The Politician’s Photo that Sparked a Torrent of Hate

Posted 16th October 2015 by Clare O'Neil in Articles, News | 0 Comment

Women who are active on social media are used to some level of online abuse. We even expect it.

But when Tanya Plibersek tweeted earlier this week about a meeting we hosted with Muslim women, we were shocked at the reaction.

Minutes later, tweets emerged in our feeds spouting racism, sexism and vitriol…

These women were in Canberra to talk about how bringing community voices into the national security discussion will both make us more safe, and build more social cohesion. Incidents like the shooting of Curtis Cheng are tragic, awful and we must do everything we can to ensure that they do not happen again. And that means – amongst many other things – better engagement with Muslim Australians.

Earlier this year, we met for dinner in Melbourne with a group of Muslim women leaders. The stories they told about how the tone of the national security conversation is affecting their everyday lives stuck with us.

Most of these women were born in Australia and have lived their whole lives here without being subject to serious racism. One friend, Tasneem, talks about her childhood bush dancing and catching yabbies in Bendigo. She was treated as a bit of an oddity, but otherwise like any other Aussie. In recent years, that has changed.

The racism that is currently being experienced by Australian Muslims is shocking and it is real: acts of violence, sneering, snide remarks, and rampant social media trolling.

As mothers, as women, as Members of Parliament, what we found most disturbing is the impact this has on children. To hear about kids who won’t tell their classmates what religion they are for fear they won’t play with them, and who have to learn what racism is from the age of six or seven, was heartbreaking. We believe that if more Australians understood the effect of this kind of behaviour, they would pull back.

These women are not victims – no way. They are strong, articulate community leaders – lawyers, policewomen, psychologists, cultural consultants. A small group came to Canberra this week to discuss community-based approaches to dealing with young people at risk. If parents are to be the front line of extremism, they need to be a part of the conversation. And so far, that’s not been the case.

While we’re pleased to see a change in the national security language since Malcolm Turnbull has become PM, government actions need to reflect the PM’s tone.

A critical point, too, is how our national leaders respond to racist extremism. Multiculturalism is the cornerstone of our national identity, yet today in Australia, we have racist political parties holding rallies, which one Coalition Member of Parliament has attended, and spoken at.

We want Australian Muslims to know that racist extremists do not speak for us, they do not speak for the Federal Parliament, and they do not speak for the vast majority of Australians, who deeply value the people in this community as neighbours, citizens and friends.

 

This opinion piece was first published by Mamamia on Friday, 16 October 2015 and was co-authored with Joanne Ryan, Member for Lalor

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