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Racial Vilification against Arabic and Muslim Australians in light of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

01 October 2001, AAC

AAC statement with regards to the recent rise in racial vilification against Australia’s Arabic and Muslim communities.

The Australian Arabic Council (AAC) is opposed to all forms of racist behaviour, discrimination, racial vilification and the incitement of racial violence. We welcome all initiatives that endeavour to combat such behaviour and believe that the success of these initiatives rests on the close co-operation of Arabic community groups in conjunction with government departments, peak multicultural organisations and the wider community. In this, the AAC is ideally positioned to play an important mediating role in facilitating and coordinating such initiatives.

The Arabic community has been identified as one of the four most vilified groups in Australia. The forms of vilification our community experiences vary both in nature and degree, from relatively isolated incidents to more subtle and entrenched forms of systemic and institutionalized racism. The AAC believes that whilst the recent suicide attacks in New York and Washington are directly responsible for the current rise in anti-Arab sentiment and race hatred crimes, the root causes of racism lie far deeper within the framework of various social, cultural, economic and political relations.

In the wake of the recent attacks in America and the automatic linking of these events to the Arab world, the Arabic community is again being ‘scapegoated’ as an immediate and vulnerable target for racial vilification. Reports detailing the indiscriminate and often violent attacks on members of the Arabic community with women and children the most frequently targeted; the damage to and destruction of a number of religious buildings; the vandalism that is affecting our businesses; and the continuing threats made against a number of community organisations and schools are indicative of the wholesale vilification of an entire community.

These sharp increases in race hatred crimes and the unprecedented scope of their affects have engendered a climate of fear and uncertainty that remains pervasive amongst members of the Arabic community.

Reports of women and children staying at home, fearful of venturing out into the community are frequent. Parents are scared to send their children to school amid threats of violence and retribution. Taxi drivers are fearful of working night shifts, and many are caught up trying to defend themselves against racist claims from work colleagues, sections of the media and people on the street.

At the same time, the AAC is continuing to receive an alarming number of reports of racial vilification. These incidents continue to include individuals and organisations receiving verbal and written intimidation, death and bomb threats; racial vilification in the work-place; attacks on places of worship; and, of most concern, increased intimidation and attacks on children and schools which have students of Arabic or Muslim background.

The AAC strongly believes that working to stem the rise of racial vilification necessitates both short-term and long-term strategies, with an emphasis on increased co-operation and co-ordination both between representative bodies of the Arabic community and within the context of multiculturalism as a whole.

Working towards short-term solutions to address racial vilification, the AAC has been in liaison with government departments, schools, community organisations, the police, political leaders and peak multicultural bodies to establish concrete and immediate ways to stem the rise of anti-Arab racism. We have also sought to clarify the avenues through which those incidents that have already occurred can be dealt with quickly and consistently.

The AAC believes that the working ties that come out of this process need to be simultaneously geared towards more long-term and durable initiatives by setting the precedents for sustained cooperation in the future.

In addition, the AAC has circulated a phone number on which all incidents of racial vilification can be reported. These reports have been added to our long established national racism register.

We have advised Departments of Education that statements actively condemning racial vilification and pointing out the positives of multiculturalism need to reach the class-room, and need to be expressed by a number of different authorities within the school, including principles, teachers and student representative leaders. We have also offered to co-ordinate representatives of the Arab and Muslim community to visit schools to talk about the issues and facilitate open discussions between students.

We continue to actively lobby a number of political leaders, the media and the wider community to refrain from attributing blame for these events to any particular race or religion. We welcome those statements condemning racial vilification that have come from Premier Bracks, Premier Carr, Premier Olsen, Minister Ruddock, the Australian Democrats Party, the Greens, and many other individual politicians. However we would request that more must be done to counter the rising wave of racial vilification immediately in the form of public statements, rather than written reports.

One concern for the AAC is the way in which the terrorist attacks are being linked to and used as a justification for the current governments policy of mandatory sentencing and detention of asylum seekers in Australia.

We urge the wider community to support their fellow Australians by not tolerating any form of racism, xenophobia and scapegoating of individuals or ethnic communities. We reiterate that we should all be aware that these perpetrators are not representative of Australians, who are known for their tolerance and support of multiculturalism.

