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Sep 17, 2012

Australian Muslims go from Back To the Future to Groundhog Day.

Just when you thought we could move on to other challenges (like, you know, the survival of the planet), it's Back to the Future on "the Muslim issue". Someone needs to tell th

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Just when you thought we could move on to other challenges (like, you know, the survival of the planet), it’s Back to the Future on “the Muslim issue”. Someone needs to tell the director that franchise is getting stale.

Raids under the anti-terrorism legislation in Melbourne last week, ugly scenes during a protest against an anti-Muslim film yesterday, us-and-them language from politicians, Muslim women conscripted to play therapist to a nation in the grip of moral panic – actually, it’s Back to the Future meets Groundhog Day.

Does anyone really need to say that getting young children to hold signs that call for beheading is A Bad Thing? Or that violent clashes between protesters and police are likewise A Bad Thing? Or that no community ought to be held collectively responsible for the actions of a small minority? – and etc etc etc. Doesn’t all of that go without saying?

Well, no, apparently it doesn’t, so the Prime Minister and the Premier and the NSW Police Commissioner have all issued motherhood-and-apple-pie statements, laced with alarmist nationalism. The protest was “not the Australian way” (Gillard), “the unacceptable face of multiculturalism” (O’Farrell), undertaken by “extremist criminals” (Scipione).

To call this a disproportionate and racialised response does not in any way trivialise the ugliness of the scenes on the streets of Sydney or excuse the violence committed. I was as repulsed by those scenes as anyone else – but why do I feel the need to say that? Again, shouldn’t it go without saying? I’ve done my share (and a bit extra) of “denouncing extremism” over the past decade-and-a-bit, but I’m starting to question the rationale. If it’s having any effect at all, it may be communicating the opposite message to that intended.

The Muslim women whose “call for calm” was profiled in The Age are all personal friends of mine, and I fully endorse and share their sentiments. And yet I wonder whether their (and my) efforts have crossed the line from futile and are into the realm of counter-productive. From the point of view of non-Muslims, by feeling the need to dissociate ourselves from “troublemakers”, we are (counter-intuitively) taking responsibility for their actions. And from the point of view of those Muslims whose experience of racism and vilification has left them feeling marginalised and alienated, our need to absolve ourselves of responsibility for crimes that we did not ourselves commit can only heighten their sense that Muslims are held to a different standard of behaviour to other Australians.

So let me say some other statements that should really go without saying. Gillard, more than most politicians, should know that as abhorrent as Saturday’s protest was, there was nothing unAustralian about its ugliness. As an (Australian-born Muslim) friend observed, actually, it’s very Australian. That doesn’t mean we should honour it as part of “our” grand national tradition, but nor should we regard its perpetrators as external to “our” history and society.

Given the damning television footage, I wouldn’t argue with Scipioine’s description of some of the protesters as “criminals”, although I note that this verdict preempts  the court process. But “extremist” here is code for “Muslim” – the (alleged) crimes committed were repulsive and unacceptable but they were not particularly “extreme” by the standard of actions to come before the legal system. Nor should we just dismiss allegations of police misjudgment and/or misconduct without appropriate investigation.

We’re caught in a no-win situation here. We’ve repeated that “the extremists” don’t represent us so many times that it’s threadbare script. We need to come up with some new lines, but I’m still groping for them. It’s exhausting.

Someone wake me up when Groundhog Day is over.



Shakira Hussein —

Shakira Hussein

Writer and academic in multiculturalism and Muslim studies

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34 thoughts on “Australian Muslims go from Back To the Future to Groundhog Day.

  1. jeebus

    Shakira, western countries have fought long and hard to claw their way out of the religious dark ages. There was a time not so long ago when fundamentalist Christianity was intertwined with the governments of the west, with both working in concert to crush freedom of thought and individual expression.

    Even in today’s world, fundamentalist Christianity tries to reassert itself frequently. Ireland’s government passed anti-blasphemy laws in 2010. The Vatican fights against birth control in overpopulated countries. America’s government banned stem cell research under Bush. The Catholics controlling our Liberal party still fume and bluster against gay marriage, even though the Netherlands legalised it back in 2001 to no detriment.

    This secular, liberal democracy that most Australians love and cherish was only made possible by the European renaissance, where enlightened thinkers rose up and fought back against Christianity, hammering its sharp edges into more benign form.

    Islam has not yet gone through a global renaissance, and the spiritual heart of Islam (Saudi Arabia) has made few moves to hammer down the sharp edges of fundamentalism. Until it does, we cannot say Islam has entered the modern era.

    Perhaps you see it as an unfair burden to carry, Shakira, but I personally believe that if you choose to associate yourself with Islam then it IS your responsibility to speak out LOUDLY when other Muslims commit violent actions in the name of your belief system, otherwise they are speaking for you.

    I would give the same advice to anyone who chooses to associate with any group in which some of its members commit violent acts in the name of that group.

    In the words of Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

  2. shepherdmarilyn


    Oh dear, and while Scippi the clown was ranting and Gillard and Abbott were spewing out their racist bile it was actually muslims who turned in and reported the ugly things to the police.

    And as usual all the ranting nut cases blame the victims.

    There were no protests anywhere else in Australia because we don’t have wall to wall racist pollies continually ranting at us.

  3. Anne Picot

    I witnessed three separate stages of the Muslim rally in Sydney on Saturday;
    1) the rally outside the MLC tower (which houses the US consulate) in Martin Place;
    2) the march past Pitt St Mall in Market Street about half an hour later; and the stand-off in Hyde Park between 2.50 and 3.30.
    I did not see any of the violence reported, I did see the offensive placards and I did see more police in the park than I have seen in Sydney CBD since APEC. I saw 2 lines of police on the steps of the MLC building holding off the crowd at Martin Place after they had closed the complex. I saw police hassling people watching the march down Market St to get off the footpaths although the marchers, including many women with small children, were in the street. In Hyde Park I saw a long line of police, some of whom were weilding long batons east of the rally crowd; I saw 120-150 maximum men praying on the pathway and another long formation of police, which was several lines deep, on the western side of the men praying. I did not see any police talking to or attempting to talk to the leaders or speakers who were addressing the crowd. There was a threatening and tense atmosphere which to my mind was generated by the police numbers – comfortably 2-1 more than the rally participants by this time – and by the lack of any communication apparent between the rally and the police. I was afraid the situation was going to end in a violent confrontation as the police attempted to force dispersal or grab rally participants as they tried to leave. I did not witness it as I left at 3.30. From what I witnessed the police response to the rally was excessive and confronting and not conducive to public order.

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