Upon reading Paul Sheehan’s article (SMH, 21 Feb 2016) about the extraordinary story of “Louise”, I have to admit, my first thought was one of resigned exasperation. Not because his column was full of enormous logical potholes, nor because of its insulting insinuations. It was because the narrative being peddled was so unoriginal.
The fantasies woven around angry Arab males and their apparent insatiable appetite for violence and rape are a time worn trope of racists and their tirades. It has taken many forms over the years, from an image of “Arab” men pulling at a white women on the front page of a Polish magazine to now Paul Sheehan making grandiose claims about “Middle Eastern Raping C***s”.
Unfortunately for him, though, Sheehan has now had to make a grovelling apology, back peddling on his writing after it was discovered the story of “Louise” was found to be not entirely true, if not completely false. Such extraordinary claims of incompetence within NSW Police and Health could never have flown under the radar in the way described by “Louise”.
One needs only see the first comment on the piece to get a good idea of the kinds of sentiments such narratives reinforce. “Anyone who believes that we should not have a discriminatory immigration policy does not care about Australia and its future.” Paul E writes.
What Sheehan writes is utterly undisguisable from the racist drivel located in the comments to his article. He reduces Arab men to a pack of raging lunatics, barely human, unable to control themselves. There is no balance to his writing, no indication he cares for the humanity of his targets.
He could barely hide his glee at having validation attached to his grotesque views on Islam and Muslims. The manner in which he so flippantly paints NSW Police and Health authorities as incompetent is disturbing, all in the name of his politics.
Not least of all, his actions now cast doubt upon any claims to sexual violence. Rape is already under-reported and under-investigated, there is already much shame and social stigmatisation attached to its reporting and addressing. Sheehan has only exacerbated an ongoing problem, again, all in the name of his narrative.
We can continue peddling the usual responses about how often he has actually engaged with a Muslim, or how much he actually understands of Islam, but that all seems rather pointless in the face of such forceful prejudice. It clearly has enough power over him so as to impede his ability to effectively corroborate facts.
Sheehan creates and embellishes attitudes that vilify and demonise Muslims and Arabs. His writing actively promotes the idea that Muslims are inherently evil people, seeking to whip people up into an anti-Muslim frenzy. It demands the Muslim community prove itself as peace-loving citizens of this country, and not a pack of violent animals.
In that very act, we find the most damaging aspect to this narrative. The inherent assumption underscoring it is that Muslims are inhuman, uncivilised fiends and need to prove themselves. It does not argue for the inhumanity of Muslims, it adopts it as fact.
Regardless of such sentiments, the humanity of Muslim and Arab men is not actually up for question, no matter how much Sheehan and his cohorts may believe it is fair game. Nobody should feel the need to demonstrate how nice and pleasant Muslims should be. It shouldn’t be normal for an entire community to constantly feel like it needs to explain and defend itself.
Nonetheless, the incredible level of negligence present in the processes behind the article’s publication can be dissected endlessly, but to no avail. The unavoidable truth is, it was published. And it continues a long line of degrading politics pursued by Sheehan and Fairfax.
Sheehan has published numerous other columns that might not contain similarly explosive stories such as the one “Louise” shares, but share similar sentiments on the Muslim and Arab communities.
And it isn’t just him.
The Daily Telegraph is notorious for its fear mongering, Islamophobic front pages. Only a couple of months ago, the Grand Mufti of Australia was portrayed as a monkey on its front pages. The Australian is no better, nor our politicians, who mount long campaigns against Halal Certification and speak at Reclaim Australia rallies.
Sheehan’s piece is not just a damming reflection on the editorial policy at Fairfax. It is a reflection on the increasing normalisation of Islamophobia in the public sphere. The wider narrative surrounding Muslims now cares very little for facts or actual engagement, revelling instead on racist tirades and patronising politics
And the truth is, I am sick of being dehumanised and being outraged about it. I wouldn’t be able to count the amount of times I have come across Muslims and Arabs in my community who are equally tired of being painted as barbaric monsters.
There is a growing indignation at the fact that these sentiments remain relevant to the public conversation on Muslims in Australia. Personally, I have found in my interactions an increasing resistance to engagement with mainstream media for this very reason.
How often do Muslims need to continue having to explain themselves, their identities, challenges and religion? How often do they need to continue being insulted on the front pages of prominent newspapers, patronised by mainstream media, and demonised by columnists?
To the Muslim community, this is just another step in the race to the bottom. Another insult to be added to the flood of animosity.
We’ve been here many times before, required to explain how our religion teaches this or that, “exposed” as a pack of rapists and murderers, generalised, demonized and stepped on constantly.
Sheehan is just another empty voice in a cacophony of hatred.