Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

In February 2017, conservative Australian media began a sustained attack of a young feminist leader, Yassmin Abdel-Magied. That started a racist petition calling for her to be fired from ABC TV, Australia’s public broadcaster, simply for having participated in a TV panel show, Q&A, where she spoke articulately about her feminism as a Muslim-Australian woman (see the clip below). For weeks, the ABC refused to give into these racist demands.

At the same time, three One Nation candidates were running in the Western Australian election making openly racist, homophobic and sexist comments. These candidates had no political expertise, but somehow their bigotry is not offensive enough to warrant endless national debate. Yet the feminism of an educated and successful young feminist draws ire.

In late April, Abdel-Magied was subjected to further public condemnation over a brief social media post expressing her condemnation of war. One month later, a White male editor incited violence towards her employer, the ABC, and Abdel-Magied was caught in media turmoil once again. This is a case study on the deep-seated elements of Islamophobia (fear of Islam) in Australia, and its real life consequences on young women of religious and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Continue reading Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Australia’s Unfair and Inhumane Refugee Policies

Untitled (refugee girl) by Mohammed. Via Safdar Ahmed and the Refugee Art Project

Whilst in London a couple of years a go, I came across a sign which reads, “Begin your dream today, emigrate to Australia!” (see below). A warm invitation indeed: unless of course you are an asylum seeker – in which case our Government will revoke this welcome and abscond its responsibility to the United Nations Convention Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Since 2001, the Australian government has passed several laws that allow the detention of asylum seekers in offshore centres located on the islands of Nauru and Manus. This was first established by excising islands from Australia’s territory; attempting to pay off people smugglers; and a series of other policy changes known as the “Pacific Solution.” In the first seven years of the scheme, over 1,600 people were held in detention. They arrived predominantly from Afghan, Iraqi and Sri Lankan backgrounds. While this program was initially wound back by 2008, it was reintroduced in 2010. Offshore detention reached its peak in 2014, with over 2,400 people held in detention centres, including 222 children. At the end of March 2016, almost 1,000 people remained in Manus and up to 1,200 people on Nauru.

These actions contravene international law, with our “paltry commitment to the Refugee Convention” deemed one of the worst in the world. Detention makes little sense, given that 90% of cases are found to be “genuine refugees.” The majority of asylum seekers have been in detention for at least two years. Even after they were released into the community, they were initially not allowed to work.

In 2014, the Government offered migrants up to $10,000 to go back home to face certain persecution; a scheme that was resolutely condemned by human rights experts. The Government simultaneously cut legal aid to refugees, making it even harder for them to receive informed support.

The ensuing health damage suffered by asylum seekers is woefully inhumane. Australia’s humanitarian program has been criminally pared back, along with our collective morality. We must not accept this unfair system in the name of so-called “Australian values.”

In London, emigrate to Australia sign is in the foreground, and people walk in the background
Your bridge to Australia. Your bridge to Australia. Begin your dream today.

Continue reading Australia’s Unfair and Inhumane Refugee Policies

Muslim Ban and Visas for Researchers

Trump Uphold Human Rights for ALL

Update: a few days after going public with this story, which especially received a lot of attention on Twitter and Google+, I received an email saying that my visa waiver was approved. It came one month after I’d initially applied, and too late to attend the United Nations conference.

Given the Trump Administration’s Executive Order that aims to revoke visas to nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations, what is your professional society doing to further support conference travel to the USA?

This is my story as a non-Muslim Australian. I’m sharing it as a minor example of the confusion and possible ramifications of the “Muslim ban” on academics. The broader context is much more perilous for Muslims who have a concrete fear for their lives and future under President Trump. As my blog has a strong focus on enhancing social justice in academic and applied research settings, and sociological responses to social change, these are the dual topics of this post. The bigger picture beyond considerations for academic travel is more insidious.

I was invited to speak at a conference in honour of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The event, Gender, Science and Sustainable Development: The Impact of Media – From Vision to Action, was held on February 10th, 2017 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, USA. Gender equity in science and academia is a field in which I’ve long worked, researched and volunteered, including in a previous role where I implemented and managed a national program to increase gender equity and diversity in science. I was invited to discuss my public writing on women in science. I was excited.

