Monday, September 17, 2012

Sydney "riot" - filling vacuum we left

Most Australians, even anti-racist anti-war protesters, have no idea how much many Muslim communities have faced police-state terror tactics for speaking up - or just for being who they are.   

Waleed Aly hinted at it in his all-too-circumspect piece in the Age today.
"This is the behaviour of a drunkenly humiliated people: swinging wildly with the hope of landing a blow, any blow... it feels powerful. This is why people yell pointlessly or punch walls when frustrated. Outrage and aggression is an intoxicating prospect for the powerless. Accordingly, it is not an option to leave an insult unanswered because that is a sign of weakness.The irony is that it grants power to those offending. It puts them at the centre of your world. "
While we may chuckle at the incongruous metaphor about drunk Moslem fundamentalists, there's lots of reasons for Moslems to be angry at humiliation. Many of them are fairly well known, even if the apologists for war deny their relevance. Others are more sinister and almost unknown to most of the public.


A long list of injuries to add insult to


Nations within the Muslim world have suffered multiple wars of conquest by the west since the establishment of Israel in 1948, but most spectactularly with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Following that, Israel's Warsaw Ghetto-like seige of Gaza, their attack on Lebanon, the NATO bombing of Libya, and the threats against Iran and Syria could be added to this list. Drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, too.

Just the other day 8 women were killed by a NATO bombing in Afghanistan, and 8 more wounded... simply while out gathering firewood.

Many Muslims don't watch the superficial and brief treatment that western media give these: they get satellite or internet coverage of the full range of atrocities, seeing kids ripped apart by western-launched weaponry in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and so on.

Since 2001, Muslims in western countries have been subject to racial (religious?)  profiling that sees them harassed and discriminated against in all manners from housing to transport. Even Sikhs have been caught up in it just because they look "like that".

Laws that harass muslim customs have been introduced: Switzerland's mad burghers banned minarets (!) while France more famously banned the niqab/hijab in public.

In Australia, we've seen the explosion of racism. Indian students, for example, publicly protested the rising tide of racist bashings they were facing. I heard suggestions from some of them that they were merely the most vocal, while other immigrant students faced similar attacks.

Refugees are far more vulnerable than foreign students, and many are Muslims from Iran, Afghanistan and so forth. They face the worst treatment of all - locked up indefinitely, or deported back to torture and death.

State of secret terror


Fundamentalist Muslims have been targeted in counter-terrorism raids and locked up under our draconian anti-terror laws. My friend's brother, Jack Thomas ("Jihad Jack" to the tabloid press) was locked up in isolation for months on end, despite suffering PTSD, unable to see his kids frequently, in a cell for 23 hours a day. Finally he was released because there really wasn't anything to pin on him, but not before much unnecessary suffering.  

The most insidious harassment of the Muslim community hasn't even broken into the media. Here's a tip for any investigative journalist reading this. Find out how many Muslims have been dragged away in the night by security forces for "questioning" (or intimidation), spreading the fear that anyone could end up in the maximum security Acacia Unit at Barwon Prison.

Having worked behind the scenes to support protests against wars from Afghanistan to Gaza, I've heard enough off-the-record tales of pre-dawn raids dragging people away that I'm sure that there's more intimidation than even many anti-war activists know. It may not happen every week, but at strategic times, the fear and terror are ratcheted up.

Security forces can lean on this to discourage "moderate" Muslims from taking any action. I'm aware of at least two occasions where police were reported to me to have visited Imams and community leaders, pressuring them to call off planned protests against racism. The threat in this case is implied, but in the context of harassment and vilification, not trivial.

Muslims aren't the only ones the security forces target. Quit Coal activist Paul Connor was visited at his home by state security agents, as were other members of the environment group. The threat in an unannounced home visit was only implicit, though: "To be fair to the officers in question, we had a reasonably pleasant conversation," Paul said. The visit was in the afternoon, not the early hours of the morning.

Even if the secret police are polite, you should not answer their questions. Many well-meaning liberal activists think they might as well have a chat, but I'd advise against it - as this video from the US explains very clearly (most of the points are relevant in Australia law, even though we don't have the 5th Amendment).


"The sigh of the oppressed"


"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people" - Karl Marx.

Karl Marx's famous "opiate" quote was referring to opium in the sense that it's the painkiller drug-of-choice for people suffering an alienating world.

Quoting Marx may not win me friends with the Muslims who were protesting against the ridiculous anti-Islam film on the weekend. But to understand why people get so angry about something that seems so trivial it's useful to consider the role that religion plays apart from its stated aims and beliefs.

The world is not all about reality TV and Grand Final gossip. There's people being hurt, and while Big Brother and football fans largely aren't responsible for the hurts, standing by oblivious to the pain of our neighbours inevitably breeds resentment and despair - like that embodied in the grotesque demand for beheading those who insult the Prophet.

When are we going to stop letting our young armed forces kill (and sometimes be killed) in our name in Afghanistan? When will we stop abusing, scapegoating, imprisoning and deporting to death the desperate refugees who come here on leaky boats?

Nature abhors a vacuum

The scenes of kids with placards calling for beheading are bad PR for anti-racists, for Muslims in general, for those of us against the stupid wars Australia is backing. It's a shame their protest was focused on an obscure and silly film. But it's added insult to injury in many Muslim minds.

What we should be seeing is ongoing, mass protests against the mass murder that is the Afghan war. Labor and Liberal should both be plummeting in the polls for their brutal (and delusional) deterrence-based offshore processing "solution" to refugees in boats.

In the absence of an adequate response to the substantial injustices, no wonder that we see this incoherent and ill-advised protest by fundamentalists.

If mainstream Australia was standing up against war and racism. and standing by our Muslim brothers and sisters when they are intimidated and silenced and stereotyped - there might be a debate on very different issues.

We could be talking about a happier world without kids getting blown up by drones, drowning in the Timor Sea, languishing in Nauru, or even waving silly signs about beheading.

Let's get off our arses and help make it happen.

1 comment:

  1. There are actually many other riots and racial wars apart from the Sydney riot described above. Muslims all over the world are being marginalized and prejudice greets them wherever they may go. It is actually a very common sight and most Muslims are generally ready to face the consequences should they wish to visit some of the countries stated above either for business trips or personal travels. I don't think there is even anything much we can help them with to alleviate the situation.

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