My ‘third child’ made me a target for Islamophobes, but has delivered powerful insights

I’ve described the Islamophobia Register Australia as my third child. I founded it when I was on parental leave with my first child and this year they are both eight years old. It’s definitely the child which has given me the most amount of grief.

Recognising the increase in anecdotal experiences of every-day Islamophobia among my circle of friends, I felt compelled to start the register to track these incidents. When I’d ask my friends to report their incidents to police, like the time one of them was verbally abused and spat on as she walked through Sydney’s Central railway station, they’d say: “What’s the point?”

The point, of course, was that authorities needed to know that these incidents were not just random – the victims were being targeted for appearing to be visibly Muslim.

Eight years on from launching the register, last week we released the third Islamophobia in Australia report to coincide with the third anniversary of the Christchurch terror attacks as a reminder that Islamophobia kills, to put it bluntly.

The report found that there was a noticeable spike in the abuse endured by Australian Muslims in the two-week period after the Christchurch terror attacks. In fact, reports of Islamophobia quadrupled after the attack. I repeat, quadrupled. It’s harrowing to think that after 50 Muslims were murdered in a live-streamed Islamophobically motivated killing spree in what was one of the deadliest attacks in New Zealand’s history – Muslims became even greater targets. I cannot begin to explain how psychologically damaging that is on a number of fronts.

Having advocated in the anti-racism space for the past decade, I have to speak bluntly because the price I’ve paid both personally and professionally is too high. The Christchurch terror attacks will forever be etched into my memory and not only because a member of my extended family was murdered in the attacks (71-year-old Afghan refugee Daoud Nabi) but because we had felt like we had gut-wrenchingly failed in our advocacy. So many of us had warned authorities prior to the attacks that an attack of this nature was inevitable.

What the third Islamophobia in Australia report also highlights is the increasingly gendered nature of Islamophobia – with the victims being predominantly women (82 per cent) and the perpetrators, predominantly men (78 per cent).

Eight-five per cent of these women were wearing hijab while 15 per cent were women in the presence of their children. Alarmingly, being in “guarded locations” with security personnel or security cameras present did not serve as a deterrent for the perpetrators – which again speaks to the normalisation of Islamophobia.

While no one consciously signs up to become the unofficial sacrificial lamb to the anti-Islamic movement and its favourite poster child, somehow, I found myself in that situation as a visibly Muslim, vocal anti-racism advocate and founder of the register.

Despite the death threats, bacon packages sent to my former residential address, the hate mail, the doxing, the endless cyber abuse which still continues till this day, I am immensely proud that the register has been instrumental in providing key stakeholders and policymakers the academic data required to better understand and tackle Islamophobia in Australia.

In fact, the register has been cited as inspiration for the National Justice Project’s First Nations Racism Register, which has been recently launched to serve a similar purpose. While it’s a sad reality that there is a desperate need for the existence of such registers, it speaks volumes that affected minority communities take it upon themselves to establish such organisations.

The collection of data detailing the incidents of racism and discrimination is vital in helping to equip advocates and policymakers alike with a better sense of the depth and breadth of the issues they are trying to tackle. As we know, what gets measured, gets acted on (holds breath).

Mariam Veiszadeh is the president and founder of the Islamophobia Register Australia.

Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald

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