By AMNE ALRIFAI
The past 10 days have left me numb.
I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that since the terror raids began, we’ve been overloaded with talk of ISIS-sanctioned beheadings and threats of terrorism on our country.
As an Australian Muslim, I’m mortified about the possibility of young Muslim men abandoning their Islamic teachings of love and kindness and falling within the folds of yet another terrorist organisation, threatening the world.
I’m saddened because these boys are Muslim, and even more so because they’re Australian.
On the other hand, I’m watching the Islamic community in Australia pay a heavy price for something that we condemn with the backing of Islamic or ‘Sharia’ law. Islamic scholars from around the world have backed a letter putting forth the religious argument against ISIS, which you can see at lettertobaghdadi.com.
I know I can’t speak for all Muslims, but I have spent the last week and a half fighting what feels like a losing battle on every front.
Although I was born and raised in Liverpool, Sydney, I now live in Canberra. Since moving here two years ago, I have been so at peace. I haven’t had to deal with any racism or discrimination. In fact, sometimes I forget that I wear a hijab. But Liverpool will always be home, as inglorious a place as it can be.
Mainstream media has been great at reporting what the scary Muslims have been doing.
Acts of violence committed by someone claiming to be Muslim is so often reported as ‘terrorism’, a word that has lost all meaning. Even false claims, like those made by a sailor of the Australian Defence Force, have been reported as gospel. Very few reports are coming through about what Muslims, especially women who are easily identifiable as Muslim, are having to deal with. The fear ricocheting through the Islamic community is a whole other level of terrorism.
I understand that there has been some media coverage of these acts of violence against Muslims, but let me tell you – it isn’t even the start. Almost all of the Muslims I know have been harassed in some way, or know someone who was harassed. I really wish I could say that this is an exaggeration.
My social media feeds have been flooded with images of vandalised property, with all sorts of terrible, disgusting messages being left on the cars and homes and places of worship of Muslims. The Islamaphobia Register has started to log these incidents.
The local shopping mall where my parents live has become so scary for Muslim women that a group of Muslim men have offered to do their shopping for them or chaperone these women through the mall. Just let that sink in for a second. Muslim women have faced so much aggression in a Western Sydney mall, that they need chaperones. In Australia.
It is terrifying that these violent, angry bigots do not see that they are walking the same line that ISIS does. Yes, there have not been any beheadings in the streets, but why should I have to be concerned for my safety in the streets of Australia because of my religious beliefs?
Why should my family have to consistently call me to make sure that I haven’t been attacked on the way to work?
Why should I have to stop going on my early morning walks for fear that someone will attack me under the cover of dusk?
Why should I require a chaperone in my very own homeland?
Why should I worry about threats from groups like the Australian Defence League, that just a week before the anti-terror raids threatened a second Cronulla-style riot?
We talk about Muslim youth becoming radicalised, but we never discuss what pushes them out to the fringes: the Western world that tells us we’re “ethnics”, and the ethnic world that tells us we’re westernised – both used as insults.
We don’t look at the relentless bullying from the media; every depiction of a Muslim as a terrorist.
Every act of violence against Muslims that goes unreported.
Every call to control the way we live our lives and where we go and when we go. No one looks to see the effect that this has on the minds and hearts of these young Muslims, who are barely able to hold on to who they are as humans.
These factors make a mind more vulnerable and receptive to messages of hatred.
But it isn’t all so terribly dark. A group on Facebook called ‘Non Muslims Supporting Muslims’ has over 7000 members and has become a place for Muslims to share their stories and for non-Muslims to show their love and support. A group called WISH (Women In Solidarity with Hijabis) has also been started, with non-Muslim women donning fabulous scarves to support their Muslim sisters.
I’ve also received a lot of love in my own world. My work colleague (or ‘work mum’), who was horrified by the fact that I was scared and that my parents were scared for me, sent my parents flowers with a beautiful note. She told them not to worry for me, because she and the rest of my Canberra family would keep me safe.
Of course, upon receiving the flowers, my mum burst into tears and could not believe that someone could be as thoughtful as my work mum. It’s sad that these sorts of acts of solidarity are even required, but they do so much to ease a frazzled mind, even if just for a moment or two. They give me hope that everything is going to be okay.
You’re probably wondering what it is that non-Muslims can do to make things better.
It is important that the rest of the Australian community recognises that ISIS is not a reflection of Islam, and that we condemn their actions with the rest of the community.
The burden of preventing young Australians from joining groups like ISIS should not fall on the Muslim community alone. We are only part of the solution, albeit an important part.
I implore you to stand up against any acts of violence being perpetrated against Muslims at this time.
The most soul crushing part of a lot of these attacks is that people were standing nearby and let them happen.
Engage with the Muslim community; ask questions about things you’re unsure about.
We’re full of answers, tea and baklava.
Amne Alrifai is a 20-something Australian-Lebanese woman, born and raised in Western Sydney. She has spent most of her life working on projects with a focus on social justice and equality.
Having recently graduated from UTS with a degree in Medical Science, Amne has moved to the nation’s capital to join the public service and continue gaining a deeper understanding of the factors which influence the identity crisis which faces migrants and their children.
You can read more by Amne on her blog, unveiledthought.com.