‘Routine’ Islamophobia: Is this what Anzacs paid ultimate price for?

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As Anzac Day approaches, Australian society should heed the call of Turkish Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop when he called for “concrete steps” against Islamophobia and xenophobia around the world at the recently held MIKTA summit, an interregional informal consultation platform between Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia. Likewise, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun recently highlighted that “strong leadership and global cooperation” is vital in combating Islamophobia, and former Deputy Foreign Minister and now Ambassador to Croatia Yavuz Selim Kıran urged international action in “taking concrete steps” to eliminate discrimination against diaspora communities. Unfortunately, there has been no commitment or declaration, not even a passing reference to combating Islamophobia and xenophobia from the Australian side. This becomes more striking considering Australia’s human rights commissioner has stated the “routine” vilification of Muslims and the hate involved in the Christchurch mosque massacre is not an “aberration.” Enmity toward Turks and Muslims also hinders Australia’s long-term national interests with respect to its conflict with China – which has an increased possibility of turning hot following the Russian invasion of Ukraine – given Turkey’s key role as peacemaker from China’s border with Afghanistan to the Balkans and now Ukraine in Europe.

Figures at terrifying level

For Australia to globally fight against this trend, however, it may need to first rid itself of this disease. A report from the Australian Human Rights Commission following the terrorist attack in New Zealand’s Christchurch revealed results that can only be described as alarming. Some 80% of the Muslim respondents faced discrimination or prejudice, 50% said they faced unfavorable treatment at the hands of law enforcement and 48% experienced unfavorable treatment at work or when seeking employment.

Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Chin Tan said, “The undercurrents of religious discrimination, vilification and hate that manifested so horribly in the Christchurch attack are not an aberration,” and that Muslims’ experiences are consistent with anti-Muslim hate “that is routinely experienced in Australia.”

The figures, Tan’s conclusions and another new study with similar results indicate that anti-Muslim hate in Australia is an urgent and major problem.

As the writer himself experienced growing up and working in Australia, xenophobia encompasses all facets of life and sections of Australian society – from uneducated “bogans” to the educated, from poor to rich suburbs, in small to large national companies and government authorities, in elections, and the 20-year-long anti-Muslim bias in the mainstream media that is only a few steps behind the practices of 1930s Germany. All Australians with an African, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Lebanese, Vietnamese or former-Yugoslavian background have faced racism and will attest to this.

There are 604,000 Muslims in Australia, and according to the statistics, potentially around 490,000 have been vilified (80%). The sheer numbers and anecdotal evidence show that this is only possible if a large part of the population participates in the vilification. This is really sad because I personally know many Anglo-Celtic and non-Anglo Australians that are not like that, but I’ve also come across those who are.

Worryingly, the current situation results in numerous fundamental human rights violations of Muslims in Australia – the right to work, housing, education, safety, human dignity, adequate protection by the authorities from regular racist verbal assaults that has continued for decades and violence, victimization due to religious affiliation, etc. All this makes it difficult to lead a civilized life in Australia. What’s worse, letting this endure could show acceptance of Islamophobia, emboldening the likes of the Christchurch terrorist, who murdered 51 worshippers in cold blood and injured hundreds, including Turkish nationals.

Turkey’s acceptance of the Anzacs, their descendants and the sensitivity shown toward Australia comes from Islamic as well as Turkish cultural principles. The Turkish soldier sacrificing his shirt to dress the enemy’s wound while dressing his own with dirt and sharing his water with his adversary “is a lesson of Islamic law of war taught to the entire world.” Turkey’s empathy toward Australia and practice of accepting fallen Anzacs as its own are explicitly linked to Islam.

The Christchurch attack by an Australian who had written references about Turkey on his weapons should have caused alarm in Australian society. It urgently must be asked why an Anglo-Australian has so much hatred for Turks and Muslims that he goes out and murders 51 of them.

It seems illogical for an Anglo-Australian to develop a hatred of Turks given the strong Gallipoli ties between Turkey and Australia directly linked to both countries’ nationhood. This link is something unprecedented in the world, but it clearly has not been enough.

There is absolutely no doubt that the anti-Muslim bias in the mainstream media and insensitivity to the drowning of Muslim refugees off Australia – including women and children – and the U.N.-condemned inhumane detentions of refugees in concentration-camp-like facilities played a role in the massacre, because it dehumanizes Muslims. It also emboldens others who discriminate against Muslims.

Sadly, something has gone catastrophically wrong in Australian society. What’s worse, and indicating a wider problem rather than merely an isolated incident, also pointed out by the human rights commissioner, is the continued support of the attacker by way too many people as well as some of the lukewarm official reactions to the atrocity, indicating that many in the country hold deep-seated prejudices or do not fully accept Australian Muslims.

New Zealand has strongly condemned the incident, including the prime minister’s commitment to stopping this from ever happening again. Similar action has not been taken in Australia. In fact, there seems to be a conscious attempt to sweep it under the carpet by the media and current government, let alone any substantial steps.

If Australia wants to move toward the high values it says it has, but more importantly, for the safety of its Muslims, Australian society needs to ask some difficult questions. It also needs to explore whether it really sees Australian Muslims as its own. Of course, if it doesn’t want to, there is no need for this introspection, and it is free to make this choice. But, the current situation contravenes the “Anzac spirit” as it is in stark contrast to the humility shown by the Anzac and Turkish soldiers toward each other irrespective of their religious or cultural affiliation.

It also does not correspond to how Muslim-majority Turkey views the fallen Christian Anzacs as their own and who are “lying in the soil of a friendly country,” in republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s words.

Long-term interests get nothing

Contrary to what some sections of Australia may think, encouragement of hatred toward Muslims, especially those from Turkey, and attempting to break the strong ties between the countries will not serve Australia’s long-term national interests. This is because Turkey is a large, powerful, technologically advanced and geopolitically critical country that straddles a strategic location in the world. It plays a role as a key broker in almost all major global conflicts that Australia is directly or indirectly involved – from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and North Africa, to the Caucasus, Balkans and now Ukraine, which wants Turkey to be one of its security guarantors in any peace deal with Russia. Its geographical location and history mean it is always destined to be involved.

Closer to Australia, Turkey has had political, military, cultural, religious and economic links of real substance with Indonesia since the 1960s and Malaysia more recently. It also has deep historical, political and cultural connections with China. Turkey’s influence can be critical for Australia in any future conflict with China, which is now more probable due to the Russia-Ukraine war, but the treatment of Turks and Muslims in Australia might start to play a role. If Australia chooses to take action against domestic Islamophobia, some possible steps could include the Returned and Services League (RSL) and the Anzac Day Commemoration Commission (or similar body) conducting grassroots community programs and public service advertisements educating the community about Islamophobia. New laws could be enacted that are strong enough to be a deterrent against Islamophobic vilification – the way anti-Semitism is treated. But, there does not seem to be enough political or societal appetite for such laws as both the New South Wales (NSW) and federal governments voted down legislation banning actors from inciting religion-based hatred against people – which is another major concern as it means the majority of Australians don’t see any problem in the vilification of Muslims, even after Christchurch. And, of course, there can be a Royal Commission on the problem.

Is this really what the Anzacs paid the ultimate price for?

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