The Demonisation of Asylum Seekers

The Demonisation of Asylum Seekers

July 2014 Bilal Cleland Al Wasat

Not satisfied that isolation on Christmas Island will deter asylum seekers from fleeing towards Australia, the Australian Federal Government under Labor then Liberal rule, established what can only be described as places of secondary punishment on Nauru and Manus Island in PNG. Conditions in these concentration camps are appalling. Life is so unbearable that some women, including Muslim women who usually abhor abortion, have been asking for such, to avoid having their babies suffer and possibly die in those circumstances.

A recent poll claimed that Australians would support even harsher conditions for asylum seekers than what they presently experience. We must ask how this attitude could arise, given our past history of welcoming Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s. What has changed?

One major development has been increasing Islamophobia in some media and amongst right-wing evangelical Christian groups. Muslims are being portrayed as a danger to western civilization and Islam itself has been described as a ‘terrorist faith’. The conflation between Muslim immigration and asylum seeking Muslims has allowed any increased Muslim presence to be portrayed as “silent jihad” against Australia. That the Muslims fleeing towards this country are fleeing from regimes or militias which are extremist Muslim in character does not get a mention. Muslims fleeing from Afghanistan are frequently Shia fleeing death threats from Sunni extremists like the Taliban. Those fleeing Iraq are fleeing sectarian militias, killing either Shia or Sunni Muslims. Many are Arab Christians fleeing persecution by extremist Muslims.

While the increase in Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka has been grabbing the headlines of late, and their persecution is well known to all except our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Islamophobia is also present there. Sri Lankan Muslims are now being targeted and may well join the flight of asylum seekers from that country. The Abbott government is permitting a Buddhist extremist to come here on a speaking tour in the next few months. Trevor Grant in New Matilda recently reported: “Bodu Bala Sena’s general secretary, Galagoda Aththee Gnanasara, has been accused of inciting anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka last month that saw four people killed, scores injured and Muslim businesses ransacked and burned.
He has reportedly been refused entry to the US and France.
However, Australia apparently has no such qualms about a man condemned internationally for hate speeches against Muslims and other minority groups.”

The depth of Islamophobia here in Australia amongst some groups was revealed in the VCAT case between the Islamic Council and Catch the Fire Ministries back in 2004. A report in The Age stated:”Islam was an illegal religion because the Koran preached violence against Christians and Jews, a Christian group told a judge yesterday. The group’s barrister, David Perkins, said that Christianity was established under Australia’s constitution and had special protection, especially through the blasphemy law”. (Islam illegal under law, court told. By Barney Zwartz. Religion Editor The Age.February 20, 2004)

Demonisation of a group can have terrible consequences. The Bosnian genocide is still in many minds. 200,000 Bosnians, the vast majority Muslim, were slaughtered by Serbian militias in that war. Norman Cigar. “Genocide in Bosnia; The Policy of “Ethnic Cleansing.” (Texas A&M University Press 1995) wrote on Preparing the Way for Genocide:

“Vuk Draskovic, author of several controversial best-sellers, such as the evocatively titled novel, Noz (Knife), which was first published in 1982 and reprinted several times, was perhaps the most popular and influential individual in developing such stereotypes early. Set largely against the background of World War II, the Muslim characters in Noz appear mostly as treacherous cold-blooded murderers. What is more, Noz contains an explicit denial of the Muslims’ existence as a legitimate community…”

Muslims in Australia have to be constantly aware that Islam is being judged by their behavior. Actions which feed the Islamophobes, behavior which seems to fulfill the anti-Muslim stereotypes being promulgated, can have very serious consequences. We are having to cope with a few young people who want their five minutes of fame by posting idiotic and outlandish blogs or who call for support for extremist groups, knowing that the shock jocks and the yellow press will lap it up. Anything which can be used against the name of Islam will be used to its fullest extent. While we will probably never win the respect of those motivated by hate, we should try to make it hard for them to vilify the Muslim community and not raise barriers against Islam amongst the fair-minded majority. Most Australian are not Islamophobes, as recent events over the Bendigo Mosque have shown.

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