Islamophobic abuse mostly directed at women wearing headscarves while shopping, study finds

| 18.11,19. 04:57 PM |

Islamophobic abuse mostly directed at women wearing headscarves while shopping, study finds

Nadia Saeed was on the phone to the Queensland Premier's office when a stranger confronted her in the street.

"I don't care that your people were killed in Christchurch, you should have been shot too," he allegedly said.

The 21-year-old had just organised a Brisbane vigil for the Christchurch victims, something she thinks the man could not have known.

She was also in the process of accepting an offer to speak at Queensland's Harmony Day, an event that promotes the key message that "everyone belongs".

"I was shaking, I was beside myself. It was intense," she said.

Ms Saeed attributes the abuse to her wearing a headscarf.

Her story is not an isolated incident, according to a major Islamophobia study from Charles Sturt University, which found women wearing head coverings are most at risk of abuse.

The report analysed hundreds of alleged incidents of Islamophobia.

In only 10 cases was it reported that a bystander stopped to help the victim.

That trend makes Queensland Labor MP Duncan Pegg's actions a rarity.

Seeing Ms Saeed in distress, Mr Pegg approached the man and threatened to call the police if he did not leave.

"He was aggressive and angry," Mr Pegg said.

"It was distressing enough for me let alone her who was the target of it.

"It goes to show these events can happen anywhere … this was in the middle of the day outside a half-empty halal chicken shop."

Intervention in attacks rare

Ms Saeed reported the incident to the Islamophobia register, an online website which feeds the raw data to a research team at the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation at Charles Sturt University (CSU).

A Facebook post with racist content.

The study, released today, analysed 349 incidents reported to the register between 2016 and 2017.

Almost three quarters of those behind the alleged abuse were male.

More than 70 per cent of the victims were female and almost all were wearing a hijab or scarf.

However, 41 per cent of reports lodged with the register were made by witnesses, not the victim.

"This suggests the majority of surrounding people did not ignore the case but did not intervene," the report found.

"This may have been because they did not know how to do so without putting themselves in danger."

According to one report, a male bystander saw a perpetrator trip a woman wearing a headscarf, while she was walking with her toddler.

"She didn't fall but she was looking back at the guy in terror … and no-one did anything," the bystander said.

Facebook post with racist content.

"I was about to react but I re-thought about how he's twice my height and how the lady was still safe so I just walked off."

He went on to report it to the register.

CSU's latest Islamophobia report card is the second study released since the register was created in 2014.

The first paper, published in 2017, was billed as the first of its kind in Australia.

Derya Iner, the lead author on both reports, said she was alarmed at the increase in severe attacks requiring hospitalisation, which jumped from 2 per cent to 5 per cent.

In one alleged incident, a mother and daughter were crossing a road when they were rammed by a car.

The driver allegedly reversed and then accelerated and hit the mother again, after she had protected her child from the vehicle.

The woman rolled onto the bonnet and crumpled to the ground.

Shopping centres a hotspot for abuse

While the volume of Islamophobic attacks in Australia has remained relatively stable, where it is taking place has changed, the study found.

A chalkboard cafe sign with an islamophobic message.

Perpetrators are becoming more brazen, with harassment in public areas guarded by security officers and CCTV jumping 30 per cent.

"The presence of security guards and cameras in shopping centres did not effectively deter perpetrators, nor did the presence of other people," the report states.

The second most common place for harassment was in schools and universities.

Incident reports made to the register outlined racists slurs from other students, teachers, principals and sports coaches.

"My daughter found graffiti about her in the girl's toilets at school calling her a sl**ty terrorist. Another added to it, saying 'I agree she blows things up'. Her friends scribbled over it and wrote 'if you knew her you wouldn't say that'," a mother wrote.

A high school student reported being attacked by a classmate. She was thrown to the ground and called a "f***ing Muslim terrorist" before having her headscarf ripped off so forcefully it tore out hair and required hospital treatment.

"My daughter returned home with deep fingernail marks on her lower arm, after being attacked by a 14-year-old girl for being a Muslim," another mother reported.

"I was called an illegal immigrant by the head of the senior school I attend. After telling my parents and the school, the perpetrator was not punished," a student said.

Another mother explained how she chose to remove her head covering before collecting her daughter from school so the girl was not identified as a Muslim and bullied.

Children not immune from racist attacks

The researchers found the presence of children did not deter abusers.

In some cases, their presence intensified the level of hatred.

Children, whose faces are blurred, sit on a train.

Melbourne man Syed's experience with a stranger on a Brisbane train left his children so scared they have not been on public transport since.

He said the man tried to grab one of his children and threatened to throw them off the train.

"He went into my little children's faces (aged from five to 10) and said he would love to kill them all," Syed said.

"The kids got scared and started crying.

"I cannot forget that journey for my entire life as I was sitting helplessly and watching him abuse myself, my wife and my children."

Of the 147 verified online incidents, Facebook slurs were the most common (63 per cent).

More than a third of the abusive online posts were reported to the register by non-Muslims, often men.

The report also found a clear connection between race-hate posts and terror attacks overseas.

Some users were seen holding real guns in their profile pictures, while threatening to massacre Muslims.

Of particular concern, Dr Iner said, were posts that issued a call to arms.

"Let's fire bomb the mosque at Arundel with all the mozzies trapped in it," one person allegedly wrote.

Queensland cases disproportionate

Fourth generation sugar cane farmer Alma Mohammed, who lives in Gordonvale, outside Cairns in far north Queensland, has been targeted several times.

Her family has been in Australia for more than 100 years but that does not protect her from racist slurs telling her to "go back to where you come from".

The most recent incident was when Ms Mohammed was leaving a Girl Guides event with her young children.

"I'm sick of you people, why don't you f*** off … go back to where you came from" a stranger allegedly said.
"I was in defence mode, holding my baby in front and pushing my daughter behind me," Ms Mohammed told the ABC.

"He was carrying on, waving his arms around, and he had a bottle in his hand."

Facebook post with racist content.

Ms Mohammed belongs to the only Muslim family in the small Queensland town she lives in.

"I wear regular clothes, but I do wear the scarf, and I think he targeted me because of that," she said.

The researchers found the volume of incidents was generally proportionate to state population, except in Queensland.

It was the third most likely state for an Islamophobic attack despite having the nation's fifth largest Muslim population.

Harassment was also more common in culturally diverse suburbs than non-multicultural areas.

Dr Iner said Islamophobia was often a reaction to anti-Islam political rhetoric and media coverage of terrorism.

She said incidents were underreported and she feared the 349 cases analysed were just the "tip of the iceberg".

"We cannot be complacent," Dr Iner said.

"Social cohesion is something that must be nurtured and repaired by all of us for the wellbeing and security of Australia."

The next report will look at data from before and after the Christchurch massacre, in which 51 people died, 49 were injured and many more were traumatised.


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