opinion

'I was told to take my hijab off by a security guard. It's part of a much bigger story.'

Last Friday, on the 25th of October, I was going out to dinner in the city with my friends. After finally completing my midterm exams, and then being surrounded by a jubilant crowd in a climate protest, I was feeling empowered.

The crowd’s repeated cries that “change is coming” sounded like a unique and powerful melody, one that bubbles up inside you and fills you with something special and hard to find – hope. I left that protest feeling full of laughter and jubilation, with a sense of quiet confidence that things aren’t so bad after all.

It took all but two seconds for the bouncer of Paragon Hotel to crush that feeling of empowerment into dust. It took him two seconds to make me feel small. It took him two seconds to ignore my ID, point to my hijab, and say “take it off.” And it took me longer to realise what had just happened.

Being told to take my hijab off was shocking. It was surreal. It took a moment for me to even process that someone had just discriminated against me for a religious garment that I am fully entitled to wear. And despite the fact that I didn’t see it coming at all – is it really that surprising?

Soaliha Iqbal
"The truth is, Islamophobia is rife in this society. And we need to stop pretending otherwise." Image: supplied.

By now, you’re likely to have heard of me. I’ve seen my own face plastered on social media, in articles, in discussions and tweets and memes from all over the world and I've even heard my name on the radio.

It’s sad, really – no one wants to be known for something as awful as this. I'd rather be interviewed because I did something incredible and worth discussing, not because I was a victim to a gross and hurtful act.

But now that I have your attention, I want to use this moment to create a discussion – because the truth is, Islamophobia in Australia actually isn’t that shocking.

If you go up to any hijab-wearing Muslim you know, chances are they can tell you about an instance where they have been racially abused.

I spent my New Years this year in Canberra (don’t ask me why). I was going to the bathroom with a younger friend, and advised her not to use the portaloo she was initially heading toward because I knew it was dirty and the tap didn’t work.

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You’d think that’s a pretty mundane thing to bring up in this article – but I had a middle-aged woman come up to me and scream “well if you don’t like the way we do things here, then go back to your own country!”

She shouted at me for being ungrateful that the lovely Australia had allowed me to move here, despite the fact that I was born here. All because I told a teenage girl the portaloo was broken.

The truth is, Islamophobia is rife in this society. And we need to stop pretending otherwise.

We are the country that produced home grown terrorist Brenton Tarrant who then murdered 50 Muslims just like me, and destroyed the lives of everyone who loved them.

We are the country that had a popular TV celebrity say on day-time television that we ought to ban Muslims for our safety. We are the country where NSW police used an Arab costume to portray a violent threat in their training. We are the country that arrested a Muslim student on false charges of terrorism, locked him up in maximum security prison for four weeks despite having no evidence of a crime, and then refused to apologise once he was found innocent and released.

Just this week, ABC reported that police in Western Sydney had racially abused two Afghani women. They were religiously vilified, threatened, and unlawfully cuffed and arrested. It’s nauseating.

You just have to look at the Facebook comments on any article reporting my story to see how the Australian public feels about Muslims.

Soaliha Iqbal
Soaliha responded to a Facebook comment from the Paragon Hotel. Image: supplied.

We are told that we are lucky to live in the West and so we should conform, that the basis of our being here is supposedly “freedom.”

But am I lucky to have been harassed? Am I lucky that a bouncer felt confident enough in our society’s xenophobia that he demanded, in front of dozens of witnesses, that I remove my hijab that I am totally entitled to wear?

I’m not lucky to be discriminated against. I’m just lucky it wasn’t worse.

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