It is important that Australians pull together through this difficult time and condemn any vilification. We must denounce finger pointing whether it be in our schools, the workplace, the media, the wider community or in the home.

INCREASE IN RACIAL VILIFICATION IN LIGHT OF TERROR ATTACKS: SEP 2001

An Australian Arabic Council report

Reports to the AAC Racism Register in September 2001 following the terror attacks in the USA on September 11th.

The AAC has run a racism register for many years. Given the confidential nature of the complaints, we cannot give out individuals contact details. However the AAC does attempt to verify incidents and only list complaints where we have the contact details of the victim or the person reporting the incident (often a concerned parent, brother, colleague). Many have also been reported to the police, state DIMA offices, state Equal Opportunity Commissions and other community organisations. All of these incidents appear to be related to the recent terror attacks in America, as indicated by verbal abuse or context. All victims are of Arabic or Muslim heritage. There are many more incidents reported through the media and in other states. We would warn individuals and groups not to detail the incidents to the media for fear of copy cat attacks.

Increase in incidents:

We have received a marked increase in substantiated claims of incidents of vilification from members of the Australian Arabic community who have contacted AAC members.

In comparison with a rise in vilification experienced following an increase in violence in the Palestinian Territories in 2000-2001, we have recorded, in the three weeks following the terror attacks, over 20 times the amount of incidents reported. This is, obviously, a dramatic increase.

It is also important to remember that the majority of victims do not report these crimes, which, by their very nature, are difficult to prove and prosecute. Likewise, when they are reported, many prefer to report the incidents to Islamic, Christian, government or women’s associations. We would encourage any one seeking an overview of incidents to contact all relevant groups.

EXAMPLES OF INCIDENTS

Please note that this is an edited version of the original report. We have removed detailed examples from this version to avoid further escalation of vilification.

LETTERS, EMAILS, PHONE CALLS, FAXES, EMAILS

The AAC has received over 10 threatening letters, 14 abusive phone calls, as well as several emails. The Council is not alone; all Arabic and Islamic community organisations are currently targets and most have received threatening or abusive letters. We have tallied 26 incidents as reported personally to the Council, but are aware of many, many more.

Another example is a relatively quiet a welfare office that has, since the 11th September, received between 15-20 phone harassment calls, The police were called in and reported these incidents. Most messages were full of hatred and ignorance, “get out of our country”, “terrorists”, “Islam is violence”,. One message of particular concern said “I saw you on the street and know what you look like and where you work, I am going to come and kill you as you have killed others”. Threatening notes were left at the office, and graffiti written on the door of the office. The first week after the attacks the Association was forced to scale down its operation and was closed for a week.

Other phone incidents include reports of a mobile phone message being circulating that reads as follows: “THIS PHONE WILL NOW EXPLODE. THROW THIS PHONE AT AN ARAB AND RUN…!”

SCHOOLS

The AAC has had personally reported by teachers or students, many complaints regarding racial tension at schools in Melbourne and around Australia. The reports lodged include racism & racial intolerance, schoolyard taunts and abuse, bomb threats, tension between teachers and students, graffiti, (including “’death to Muslim scum’). Whilst physical violence is rare (though not unknown), students and parents alike have been fearful of attending school and taking public transport due to the level of abuse from other students. Pupils deemed to be at risk have been kept at home and some schools closed early for the school holidays.

Complaints have not been restricted to areas where there is a large Arabic or Muslim community. Reports in Melbourne have come from as far as the leafy Eastern suburbs, inner city and the south eastern suburbs.

WORKPLACE

The AAC has received numerous reports of workplace discrimination and harassment. This includes a courier driver subjected to harassment at destinations, woman working in the public service subjected to vilification in the workplace, employees constantly asked to justify their Arabic heritage, taxi drivers exposed to abuse, not working due to vilification. There appear to be limited strategies in place to deal with this racism.

MEDIA

The AAC has been alerted to many media reports that have, in the eyes of the community, inciting racial violence. An example incudes comments published in the Herald Sun: 14/09/01 saying “Nuke the Arabs”. A few days later this was grafittied on a train station wall. Talkback radio has also come under criticism for inciting racial hatred.

COMMUNITY INCIDENTS

Increased by a significant amount. Common reports included verbal and physical attacks

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