The Islamic Centre of Victoria has recently produced a Statement on Islamophobia. The statement explains Islamophobia, violent extremism and countering violent extremism. The statement has significant support from public leaders and the religious communities of Victoria. We provide a truncated summary of this document.
The horrific massacre of over fifty Muslim worshippers in Christchurch in 2019 shocked the world. It brought to public attention the very real threat of Islamophobia to the lives of Muslims not only in New Zealand but in any place where Muslims are a vulnerable minority. Despite near unanimous expressions of sympathy and outrage and demands that action is taken to prevent this ever happening again, the sad reality is that anti-Muslim sentiment is rising including in Australia and around the world. This is driven by far-right extremist ideology which is a growing menace as warned by the ASIO Director General during the first “annual threat assessment”. The need for urgent and far-reaching action to stem the tide of anti-Muslim hate is clear. This Islamophobia Position Statement by the Islamic Council of Victoria discusses the local and global context, the contributing factors, the consequences, and makes recommendations for policy makers, law enforcement, and the media.
The Islamic Council of Victoria recognises the following key terms have a myriad of working definitions and, subsequently, the below do not attempt to exclude or replace these.
Islam is a monotheistic faith system, religion, way of life, moral code and set of principles. The word Islam translates to mean attainment of peace by submitting to the will of God. Islam provides guidance in all aspects of life: personally, culturally, socially, financially, economically and politically.
Muslims are faithful to the tenants of Islam and believe there is no God but Allah. Muslims in Australia are culturally diverse and practise their religion to varied extents.
Racism may be understood as “that which maintains or exacerbates inequality or opportunity among” groups based on their social, cultural, religious or ethnic identities. It can be expressed through racist emotions (stereotypes), racist beliefs (prejudice) and racist behaviours (including discrimination, harassment, vilification and violence). Racist emotions and beliefs may be unwitting and stem from ignorance, misunderstanding, unfamiliarity and “inflexible” ideas about “the traditional way of doing things”.
Islamophobia is “rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. Very simply, Islamophobia “is anti-Muslim racism”. Islamophobia involves the “rejection of Islam, Muslim groups and Muslim individuals on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes. It may have emotional, cognitive, evaluative as well as action-oriented elements”. Islamophobia is complex, but can be measured in the following ways:
- the experiences of anti-Muslim discrimination, marginalisation, harassment, vilification and/or violence
- the negative evaluations, attitudes and emotions of non-Muslims in relation to Muslims and Islam
Violent extremism may be understood as “the beliefs and actions of people who support or use violence” to achieve political, social or ideological goals.
Countering violent extremism (CVE)
The Australian Government describes Countering violent extremism as their “efforts” to “prevent processes of radicalisation leading to violent extremism, including terrorism, and where possible to help individuals disengage from a preparedness to support or commit acts of violence to achieve political, social or ideological ends.”11
The Islamic Council of Victoria:
ACKNOWLEDGES that with a growing Muslim population, it’s more important than ever to reject Islamophobia, promote social inclusion and provide support for those who experience it. As noted by the Pew Research Center, in 2015 Muslims made up 24.1% (1.75 billion) of the global population. The Muslim population is projected to grow by 70% by the year 2060, accounting for 31.1% (12.3 billion) of the global population.
RECOGNISES that the Muslim population is also growing in Australia. The 2006 Australian Census recorded that 1.7% of Australians identified as Muslim. The 2016 Australian Census recorded that 2.6% of Australians identified as Muslim (an estimated 604,200 people).15 The Muslim population in Australia is heterogenous and linked to 183 countries.
NOTES that in understanding Islamophobia as a type of racism, we can better recognise that it presents in different ways. Racism is internalised when a person incorporates beliefs, attitudes or emotions “within their worldview”. In the context of Islamophobia, internalised racism may present as internalised dominance or privilege and involve the “incorporation of attitudes, beliefs or ideologies about the inferiority of other social groups and the superiority of one’s own social group.” Islamophobia may present as interpersonal racism when “interactions between people serve to maintain or exacerbate” inequalities between groups based on their social, cultural, religious or ethnic identities.
The Australian Context
The Islamic Council of Victoria:
NOTES that between 12 September 2001 and 11 November 2001, the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural New South Wales recorded 284 incidents of racial hatred. In 52% of reports, where religion could be discerned, 68% were directed towards Muslims.
NOTES that between September 2014 and December 2015, the Islamophobia Register Australia received 243 Islamophobic incident reports. Of these, 54.3% occurred offline and 45.7% occurred online. The report identified that females were the victim in 67.7% of the incidents and males were the victim in 20.8% of the incidents. In 11.5% of incidents, both males and females were present. The report noted that religious clothing was referred to in 56.6% of the recorded incidents. It also highlighted that increased reports of Islamophobic incidents coincided with the introduction of anti-terrorism legislation, negative media coverage of Islam or Muslims, and acts of terrorism. The Islamophobia in Australia Report II, recorded 349 Islamophobic incidents across 2016 and 2017 (24 months). Of these, only 12% were reported from Victoria, with 14 reported in 20142015 and 12 reported in 2016-2017.
