At a time of insecurity and heightened fear, a group of Australians are using social media to export digestible, racist and vitriolic anti-Muslim memes.
The page ‘Take Back Australia’ has witnessed a resurgence in popularity. What began in 2012, now claims over 25,000 Facebook ‘likes’.
One meme depicts the Quran inside a toilet bowl with the caption, “Now that’s just rude it’s really inconsiderate to take a shit without flushing”.
Another meme crudely depicts two Muslim women in conversation, one is showing off a school picture. But the ‘joke’ is that all the women featured wear the niqab. It reduces the complexities of identity into literal and cartoonish black and whites.
The stencilled rhetoric that calls for a burqa ban (often confused with the niqab) is an evolving meme with global appeal. On September 22, the ‘Take Back Australia’ page used an oddly familiar image, which the far-right Britain First posted in July. Both images received thousands of individual Facebook ‘likes’ and shares.
A separate Britain First meme recently generated negative headlines in the UK and Australia. The life of an Afghan policewoman, who was murdered by the Taliban, was reduced to a decade-old portrait of her brandishing a gun, in a blue burqa.
Lieutenant-Colonel Malalai Kakar’s life became a cautionary meme about the dangers of terrorism. Her portrait defaced with a red text that read, “Terror attack level: Severe. An attack is highly likely.”
Jacqui Lambie, An Australian senator, then posted the same meme to her Facebook in late September, to boost her anti-burqa campaign.
But there is a sad irony to this meme, it robs Kakar of the safety she felt when wearing the burqa. Prior to her death, she told a documentary maker, “I am not forced to wear the chaudari [burqa], my husband or the police force does not require it. I want to wear it because it gives me advantages.”
Australia may yet reverse plans to ban women from wearing niqabs and burqas in the parliamentary public gallery.
Negative rhetoric (politically and in the media) is crystallising animosity and sporadic violence against Muslims. In spite of public disassociation with the terrorist group ISIS, many Australians fail to hear these voices, and guilt by association remains.
The racialisation of Muslim identity means Sikhs are labelled ‘terrorists’ and told to ‘go home’. A white non-Muslim was threatened with decapitation due to the length of his beard and called ‘a dirty Muslim’. Mosques are also vandalised.
Violence and abuse against visible Muslim women is a growing problem. Despite the rhetoric that appears on ‘Take Back Australia’ (and other sources) some voices are speaking out in support of Australian Muslims.
A recent act of solidarity with Muslim women included non-Muslim women appropriating the hijab for a week.