Islamophobia: the prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam, Muslims, or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim.
The fact that hatred towards one group is so widespread as to garner its own term is alarming. The fact that the term has only been recently coined is a sign of society’s growing fear, intolerance and blatant racism. The phenomenon has been fuelled by ill-informed and extremely biased misinformation proliferated by the media of the “terror threat” on our doorstep. Horrific acts by extremist groups have been blamed on a religion that has repeatedly emphasised its disgust with said events. And 99.99% of the Muslim population has been defined by the actions of the radical minority.
A normal and rational reaction to these facts is to acknowledge that the actions of the minority do not represent the beliefs held by the majority. But, for some reason, this reaction does not occur with the case of the Islamic population. Australia has developed such a culture of fear and outright racism that we are denying people who seek refuge entry into our country. We are trying to ban a religious garment because we are scared to embrace and tolerate different beliefs. It’s racism, and it’s disgusting.
In the face of the hostage situation in Sydney, the first response was one that I had come to expect of the Australian media and public: hatred. Not only of the one man who committed the terrifying act, but also of the religion he claimed to represent. Despite the Muslim community condemning his actions and distancing themselves from his beliefs, people still took the actions and beliefs of one man as representative of an entire religion. Perhaps the response would have been different had we not been cultured to fear and to hate what we don’t understand.
Islamophobia has reached a point where wearing a hijab in public is a risk. People can no longer wear religious garments without experiencing hatred, discrimination and racism. After the events in Sydney, people took to Twitter to restore my faith in humanity. Young Australians rallied in support of their Muslim brothers and sisters who may feel threatened and/or unsafe riding public transport due to the frightening response towards the Islamic community. Within hours, #illridewithyou was trending worldwide.
At the time of writing this, I do not know if the hostages have been freed. Seeing the images of the five who had escaped was gut-wrenching. I cannot comprehend what those still held inside are experiencing, and my heart goes out to them and their families. I cannot even begin to imagine what this situation must be like for them.
But there are more victims than those trapped inside. A whole community has been affected by the actions of one man, and will have to endure the persecution of the narrow-minded and bigoted members of our society. I read a post recently expressing outrage that the Islamic community had been victimised by the events in Sydney when it was this very community that had brought the terror threat to our shores. This is a ridiculous idea to hold. This one extremist is representing nobody’s beliefs but his own. It is just as bad as defining the German population based on the actions and beliefs of Adolf Hitler. And the so-called “terror threat” is nothing but an excuse to exercise racism.
The #illridewithyou movement is an incredible response to a terrible situation. It’s times like these that bring out the best and the worst in people. At the end of the day, we are all human. Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Atheist… we are all one and the same. Humanity is much bigger than religion. Your beliefs do not define you; your humanity does. So be human. Spread love, not hate.