NOTES that Victoria Police have the option to record offences as being motivated by prejudice against a group of people with actual or perceived common characteristics. These characteristics may relate to sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, sex, age, disability and/or homelessness. The Crimes Statistics Agency process and publish Victorian crimes statistics, as recorded by Victoria Police. A review of the “offences recorded where offence was flagged as a prejudicially motivated crime based on religion” towards Muslims showed that in Victoria there were:
- 50 recorded offences between April 2014 and March 2015.
- 39 recorded offences between April 2015 and March 2016.
- 46 recorded offences between April 2016 and March 2017.
- 34 recorded offences between April 2017 and March 2018.
- 53 recorded offences between April 2018 and March 2019.
The factors that contribute to the manifestation of Islamophobia are complex and difficult to precisely identify. Some of the following factors may be considered both contributing factors and consequences of Islamophobia.
The Islamic Council of Victoria:
ACKNOWLEDGES that Islamophobia has been shaped by the reasoning that underpins Orientalism. It has been noted that “Orientalism illustrated the extensive history and complex processes by which Islam and its adherents were othered, or more specifically, constructed and cast as inferior and subhuman, unassimilable and savage, violent and warmongering. Islam was everything the West was not, and it was assigned these and other damaging attributes in order to elevate the West and characterise it, and its people, as progressive, democratic, and modern.”
COMMENDS The Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project for developing a definition of Islamophobia that reflects its historical underpinnings: “a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure. It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve “civilizational rehab” of the target communities (Muslim or otherwise). Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.”
Misrepresentations of Muslims and Islam
The Islamic Council of Victoria:
UNDERSTANDS that hyper ethnocentric and nativist discourses, often disguised as patriotism, sometimes contribute to Islamophobic narratives. Although Islam (like Judaism and Christianity) is not indigenous to Australia, Islam has existed as part of the Australian fabric since 1650.
RECOGNISES that respectful critique or opposition to Islamic theology is not Islamophobic. As established by The Runnymede Trust, distinctions between open – “legitimate criticism and disagreement” – and closed – “Islamophobia, or unfounded prejudice and hostility” – views are helpful for understanding and identifying Islamophobia. As such, a closed view of Islam may present it as monolithic, separate, inferior, enemy and/or manipulative. In contrast, an open view of Islam may present it as diverse, interacting, different, partner and/or sincere.
RECOGNISES the notion, that Islam is incompatible with Liberalism, as a closed view of Islam. Unfortunately, at times, Liberalism relies on the repression of Islam in order “to present itself as liberal and progressive”.
RECOGNISES the role the Australian media can play in circulating closed views of Islam and Muslims. Presenting or sharing Islamophobic ideas can allow them to gain “social currency” and “legitimacy” within a public forum. Playing a fundamental role in influencing public perceptions, the media can subtly push normative boundaries of what’s acceptable and unacceptable.
UNDERSTANDS that a disproportionately negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims can contribute to Islamophobic views. In 2005, the Social Research Centre, in partnership with the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, conducted a “telephone survey of 600 Victorian residents” to understand “non-Muslim Victorians’ perceptions of Muslims and Muslim Women.” The survey respondents who held negative views of Muslims, attributed them to:
- 18% “Improper treatment of women”
- 19.7% “Perceived associations with war and terrorism”
- 23% “Negative portrayal of Muslims through the media”
- 34.4% “Disagreeing with Muslim religion and culture”
Survey respondents also identified their main sources of information on Muslims (with respondents able to nominate multiple sources): Media: 59.5% television, 48% newspapers and 16.2% radio 102 Personal contact: 17.5% relatives and friends, 13.3% co-workers and clients and 8% community and cultural groups.
This is not the full report but a summary that does not include all sections, nor endnotes or footnotes. This Statement continues with sections addressing the following issues:
- Policing and Countering Violent Extremism;
- The Consequences of Islamophobia;
- The Islamic Centre of Victoria’s role and interest in both the breadth and depth of Islamophobia in Victoria;
- Implementation of further actions;
- The Islamic Centre of Victoria remains resilient and hopeful that collaboratively we can create a more respectful, equitable and inclusive Victoria.
The statement was presented to the Hon. Minister of Multicultural Affairs, Ros Spence who acknowledged the growing issue of Islamophobia and congratulated the ICV on all of their hard work in the space. Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Chin Tan was also present at the launch and added his endorsement by saying “I applaud and welcome ICV’s development of its Islamophobia Position Statement. Islamophobia is a pressing challenge for Muslim communities and for all Australians. ICV’s Islamophobia Position Statement represents an important starting point for discussions around this challenge and will make a key contribution in our collective mission to combat Islamophobia. Thank you ICV. This is not only a document for Victoria but for all Australia. We will study it carefully and it will comprise an important contribution to our approach to Islamophobia in Australia.”
To read the position statement: Please click here:
To read the list of endorsements: Please click here:
The position statement is part of a suite of work in the reducing racism space which includes the Islamophobia Support Platform which has been designed to support anyone that has been impacted by Islamophobia. To find out more you can visit the platform page here:
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