Islamophobia at USYD

Universities should rise above moral panic campaigns, writes Raghib Siddiquee.

“It was always at night—the arrests invariably happened at night. The sudden jerk out of sleep, the rough hand shaking your shoulder, the lights glaring in your eyes, the ring of hard faces round the bed.”

When Orwell inked down these piercing descriptions in Nineteen Eighty-Four, on one level it was a sci-fi exercise; a novel prediction about a possible totalitarian world. But like all good sci-fi, it wasn’t so much about what if as what is – a reminder of the capacity the modern state has in violating its subjects.

Because ‘violation’ is precisely the word most apt to describe the state-subject relationship in Australia for the past few months. The violation has happened overtly in the form of ramped up Islamophobia: draconian anti-terror laws; targeted character assassinations of Muslims such as Uthman Badar; the announcement of another military intervention in Iraq; and nationwide night raids on unsuspecting Muslim men, women and children who were left bruised and humiliated by an army of 800 heavily armed police.

For weeks on end, the ‘average’ Australian citizen has been led to believe by the media that their country’s biggest problem is an ISIS terrorist who will randomly hack off their head on the way to the corner store. Not the budget. Not the attacks on public education and health. Not the recent announcement that troops would once again be deployed to the Middle East. But the Muslim bogeyman: a useful threat that generates the public fear required to validate both the unjust anti-terror laws and yet another crusade. Forget the fact that not a single Australian has been killed in a terror attack on home soil, and never mind the half a million killed by the West in its interventionist war in Iraq only a decade prior.

The reality is that in this moment of manufactured fear in Australia, bombs are being dropped in Iraq. This creation of fear is not a new strategy that states employ to push predetermined policies. In fact, liberal democracies can do little else but generate these fears to convince its voters of its role as humanity’s saviours.

I understand the logic. Australia’s foreign policy has always relied on its alliance with an external hegemon to assure herself a degree of security. With that in mind, the ideological convergence of the Liberals and the post-Reagan US is a useful parallel with Australia’s foreign policy doctrine. I get it. We’ll mimic US rhetoric as long as they are the leading global power.

But minorities like us, the Muslim community, can potentially play a valuable place in the building of cohesion and understanding in times of tensions and fear. So when an open Q&A session with Uthman Badar and Sheikh Wesam Charkawi — the sole purpose of which was to engage with the broader community, clear up misconceptions about Islam and respond to the Islamophobic rhetoric — is forcibly cancelled by media pressure put on both the Sydney University Muslim Students Association and the Vice Chancellor, we should see it as nothing less than what it is: a pure and utter tragedy.

If we were to accept that mainstream media functions as largely an extension of the state architecture, then our universities are possibly one of the only remaining spaces for open, critical and non-dogmatic discussion. The leaders of these institutions, the lecturers, the researchers, and the administrators, the student body and unions are all a part of a web that forms a last line of defence for this space.

If this space demands our protection it ought to be a resistance we readily take on.