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Speech: Time for a reckoning with racism

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 29 Mar 2022

Islamophobia in this country is rising. The third report on Islamophobia, Islamophobia in Australia, was released this month by Charles Sturt University and the Islamic Science and Research Academy. This report tells us in no uncertain terms what many Muslims living here already know: that Islamophobia is getting worse. There was a fourfold increase in in-person anti-Muslim hate incidents, and online incidents were 18 times higher after an Australian white supremacist killed 51 innocent people in mosques in Christchurch in 2019. These are just the reported incidents. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Islamophobia is also deeply gendered. Muslim women are by far the majority of targets, especially those wearing a hijab. The number of children exposed to Islamophobia is also on the rise.

Australia has yet to reckon with the fact that this country produced the Christchurch killer. The Christchurch mosque murders were found to be motivated by extreme right-wing Islamophobic ideology. But that didn't really shake up the decision-makers in Canberra, who avoid even uttering the word 'Islamophobia'. Multiple reports of a dangerous rise in far-Right extremism and the growing threat of white supremacy haven't moved the dial either.

This climate of Islamophobia and racial hatred is not happening in a vacuum. Political leaders have been complicit in normalising hate and racism and the othering of those who don't meet their description of what an Australian should look like. Some in here have openly fuelled racism, from putting up motions such as the racist slogan, 'It's okay to be white,' to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration, to wearing a burqa in the Senate. Others dog whistle about Muslims, migrants and refugees, and yet others stand on the sidelines and remain totally silent. You are all responsible for where we are today, and it saddens me to admit that not a finger has been lifted by this government to tackle Islamophobia and racism.

MPs across the board are very quick to claim Australia as the most successful multicultural country in the world, but the reality is that your version of multiculturalism is skin deep. You will happily use us for photo opportunities at our festivals, religious and cultural events. And, with the month of Ramadan starting in a few days, I'm sure plenty of you will come to Iftars organised by the Muslim community to eat our food and celebrate with us, while you brush aside the real issues of Islamophobia and Muslim hate.

Australia has a racism blind spot. For too long decision-makers have chosen to pretend that we don't have a problem. It is people who highlight the existence of racism who are attacked, marginalised and labelled as divisive. Sadly, this place is so far away from recognising the toxicity and danger to our society presented by racism. You have absolutely no idea of the harm and damage this causes to people and communities, and why would you? The corridors of power are filled with privileged white people who have never experienced the corrosiveness of racism, so it's easy for them to ignore it and to deny its existence. Perhaps people in power don't want to acknowledge the existence of racism in case they might be obliged to do something about it or, God forbid, share some of that power that you hold.

It's time to have an honest reckoning with toxic racism—no more tinkering around the edges. It's time to challenge racism in the very echelons of leadership right here in Canberra. MPs need to be forced to the table to unpack their white privilege, their white superiority and their white fragility, even if it makes them uncomfortable. It's time to challenge the notion that our institutions and services, such as health or justice, are colourblind. It's time to mandate antiracism training for every single federal MP, so they can confront and overcome their biases and privilege and learn and acknowledge Australia's colonial history that is tainted with violence, dispossession, oppression and discrimination against First Nations people, which continue on to this day. It is time to once and for all start dismantling racism.


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