Culture

Universities Across Western Australia Are Being Targeted by Islamophobic Attacks And Hate Groups

The Cronulla Riots turn ten years old tomorrow. This isn't a good sign.

A few days ago, just before the ten-year anniversary of the Cronulla riots, a severed pig’s head was found in the bathroom of the University of Western Australia’s mosque. Since its discovery by Muslim PhD student Majdi, the incident has made local and international news, including mentions in Russia and France.

The student and administrative bodies of UWA have been forthright and unanimous in their condemnation. In a statement, the Curtin Student Guild said it “is committed to ensuring that our campus is a safe and inclusive environment,” and it does “not believe that [the UPF’s] idiotic message resonates with any students”. UWA’s Vice Chancellor, meanwhile, said the “deplorable act … does not represent the values of racial harmony and cultural diversity” that the university strives for.

But this wasn’t the first incident of Islamophobia in a WA university that week — rather, one of a string. In a disturbing video filmed at Murdoch University two days prior, United Patriots Front member Dennis Huts can be seen walking into the campus’ Multifaith Prayer Centre with an unidentified white woman. They both stroll straight into the designated Muslim prayer room in a clearly planned provocation.

After being told they can’t enter the room with shoes on by a young Muslim man, and asked to treat the room with respect, Huts protests, and is subsequently asked to use the main space in the centre instead. “You’re in Australia bro, so I’ll pray wherever I want to pray,” he responds. Far from appearing a bold defender of freedom as intended, Huts shows the true colours of his Anglocentric fragility, threatened by any provision for diversity.

The video, which last clocked in at just under 100,000 views on Facebook, sees him then speak loudly on Jesus, “inclusion,” “sharing,” “multiculturalism” and “tolerance”. In a feat of bitter irony, it then cuts to a segment where he can be heard saying: “This is my country. If you come here and you can’t fit in with the rest of us … then piss off.”

He continues, “Don’t try to set up your own cultural supremacy. My country, my rules: not yours. Come here, blend in, or piss off.”

‘The Thinking Patriot’ And The Spread Of Islamophobic Intimidation

Huts had amassed a social media following under the name ‘The Thinking Patriot’ on social media, consisting mostly of other ‘patriots’ and members of Reclaim Australia. The original Thinking Patriot page is no longer on Facebook, but has been promptly replaced with a second. His new description unsurprisingly reads: “Confronting leftist bigots and Islamic scum. Saving our nation.”

Huts’ videoed stunt caused concern among Muslim students at Murdoch, and not without reason; a day earlier, he’d also paid a visit to Curtin University. An institution with a population predominantly comprised of international students, Curtin was apparently the perfect place for Huts to post United Patriots Front flyers around the campus while spouting the same stale rhetoric about Muslims, “cultural Marxists” and “lefties” into a camera. After refusing to stop when asked to by a member of the student guild, he was removed by security.

A Muslim student from Curtin anonymously described his behaviour as “alarming,” while another saw it as “bigotry” stemming from “fear of the unknown — in this case, Islam.”

In his latest video, filmed after the discovery of a pig’s head at UWA, Huts tries to say that his disruption of Muslim students’ prayer spaces is about “proving the discrimination against non-Muslims” in Australia. He uses the mere existence of “a Muslim-only toilet” (referring to the lone traditional Turkish toilet in UWA) to supplement his argument — supposedly, culturally appropriate provisions for different student demographics are undemocratic.

Huts tries to mask his bigotry in the language of patriotism and egalitarianism, vehement that assimilation is the only way to ensure true equity. Unfortunately, the contradiction is lost on him.

Fanning The Flames: The Normalisation Of Fear And Hatred Towards Muslims

Amran, a volunteer teacher who uses the UWA prayer space regularly, discussed his initial response with us. “To be very honest, I’m not totally shocked with this incident. What shocked me is where it happened,” he says. “Looking at recent anti-Islam demonstrations by Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front, headed by their national leader Blair Cottrell in November, and the launch of the Australian Liberty Alliance Party by none other than Geert Wilders himself in October here in Perth, it was just a matter of time that racists and bigots would do this.”

Both he and Majdi agreed on the sentiment behind it. “The message was loud and clear: ‘Muslims and Islam are not welcome here.’”

In Amran’s eyes, the incident was indicative of a broader culture of hostility towards Muslims across the country; he noted that many Australians “see Islam as a threat to their established norms and lifestyles. They are worried (unfoundedly) that the Islamic lifestyle will take over Australia if nothing is done to stop Islam.”

“It isn’t helped by the fact that Islamophobia is fanned openly by right-wing politicians like Tony Abbott, Jacqui Lambie, Pauline Hanson and the like,” Amran says. “Unnecessary fears are created by these politicians to make Islam into a bogeyman for their own political agenda. However, when it happened in UWA of all places, it struck a chord with me because it happened in one of Australia’s leading universities — and personally, I volunteer at the musallah every Saturday, teaching kids basic Islamic classes.”

Amran told us that children of increasingly young ages are exposed to blatant Islamophobia in spaces formerly deemed to be safe. “They are shaken by this incident. The only saving grace is it happened on Sunday where none of my students are around — should it have happened on Saturday, I think the kids would be traumatised.”

“We need to be teaching them that Islamophobia is real and it is here so they must be vigilant all the time, and that they must not be afraid to report harassment to the police,” Amran says. “We must take all possible precautions to protect our kids, family, students and fellow Muslims here from this bigotry.”

Muslims constitute a mere 2.2 percent of the Australian population, and exist in this country as an absurdly scapegoated minority. The amount of racialised hatred directed at Muslim people on a daily basis is well-documented, and occurs to such an extent that it necessitates such local initiatives as Islamophobia Watch and Islamophobia Register Australia.

Amran, one of many Muslims affected by the incident at UWA, added that he is “yet to hear any condemnation from Premier Colin Barnett and his government on this ugly incident.”

“I was hoping that State Government would come up strongly against this barbaric act because the Muslim community here believe they are not doing enough to stop this from happening in Western Australia,” he told us.

In the current sociopolitical climate, even places of education are no longer safe for Muslim students. The animosity towards mainstream perceptions of Islam and its adherents proves disruptive in every aspect of life, infiltrating spaces that should be deemed worthy of protection.

Somayra Ismailjee is a writer and artist from Perth. She tweets sporadic thoughts @somayra_.