In preparation for this travel, I applied for the visa waiver program in January, as is my right as an Australian citizen. This program should provide automatic approval for people holding an electronic Australian passport. That’s me. I received an automatic message when I applied that I was not auto approved but that I’d hear an outcome within 72 hours, as is the maximum waiting period for this service. The time came and went and there was no response. I have not been denied a visa, I have simply not been granted one and not given a reason.

Then the Muslim ban was in full effect. Let me provide the background and how scientists have responded, before I tell you more on what happened to me, and what research organisations may need to consider in terms of academic conferences.

Continue reading Muslim Ban and Visas for Researchers

Australia Day and Intersectionality

People at a stall on Survival Day event, with an Aboriginal flag in the background

I am writing to you from Sydney, land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, who have looked after these lands for over 75,000 years (and much earlier by other accounts).

Today is a painful day for Indigenous Australians; the 26 January is a date commemorating the day British ships (”the First Fleet”) arrived on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands. It is a day that marks the decimation of First Australians; the dispossession of their land; the removal of children to be raised in Missions and in White foster homes with no ties or knowledge of their culture (“the Stolen Generation”); amongst many other human rights crimes. This history impacts Indigenous life chances in the present-day.

Australia Day was only observed by all states and territories from 1935 and it was relatively recently that it was made a national holiday in 1994. Indigenous Australians have been protesting this date since 1938, on the first ever Day of Mourning, 150 years after colonialismSince then, Indigenous Australians have also held both Invasion Day and Survival Day events to continue resistance against colonialist, patriarchal views of what it means to be Australian.

Join me through three case studies about the problems arising from Australia Day celebrations. First, I analyse a national advertisement that has been lauded as well as critiqued for its depiction of colonial arrivals. Second, I discuss a funding campaign to reverse the removal of Australia Day billboards featuring two Muslim girls. Third, I reflect on sociology’s role in the change the date protests, given the colonial origins of our discipline.

These three case studies will allow us to think about the limits of mainstream feminism and the gaps in sociological practices. I end with advice about how we might contribute to the change the date protests.

Please note that in this post, I use the phrase Australia Day to contextualise recent national debates about the celebration held on the 26 January. This phrase is hurtful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and I use it only in context of discussing its colonial origins.

Continue reading Australia Day and Intersectionality

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar Facing Ethnic Cleansing

A United Nations Official says the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are facing ethnic cleansing. Following years of violence that increasingly escalates, 30,000 Rohingya are now displaced.

“The Rohingya are viewed as illegal immigrants by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar who call them ‘Bengali,’ even though many have lived there for generations. Most live in the impoverished western Rakhine state, but are denied citizenship and smothered by restrictions on movement and work.”

Source: Al Jazeera.


Racist Rhetoric of ‘Ban the Burqa’

Australia is undergoing yet another paternalistic and xenophobic discussion about Muslim women’s dress. This time, politicians have been arguing that the burqa (face covering with eyes hidden by mesh) should be banned. The “ban the burqa” furore started with right-wing politicians arguing that Australian-Muslim women are “oppressed” by their choice of religious dress, with little understanding that the number of women who choose to wear a burqa is minuscule in Australia. Even those who wear the niqab (face covering with eyes showing) are also minute (less than 200 at a broad estimate). When this so-called “feminist” agenda didn’t work, the argument was made under false security concerns. The niqab was banned from public galleries at the Australian parliament for one day until the public critique forced the Government to distance itself from this decision. Let’s take a deeper look at the politics of sexism and racism. Continue reading Racist Rhetoric of ‘Ban the Burqa’

Othering “The Muslim Woman”

Part of my dissertation research focused on young Muslim-Turkish women in Australia. Many of them had chosen to wear hijab (headdress and modest Muslim clothing). They did so out of their new-found religious identity: these women had, over time, become more religious than their parents, even though most of their mothers did not wear hijab. This happened in response to the racism they encountered growing up. Wondering why Islam was so feared, they read up on their religion and came to a new awareness of themselves as Muslim women. Apart from their religious commitment, the women had come to see their hijab as a form of gender empowerment. It was central to their femininity that they chose to “cover.”

