13 March 2020

Christchurchshutterstock_1343663081.jpgToday marks one year since 51 New Zealand Muslims were massacred at two Christchurch Mosques in a premeditated act of violence.

Soon after the attack, I visited the Christchurch Muslim community and witnessed their devastation, agony and pain.

Like many others, I grieved for the men, women and children who lost their lives so senselessly, and for their families who are today, still grieving.

I witnessed their dignity and spirit of forgiveness. I listened to one sister who lost her husband and eldest son, a brother who lost his youngest son, and another who lost his wife. Despite their pain, they all talked of a genuine desire to break what they see as a cycle of hate.    

I also saw many thousands of New Zealanders, and Australians, rally around the Muslim community.  Their outpouring of love and kindness offered in times of need, was a gift to all those who were impacted by the event.

Since last year, I have been in constant contact with the Christchurch Muslim community. The depth and brutality of the hate, and enormity of the act of random violence continues to weigh down on them heavily, and on Australian Muslims as well.

There is a constant level of fear, a biting sense of hypervigilance that chips away at living a normal life. Memories of the massacre are a constant reminder to remain aware, cautious, on guard.

And we cannot be complacent. To confront hate crimes, we must be as one family, united against all forms of hatred and violent extremism.

We now know that the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes reported across Britain increased by 593 per cent in the week after the Christchurch massacre.

The second Islamophobia in Australia report, released by Charles Sturt University in 2019, shows hate incidents are becoming brazen, and public. What is more concerning, is the alarming intensity of hate rhetoric that groomed the Christchurch terrorist, is as prevalent in Australia as it was three to five years ago.

In his Annual Threat Assessment address in Canberra in March this year, ASIO director-general, Mike Burgess, reported a marked increase in farright-wing extremism in Australia in recent years. “We expect such groups will remain an enduring threat, making use of online propaganda to spread their messages of hate,” Burgess said.

Riddled with far-right narratives, today, social media has normalised descriptions of Muslims as parasites, germs and subhuman from fellow Australians.

It is ‘normal’ to hear the Christchurch massacre described as payback for the abhorrent actions of terrorist groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda. Labelling all people of Islamic faith as an evil threat to Australia is not okay. And yet it happens, everywhere, online.

This is what young Muslims have to deal with every day. Downstream from the ugly online world, is a real world – a world where young girls in hijab are confronted and sworn at while walking home from school, where hateful insults are shouted on public transport, where once again to be Muslim is to feel vulnerable.

So, who will stand against this?  Will it be the Australian Federal Police that take our concerns seriously and investigate online incitement?

Our criminal laws against inciting violence seem to get very little exercise.

Will it be the Australian Government that finally deals with the fomentation of hatred online through the new Online Safety Act?  Unfortunately, the current proposal does nothing about the public advocacy of hatred against whole segments of the community.

Will the social media giants engage with the problem, will they look at the research and expose the far-right lies being spread about people of my faith?

Some of those companies have had a lot to say since Christchurch, but a recent investigation by Australian Muslim lawyers shows there’s still much to do. The moderation processes set up by the likes of Facebook are inadequate and flawed.

Or will it be the Attorney-General who fixes the gaping hole in the Religious Discrimination Bill by including a shield for people who are vilified, harassed, threatened or seriously intimidated on the basis of their faith? So far, the media debate has been about passing or killing the Bill – not improving it.

The fact is, we are struggling to be heard at all.

Left unchecked, online hate threatens not only Muslims but also Jews, people of colour, people with different sexual orientation and in the end, it threatens all people who cherish diversity and multiculturalism and peaceful tolerant societies.

Most Australians were both horrified and mortified by the Christchurch attack. Horrified, that someone could commit such a senseless and brutal attack on innocent people and mortified because that someone was an Australian.

Australians showed their support for New Zealand’s Muslim community, for Christchurch and New Zealand.  But 12 months on, who is acting when tirades of violent racist comments flow on Twitter?

Lone voices will never stop the haters, but together as a community and across government we can counter the truly dangerous voices that threaten peace in our society.

This opinion piece was written by Professor Mohamad Abdalla, AM, Director of UniSA's Centre for Islamic Thought and Education





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