On 19 April 2015, over 2000 Sydneysiders protested over Australia’s treatment of refugees and demanded the closure of Manus Island and Naru. The issues of the forced closures of Aboriginal communities and Islamophobia were also issues addressed by the protest.
The event drew wide support from the entire community, including Labor for Refugees, several Christian church groups, trade unions, the Australian Greens, Amnesty International and the Islamophobia Register Australia. This comes at a time where the United Nations Children’s Fund has heavily criticized Australia and accused Australia of violating the rights of children due to be sent back from Naru to Cambodia. A few weeks prior to the protest the Moss Review was released which documented the sexual assault and abuse inside Naru detention centre.
The speakers included Graeme McGregor, the refugee campaign co-ordinator at Amnesty International Australia, who told the crowd that 989 men were detained on Manus Island, and 718 people on Nauru, including 103 children. Ged Kearney, president of the Council of Trade Unions spoke at length of the damaging rhetoric used to frame the “debate” regarding refugees. “Just think about those three small words – stop the boats – never before can I think of three small words that have left such a permanent and dreadful scar on our national psyche”.
Kyol Blakeney, a young Aboriginal activist and President of Sydney Uni SRC, delivered an inspiring speech about the forced closure of Aboriginal communities and the hypocrisy of Australia’s treatment of Refugees.
As a spokesperson for the Islamophobia Register Australia, I was humbled to stand in front of 2000 Australians who are critical of Abbott’s Government and the response to Islamophobia. Part of my speech is as follows:
“What we are talking about today is really the common core of humanity. All humanity shares a hunger for peace, security, fellowship and justice. But in 2015 we are facing the moral bankruptcy of a country. 2015 must be the year we decide as a people, where we want our country to go. In 2015, we must decide as a people the values that are truly reflective of the Australian spirit.
In the last few days we have seen a Muslim family verbally abused on public transport in front of their children. We have also seen the burning down of a mosque in Toowoomba.
We have a rising amount of hate in this country, which is being whipped up by members of our own parliament.
It has been whipped up and it is having real life consequences not only on our social cohesion but also on Australian Muslim women.
In 2015 it is distressing that we are in a country where women do not feel safe to leave their homes.
In 2015 we have Australian Muslim women who do not feel safe enough to partake in all that Australia has to offer. We have women making the choice to withdraw from social situations as they are fearful as to what will happen to them or their children when they are alone in public.
We have children who have witnessed their mothers scarves being ripped off, pushed to the ground, hot coffee thrown in their coffee. We have seen numerous cases of Islamophobia.
It is completely distressing to see the politicization of refugees in this country, but also that of Australian Muslim women.
No one benefits when prejudice, vilification, discrimination towards any group are encouraged and the flames of bigotry are encouraged to distract from unsustainable and unpopular policies and leadership.
What this country needs is not division it is unity. Not humiliation, but compassion. Not violence, but peace. Not injustice, but justice.
There will be people and events that will seek to divide this country. We cannot fall into ear and mistrust. We must forge alliances with each other and solidify our bonds to each other. This is required if we are to bring about real change. If we do not stand united, then we are vulnerable.
You can imagine how deeply wounding it was to have the leader of our country televise his frustration that “he often heard western leaders call Islam a religion of peace and that he wished Muslim leaders meant it when they said it”.
As female Muslim advocates, when we denounce terrorism, violence and campaign for tolerance, inclusion and engagement, when we expose racism, sexism and Islamophobia in order to challenge stakeholders, to insist on transparency and accountability, it comes at a very high personal cost. This is the first time I have really spoken in detail about the cost of trying to be an advocate for social justice when you’re a Muslim Woman.
We pay our pound of flesh in death threats, online abuse, offensive pornography sent to our work addresses, the smear campaigns, the destruction of our property, the time away from our families, missing tucking our children into bed, the fights with our partners who see how tired we are, how thin we are stretched – but who know that we cannot stop in our advocacy.
Because we know the consequences if we stop being the “change makers”. We know the role women play in combating hate and racism, in addressing extremism, in promoting political participation, inclusion and engagement. We know that women are the cornerstones and pillars of our communities. We are the mothers, the daughters, the sisters, the aunties, the grandmothers. We are women in our own right.
So yes, for the record Mr Prime Minister: We do mean it when we say it. And we say it knowing that it has real life consequences. We say it without the flags behind us, without the com cars, without the security, without the salary, without the advisors. We say it because we are committed to social cohesion, to civic values and to Australia’s short and long-term interests.
Australian Muslim women have, and continue to contribute to Australia’s prosperity; we are not a new addition to the multicultural fabric of our country. However, the existence of Muslim women in this country has become heavily politicised. What we choose to wear became a national topic for debate and derision.
We recently had the deeply ignorant racists organize a reclaim Australia rally. I’m not quite sure what they are reclaiming from, but there was silence on both sides of the political divide. For Shame!
The problems we are facing now are human created and can be resolved by further understanding of each other and taking individual responsibility. Each person here today can be the bridge.
We cannot afford fellow Australians and minorities to be vilified. Doing so will mean that the stain of intolerance will continue to pollute the soul of our country.
If you stand against refugees in detention- as an Australian Muslim woman I stand with you”.
If you stand against the sexual exploitation of children in detention- as an Australian Muslim woman I stand with you.
If you stand against the forced closures of Aboriginal communities- as an Australian Muslim woman I stand with you.
If you stand and sincerely want in your heart, the humanity to be restored to this county – as an Australian Muslim woman I stand with you.