Whenever I would present my findings at academic conferences, I found that educated Western men were especially likely to question my findings. “Maybe these women aren’t as liberated as they think,” they would challenge me. To these White, Western men, Muslim women could only be a singular, passive object of oppression. To think otherwise would invert the power that Western culture places on men to define all women as recipients of bodily attention. In reality, Muslim women are diverse; some are secular, others are religious – the same as non-Muslims. But seeing Muslim women in the same complex light as we see Westerners does not fit the dominant narrative of what the West wants to believe about Muslim women.

Writing for Salon, Istanbul teacher and feminist Maria Khwaja shares what it feels like to be “Othered” as a Muslim woman. That is, what it means to always being defined as “different.” She notes she is pitied, feared and judged according to Western values. Feminists want to save her or condemn her for her religious identity, but she is not seen as capable of autonomy. She is not seen as an agent of change.

Khwaja writes:

“Everyone demands my story but no one believes it. My cover is made of caramel skin and a double-x chromosome. This is what everyone judges; there is no other cover to hide behind.We are banned books, coveted and hated, defiled or held up as symbols of grand ideals that we may or may not represent. It means I do not know enough to speak for myself. It means that my content, my beliefs, for so many people on both sides, are obviously imbalanced and in need of some editing. It means that no one wants to hear my story but everyone wants to have an opinion about me.”

Art by balung

Why We Shouldn’t Excuse “Casual” Racism

In this video, an American entertainment reporter has confused Samuel L. Jackson with Laurence Fishburne. Rather than letting him off politely, Jackson riffs on him: “We don’t all look alike! We may be Black and famous, but we don’t all look alike!” The reporter tries to laugh it off but Jackson says, “Hell no!” After speaking about his role on Robocop, the reporter mentions the other cast members. Jackson says: “Make sure you don’t confuse them with those *other* White actors.” Continue reading Why We Shouldn’t Excuse “Casual” Racism

No Such Thing as ‘Reverse Racism’

Aamer Rahman is a brilliant comedian. This video humorously captures why “reverse racism” makes no sense.

Every culture holds positive and negative stereotypes of their own group as well as other groups. A stereotype is a mental attitude or belief. This is not racism. Racism is a concept that describes institutional processes that are linked to historical social relations. A racist statement by a member of a privileged or majority group carries power and the threat of violence because institutional processes ensure minorities are marginalised. Racism is locked to a system of discrimination at school, work, in the media, in politics and through other social institutions. The false concept of reverse racism ignores these institutional experiences of oppression. Continue reading No Such Thing as ‘Reverse Racism’

My Muslim Mates Are

The New South Wales Community Relations Commission has released this video, “My Muslim Mates Are,“ to promote community harmony between Australian-Muslims and non-Muslim Aussies. It was produced in response to the Sydney riots two weeks a go.

SBS News reported that 300 Muslims protested against the American-produced anti-Islam short film which sparked outrage around the world. Most of the protesters were peaceful – praying, chanting or holding up signs; but some of the protesters held up signs vilifying the USA and they retaliated violently against the 100 police officers who oversaw the event.

SBS News further reported that eight people were arrested, two people were hospitalised after being bitten by police dogs while another 17 were treated in hospital after they were capsicum sprayed, and six police officers were injured. Since then, Islamic organisations were inundated with hate messages.

The Australian media reported that text messages were being relayed amongst Muslim youth calling for more protests in Melbourne and Sydney, and amongst Anglo-Australian youth who were seeking to fight Muslims.

The My Muslim Mates Are video has been released just as the Australian Defence Force investigates a series of Facebook messages where a retired Australian soldier and his friends espouse extremist views of violence towards Muslims.

The Muslim Mates video focuses on the fact that Muslims are ordinary, funny, peaceful and compassionate Australians, who are neighbours, friends, colleagues and community members