They know the most controversial topics that will raise the most discussion and they jump on board this train to the detriment of Muslims everywhere.
A recent example is Pauline Hanson and her burqa ‘scare’ where she made Muslims once more be seen as limiting individual freedoms and threatening national security instead of realising that true freedom comes from allowing people to make their own choices and defending that right. With media cycles, discrimination is seen with what they choose not to say rather than what they do say. Opening conversation to the stunt by simply stating what had happened rather than condemning it creates this casual bigotry.
Arana writes in his 2015 article, “when producers dream up panel discussions about whether Islam is a violent religion, they aren’t merely ‘asking the question’: they’re perpetuating prejudice. Yes, a good percentage of Americans hold this view, but the role of us in the media is to dispel such myths — not legitimize them. Ultimately, presenting tolerance and bigotry as equally valid sides of a balanced debate only ends up fueling bigotry.”
A good example:
The following photoshopped image was the front cover of a major newspaper in Spain, La Razon, saying that Veerender Jubbal was involved in the Paris attacks. This man is not even Muslim but clearly Sikh due to his turban but he was affiliated with Islam, turned into a Muslim terrorist and then subjected to countless messages of hate and violence.
On the flip side of this issue comes the need for Muslims to condemn attacks. Why is this so important? Isn’t it abundantly clear that no decent person, regardless of their religion could support such acts of terror? All ideologies can be taken in any form. Communism can be seen in theory as a political ideology that promotes equality for all citizens yet it becomes much more nuanced when accounting for certain factors such as age. Islamophobia needs to end and one word from you, a casual reader, can make all the difference.