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Speech: Islamophobia

Muslim women have a right to be safe in our communities. We have a right to socialise and to be in public wherever and whenever we want. We have the right to wear whatever we bloody well want to. We have the same rights as any other person, but too often we are denied those rights because of the risk of violence, harassment and intimidation.

Rana Elasmar, who was almost 40 weeks pregnant, was relaxing with friends at a Parramatta cafe recently. A man walked up the stairs to their table, lent over them and began to spout racist vitriol. What happened next is gut-wrenching. The man savagely punched Rana in the face and head repeatedly. The heavily pregnant Rana fell to the ground and the man stomped on her head. Bystanders rushed to pull the man away. I can't even think of what could have happened had bystanders not intervened.

Rana Elasmar was the target of racist violence like so many other Muslim women have been. She put up a post on Facebook which said that this man verbalised his hatred of Muslims prior to hitting her:

How somebody feels like they have the right to hatred and he neither knows me, nor my religion.

…   …   …

We cannot allow behaviour like this to become the norm and sit silent.

Thank you for your courage, Rana.

We cannot pretend that these attacks are isolated. Charles Sturt University's 2019 report, Islamophobia in Australia— II (2016-2017), makes for terrifying reading, with harassment in shopping centres and streets, kids bullied at school and women not just being threatened by racists but being tripped along the footpath and run over with cars. Targets included children under the age of 18, women with children, pregnant women and elderly individuals.

Since the last report, severe attacks requiring hospitalisation more than doubled from two per cent to five per cent. Seventy-two per cent of the victims of islamophobia were women and almost all were wearing a hijab or a scarf at the time of the incident. Attacks in public areas have become more common, with harassment of Muslims in public areas in the presence of security officers and CCTV jumping by 30 per cent.

So how did we get here? This doesn't just happen out of the blue. It happens because there are people who constantly seek to demonise and attack us. What really sickens me is that the violence and abuse that Muslims suffer, and, in particular, Muslim women, is a business model. Merchants of hate in parliament inflame divisions between Australians, between the ones they think belong here and the ones that they think don't.

Just recently, an All Together Now report analysed 281 race-related pieces of social commentary. More than half were functionally racist. The subjects of these negatively portrayed media pieces were commonly Muslim Australians, Sudanese Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Ninety-one per cent of the negative race related pieces were published in just three newspapers: the Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Australian. I guess it's good that the study didn't include Sky News, because that would have blown their racism statistics through the roof.

None of this happens by chance. Manufactured outrage and hate are in the business model of many politicians and media outlets, and they have to be held accountable for the consequences of normalising racism. It is real people like Rana who bear the brunt. It's why the Scanlon Survey recently found that 40 per cent of Australians in 2019 hold negative or very negative feelings towards Muslims. To some, racist reporting and fearmongering in the parliament makes it acceptable to abuse people.

It also fuels the far Right. Research from Victoria University found that far Right extremist groups in Victoria use these racialised narratives as recruitment tools by building false credibility for their so-called cause. The far Right also relies on social media to spread the lies. I have highlighted many times the kinds of racist and misogynistic abuse and threats that come my way, but platforms are still not taking responsibility to protect users from abuse seriously.

Everyone in this place should denounce what happened to Rana Elasmar. But my question to parliament is this: will it commit to addressing the underlying atmosphere of hate that Muslims face in our country?


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