A week or so ago I attended an anti-Islamophobia meeting at the Multicultural Hub in Elizabeth St Melbourne. There was a panel of 3 speakers, two from the Islamic community and the third a Greens senator. I just went to observe, to see what this particular group was doing, and because I am in favour of anything that brings people together rather than separates them.

My observations:
• Muslims are more afraid now in Australian society of backlash from other Australians than they were after 9/11.
• Muslims, especially women, are the targets of abuse based solely on their distinctly Islamic dress, be that the hijab, nijab or burqa.
• The media reports that white Australians in uniform, e.g. ADF cadets, ADF personnel, police, could be targets of attacks, and advise them not to wear their uniforms when off-duty or not at ADF school/training functions. Muslims, especially women, have no such option as their recognisable dress is what they wear all the time.
• Abuse ranges from being spat at, verbal abuse, being hemmed into a lane by another car before being abused, and physical attacks.
• Australians are under threat from other Australians. The 2 Muslim leaders who spoke were born and raised in Australia.
• There is a need for both political and practical response to Islamophobia, and the needs of refugees.
• The fears of white Australians are being privileged in both the media and politics over the fears of Muslim Australians.

It was so interesting to hear the perspectives of people who belonged to a faith group other than my own. The whole issue of the Islamicisation of western societies is one fraught with fear and division. I understand fear of terrorist organisations such as ISIL/ISIS; they are terrifying in their extremist views and behaviours. And it is appalling that young Australian-born Muslims are being brainwashed and manipulated into leaving Australia, and taking up the ISIL cause.

During WWII Australia locked up people of Japanese heritage just because of that heritage, regardless of whether they’d lived in Australia for years and years and actually posed no threat to Australia’s security. What I’m concerned about is that the genuine fear that ISIL generates in Australians is being expressed in unjust ways towards other Australians purely because of their heritage; this time their faith heritage. Just as those locked up at Cowra did not really pose a threat to Australia or its way of life, I believe that the vast majority of Muslims do not pose an actual threat to Australia’s way of life either.

This is an interesting (you have to love that word—it covers so much!) time in Australia’s history. I would hate for Australia to repeat our recent history by scapegoating a particular group because of our fears.

We do have an opportunity to do it better. I wonder if we will?