Mariam Veiszadeh is a lawyer and advocate for fellow Muslims in Australia. Recently, she suffered a barrage of abuse and hate from US-based neo-Nazis and far right sympathisers. This was in relation to Mariam running an on-line campaign against Woolworths who sold clothing items bearing the Australian flag with the catchphrase, ‘if you don’t love it, leave.’ The supermarket in question was in Cairns in Northern Queensland.
The anti-Muslim and racist abuse that Mariam received trended the Twitter hashtag #IStandwithMariam, with thousands of Twitter accounts circulating the supportive statement.
Here are Mariam’s thoughts in an interview which she conducted with TELL MAMA. This courageous woman is an inspiration to all of us who believe in pluralism, freedom and the right of all people to live free from fear:
Question: What made you want to focus on Islamophobia? Was there a specific incident that triggered it?
There had much discussion amongst community leaders about the need to collate details of incidents of Islamophobia, so I decided that rather than waiting to launch, it would suffice to just start via social media and build it up slowly. I was particularly concerned as anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest a rise in Islamophobia, following the increased anti-terror rhetoric in the media and amongst our politicians.
Question: What is the state of anti-Muslim hate in Australia? Has it increased in the last two years, according to your opinion?
We believe that anti-Muslim sentiments have peaked in recent years, far worse than in the aftermath of 9/11.
Despite widespread allegations of Islamophobic incidents across the country, authorities continue to say, that they have not seen a significant rise in the number of anti-Muslim attacks reported to police.
This is despite the fact that when community tensions are at a boiling point, the Muslim community take it on themselves to offer security to women and children, citing a lack of confidence in authorities to clamp down on religiously motivated attacks.
Question: You have been abused and threatened many times? What gives you strength to get through these incidents?
These recent barrage of personal attacks have made me more determined than ever to keep battling to shed light on Islamophobia and cyber-bullying. I draw strength from my family, friends, wider community, both Muslim and non-Muslim but above all, I draw strength from my faith.
It’s a difficult and emotionally draining journey but it’s worth it. Alhumdullilah.
Question: You are seen as an icon for some Muslim women globally? What do you say to other Muslim women who want to make a difference and push back anti-Muslim hate?
History has shown us time and time again that social change only comes about when we challenge the status quo and persevere so we must rise against Islamophobia and all forms of xenophobia.
Just last week, anti-Islamic protests, organized by a group named ‘Reclaim Australia’, were held in 16 locations all around the country with violence breaking out in Melbourne and Brisbane. The Reclaim movement describe themselves as patriotic Australians who wish to “Stop Halal Taxes, Sharia Law & Islamisation.”
Question: What are the next steps for challenging anti-Muslim hate in Australia?
Incidents of Islamophobia are plainly on the rise but the authorities seem to suggest otherwise.
Having set up the Islamophobia Register Australia to collate reports of anti-Muslim sentiments, I have worked with members of the NSW Police Force.
A number of officers who have dealt with what the force labels “bias-motivated crimes” have expressed to me their deep frustration and utter dissatisfaction about the lack of funding and the lack of seriousness shown by their superiors in relation to efforts to monitor, report and combat threats and attacks against Australian Muslims. At present there is only one full-time officer working on bias-motivated crimes, along with a policy officer.
This is particularly alarming when bigoted groups such as Australian Defence League, Southern Cross Hammerskins, Blood and Honour Australia and Combat 18, (members of whom were allegedly involved in a mosque shooting incident with a rifle in 2010), are on the rise and increasingly exploiting recent anti-Islamic sentiment.
One officer said he shared my concerns that the existing climate had the potential to lead to another Cronulla-style race riot. He even told me that he was worried that he might one day be summoned before a commission of inquiry to explain why he did not act on his concerns and do more to stop such a riot.
A number of officers have also confirmed what we in the community have been hearing anecdotally: that there is a significant rise in the cases of verbal and physical abuse against Australian Muslims. These officers are genuinely trying to tackle Islamophobia but, with scarce resources, their hands are somewhat tied.
To my knowledge, a large proportion of Islamophobic incidents are unreported due to an alarming level of distrust towards the police amongst many in the Muslim community.
We cannot lobby authorities to devote additional resources to help tackle Islamophobia in Australia, if we do not have sufficient verified data to back up what anecdotal evidence seems to suggest – an alarming increase in Islamophobia. It’s therefore vital that victims of Islamophobia do not hesitate to report all incidents both to authorities and to the Islamophobia Register.
Question: Do you think that on-line hate can be reduced?
Authorities are very much in unchartered waters when it comes to regulating the Internet so I am quite pessimistic about online abuse being reduced. The anonymity factor means that people are able to effectively say whatever they want and face zero repercussions.
Question: What are your hopes for the future?
I dream of a day in which Australian Muslims are not required to constantly assert their levels of Australianness.
I dream of day in which Muslims are no longer seen as negotiable citizens in the Western nations that they call their homes.
Mariam can be followed on Twitter through the following handle: @MariamVeiszadeh