Australia: ‘You don’t belong here’: A Muslim MP on racism in politics

Of note:

It’s true what they say. Some Australians would rather have our prime minister than theirs. They looked across the Tasman after the March 15 terror attack in Christchurch and saw what Australian politician Mehreen Faruqi​ calls “authentic, compassionate leadership”.

Faruqi is a Green Party senator for New South Wales. In 2013, she became the first Muslim woman ever elected to an Australian parliament. When March 15 happened, shock and devastation were followed by mourning, because it all seemed very close to home. It could so easily have happened there. Faruqi remembers her first speech in the senate was about the normalisation and legitimisation of hate, and the people it was hurting.

“I felt it very close to my heart when Jacinda Ardern said, ‘You belong here’,” Faruqi says. “That’s what we were waiting to hear from many people. What we’ve always heard is, ‘You don’t belong here, get out of my country’.”

Born in Pakistan, Faruqi moved to Australia 27 years ago. It is home for her, she stresses. It is where she studied, where her children grew up. But she has seen the mood worsen since the early 1990s. Muslims became an obvious target after 2001, and Muslim women seem to bear a disproportionate amount of the abuse. It is a “toxic mix of sexism and racism” that manifests for Faruqi as online bullying and harassment, hate mail and abusive phone calls.

“I’ve had my face photoshopped onto Isis flags,” she wrote in the Guardian in February. “I’m now used to the tabloid media amplifying lies about me and other Muslims for clickbait.”

“It doesn’t matter what I say or do,” she says. “It could be something I’ve said in support of public education, women’s rights or animal welfare, but it always ends up being about my race or where I come from or what I look like. It seems that for some I’ll never be Australian enough.”

​Faruqi came to Christchurch to pay respects and show solidarity with those affected by the mosque attacks before heading to Auckland for a conference on racism on Friday, organised by Shakti Community Council. Other participants include Green MP Golriz Ghahraman​, whose experience of being targeted by online trolls “is very similar to mine and other women of colour in public life”.

Faruqi is looking forward to comparing notes with Ghahraman. As far as overcoming racism goes, she agrees that there is more Australia can learn from New Zealand than the reverse. A lack of diversity is a major problem in Australian politics.

“Our parliaments don’t actually look like our streets or suburbs. Politicians often highlight that we are one of the most multicultural countries in the world but our representation should be reflective of that multiculturalism.”

Another problem she notices is a lack of understanding of the diversity of Muslim communities. There is a lazy assumption that Islam is not compatible with the freedoms of liberal democracy. It is the clash of civilisations theory – see all the Right-wing agitators warning about Sharia law.

“As a Muslim, I grew up with strong values of social justice, kindness, compassion and equality for all,” she says. “Those values brought me into politics and a party like the Greens. I’ve never been shy as a Muslim of talking about rights for LGBTQI people. I brought the first bill in the history of New South Wales to decriminalise abortion.

“There is a very negative stereotype of what Muslims are and what they look like. Often we are presented as ‘the Muslim community’, like a monolith. We are as wild and wonderful as any other community.”

Source: ‘You don’t belong here’: A Muslim MP on racism in politics

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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