I've been considering a request from a post-graduate student who wants to do a thesis on Islamophobia in Australia. She writes: "I am researching the topic Islamophobia, and I am trying to prove whether Islamophobia is based on religion fear or cultural fear of Islam."
What about proving that Islamophobia exists at all? That would be the logical, ethical and scholarly starting point. But it appears the outcome has already been decided. This would fit the prevailing orthodoxy in academia that the default position for Muslims in Australia is victim. The jargon, "Islamophobia" is part of this ideological construct. Literally, it means fear of Muslims.
I reflected on all this while on holiday in Malaysia and the Maldives last week. This was my twelfth visit to Muslim societies because I do not "fear" Muslims and do not "fear" Islam. Yes, there is ample evidence that Australians have become uneasy about Muslims in general and hostile in specific cases, but this is about cause and effect.
Consider the series of blows to the image of Muslims in just the past three weeks, where the everyday decency of the majority have been collaterally damaged by the antics of the few.
On March 8, the night of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, police say a group of about 100 young Muslim men, allegedly members of a loose gang called MBM - Muslim Brotherhood Movement - moved through the centre of the city intimidating, harassing and beating bystanders.
On March 15, Abdul Darwiche was murdered, shot to death in a shopping centre in the latest hyper-violence involving two warring Lebanese Muslim clans. Police later arrested Darwiche's brother, Michael, for driving around with a loaded pistol. A third brother, Adnan, appeared in the NSW Supreme Court three years ago to be sentenced for a double murder. He and his fellow accused, Nasaem El-Zeyat and Ramzi Aouad, laughed and joked, going out of their way to express their contempt for Australian law. After the three men were all given life sentences they shouted "God is great!" This was the same Adnan Darwiche who purchased rocket launchers stolen from the Australian Army, which have never been recovered.
Hundreds of mourners attended Abdul Darwiche's funeral at the Lakemba Mosque, where, within days, Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly was involved in yet another controversy. Channel Nine obtained a copy of a video surveillance tape which shows the former mufti of Australia kicking in a door, then returning soon after in the company of police. Apparently he called police over vandalism which he committed, blaming others who are engaged in a power struggle at the mosque. Sheik Hilaly has been embroiled repeatedly in controversy and provocation, making numerous inflammatory remarks about Australia and Australians.
A few days later, yet another rape sentence was handed down to one of the K brothers, three of whom, during their various trials for gang rape, claimed they were victims of an anti-Muslim conspiracy. Between them, four K brothers have been convicted of gang-raping five girls.
This sentencing followed closely on the conviction of seven Sydney schoolboys for the aggravated sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in a toilet block in Yagoona in 2007. According to police, the ring-leader was on his phone speaking in Arabic during the assaults and most or all of the boys are of Muslim background.
If this is so, these latest convictions produce a morbid tally of more than 30 young Muslim men involved in serious proven sexual assaults of non-Muslim girls in Sydney, involving the Skaf brothers, the K brothers, the E-M cousins, the Yagoona schoolboys and various others. Because sexual assault is the least reported crime (about 15 per cent of incidents are reported to police) this particular phenomenon was certainly much broader.
Finally, there has been fatal violence between bikie gangs, accompanied by news that there has been an infusion of young Muslim men into the bikie culture. There is now warring between new gangs and traditional Anglo criminal gangs for control of the drug and protection markets. Gang leaders named Mahmoud and Hassan and Ismail have been prominent. Gangs like MBM, Notorious and Asesinoz have flaunted their ethnicity. Overtly racist videos have been posted on YouTube, such as the message that "Asesinoz is now targeting Aussies", with an image of a vandalised Australian flag.
The events of the past week have been a variation on a theme police have been dealing with for years. It erupted spectacularly in 2005 when a self-styled "intifada" by armed Muslim men, travelling in convoys, staged numerous co-ordinated assaults across the eastern beach suburbs of Sydney. The attacks were in response to the most notorious case of anti-Muslim feeling in Australia, the Cronulla riot in December, 2005. The roots of this demonstration was the failure of the police, who for years had preferred to pretend the problem did not exist. (See article 2003 by Tim Priest at http://www.icjs-online.org/indarch.php?article=684 )
Given the abundant evidence of violent cause and fearful effect, involving a small percentage of antagonists, the general charge of Islamophobia is an ideological fabrication.
As for the criminal gangs, for more than 10 years I have argued that Australia needed anti-gang laws similar to the RICO laws (racketeering influenced corrupt organisations) used in the United States, which smashed the code of silence and solidarity by criminal gangs. Finally, the state Labor Government has begun to stir on this issue.