It’s the ugly side of society and, of late, it has only been getting worse.
Brisbane’s Muslim population, particularly women, have increasingly been subject to both physical and verbal abuse amid terror raids and Australian military action in the Middle East.
On Tuesday Queensland police charged a 44-year-old Windsor man after he allegedly threatened to light a woman’s headscarf on fire in West End.
And Fairfax Media has been told of an attack on two Muslim women at Toowong last week, which was not reported to police.
One of the alleged victims, who did not want to be named, recounted her experience through a third party.
She said she and her friend, who had just finished shopping, were waiting a Toowong bus stop on Benson Road when some tormenters drove past and threw a ham sandwich at them.
“They were early- to mid-20s. When one of the men threw the sandwich, the other two were cheering,” she said.
“The driver was also cheering and shouted something.”
The woman, who studied at the University of Queensland, said she was “stunned and sad” about the unprovoked attack.
“I came here to study and didn’t ask to be treated like this,” she said.
“In fact, I had only arrived recently. I fear for my life even when I’m in public.
“If I didn’t have my friend there I would have cried.
It made me feel disappointed too. Just because I wear the hijab, it doesn’t make me a terrorist.
“I’m from Malaysia and many other Malaysians have lived and studied here in peace.
“I’ve studied here before and this never happened to me before and I came back because I felt like Australia was safe for Muslims in general.”
Muslim community leader and Eidfest president Yasmin Kahn said it was an unfortunate example of an increasing occurrence in Brisbane.
“The idiot wasted good food – we’re not going to eat it, but someone would have – you’ve got to look at it from that perspective,” she said.
“…The fact that you’re thinking you’re going to disturb someone’s life by doing that and that you’re going to feel good about it, get off on it, well that says more about you than the person you’re persecuting.
“That’s what bothers me. There’s this attitude to go out and harass people that wasn’t there before.
“It’s a free country but to harass and persecute people is, well I hate the word ‘unAustralian’ but that’s what it is, because that’s not who we are as a people.”
Ms Khan said Muslim women were being warned on social medianot to walk the streets by themselves.
“I mean, this is 2014, 21st century Australia downtown Brisbane and we’re telling our women not to venture out by themselves,” Ms Kahn said.
“That’s just a sad indictment on the city and I don’t know if the city in itself is that bad.
“I know we’ve had some horrific incidents around the city in the past six to eight months and I’m not saying that’s all related, but I’d hate to think that’s becoming a natural occurrence in Brisbane.
“I think these Islamophobic attacks are just a product of their time, unfortunately, because of uneducated gits.”
Ms Khan said other migrant groups, such as the Mediterranean influx of the 1950s and the arrival of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s and 1980s, had suffered similar abuse.
“In a way, it’s an indoctrination into the Australian way of life – you come here, then we’re going to chuck shit at you for a little while but then you’re a mate, you’re an Aussie and we accept you,” she said.
“But this particular strain that is happening at the moment is particularly vicious, hateful, the vitriol is beyond good natured ribbing – it’s pretty vile, vicious stuff and that makes it a little more explosive than what previous migrants have had to go through.”
The current round of attacks, Ms Khan said, had become “more personal” because it went to the heart of Muslims’ identity – their faith.
“You see a lot of non-Muslim people coming out and saying ‘this is not who we are’, so I don’t doubt they’re in a minority, but before when you were in a minority you were a silent minority,” she said.
“Now, you’re a vocal minority because you’ve got keyboards, you’ve got airwaves and you’ve got lots of other ways to get your message out so in that regard it’s probably a bit easier to get this stuff out.”
Ms Khan said the Muslim community in Brisbane went back more than a century, so the Islamic faith was nothing new to the city.
“The Holland Park Mosque is 106 or 108 years old – it’s the second-oldest religious building in Brisbane – so it’s not as if it’s a case of ‘who are all these new people, these new foreigners? Everyone’s arrived since September 11’,” she said.
“We’ve been here for 150 years , for God’s sake, so we’re not a new phenomenon but the hate and the vitriol is a new phenomenon and again that’s being influenced from overseas.
“That’s not being helped by leadership, by the rhetoric, by the public discourse. That’s not being helped at all, unfortunately.”Click here for the Brisbane Times special feature: The Changing Face of Queensland.
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