In the past few weeks we have been subjected to a media frenzy. The early morning police raids on homes in suburban Sydney and Brisbane on September 18, resulting in 15 people being detained without charge and two arrests, was orchestrated to create a climate of fear of looming “terrorist” attacks and set the scene for the federal government’s security crackdown.
The latest raft of “anti-terror” legislation will severely limit civil rights and comes in the context of Australian forces being committed to a new war in Iraq.
However the “terror” from which Australian residents are most at risk is the fallout from Treasurer Joe Hockey’s budget which attacks the poor, the sick, workers, aged and disabled, students, jobseekers, asylum seekers, and Indigenous people.
Recent polls and protest marches, such as the March in August, refugee rights rallies and trade union mass meetings, show that the community overwhelmingly disapproves the proposals contained in the federal budget. The Islamaphobia fanned by the media provides the government with a useful distraction from the budget.
In spite of disclaimers, media reportage, government and police statements are couched in terms which stereotype Muslims as “terrorists” and “criminals”. It seems that this racist fear mongering which served the John Howard government so well when committing Australian troops to the invasion of Iraq a decade ago is set for a re-run.
The fear is already being felt. On September 22 the Sydney Morning Herald reported: “Three men of Middle Eastern appearance were pointed out by a spectator at the Roosters-Cowboys game on Friday night because they were using their mobile phones in a way that did not match what was happening on the field. They were removed by police in the 60th minute and questioned for about half an hour.”
There are echoes of One Nation and Pauline Hanson in the call by notorious right-wing MP Cory Bernadi to ban the burqa. He told ABC News that his comments are in line with his previous concerns about the burqa, which he has described as "un-Australian" and “repressive".
Palmer United Party Senator for Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie has also called for the burqa to be banned and has said she will not allow women wearing the burqa into her office, claiming it is a security issue.
These public outcries by politicians give oxygen to public attacks on identifiable Muslim women, whose right to go about in public without fear is reduced.
The day after the police raids in Sydney and Brisbane, a mosque in Mareeba, in north Queensland, was vandalised. The mosque has been there since the mid 1950s without incident.
In contrast, recent applications for new mosques to be built on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast have met with local opposition. While ostensibly opposition is for “planning reasons “ racist motives are close to the surface. Anti-Muslim protesters at Maroochydore on September 21 were met by an equal number of people who supported the right of local Muslims to a mosque.
The extent of the denial of civil liberties unleashed by recent legislation and embolden by the climate of fear generated in the community is revealed by the shooting of an 18-year-old man by police at a suburban Melbourne police station on September 24. It seems that the young man was acting alone and had presented himself freely to the police.
In reporting the incident, the ABC said: “The Islamic Council of Victoria has called for an investigation into the incident which they said "on face value, should not have cost a young man his life and put two police officers in hospital".
"There needs to be a full and objective investigation into this incident to ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated," the council said in a statement.
The council said the incident highlighted the consequences of the Government's failure to address the root causes of disaffection.
"The tragedy highlights the real cost of a failure to deal with these serious issues and why we have made numerous calls on the Australian Government to deal with the root causes of alienation and disaffection of people such as this," the statement said.
"This is not about laying blame but about a genuine need to identify the root causes and deal with them so that no further tragedies such as this occur again."
The council said for now they were concentrating on supporting the family of the 18-year-old.
"There will be many questions that they will want answers to and in the fullness of time we expect the events of last night will become clearer.”