Demonising Sydney’s Muslim Communities, Yet Again, Is All About the Gaza Optics

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Demonising Sydney’s Muslim Communities, Yet Again, Is all about the Gaza Optics

The fact that Israel has been able to perpetrate a seven-month-long genocide against the Palestinians of Gaza, while western powers have watched on in support, has destroyed all notions that humanity, or for that matter, the enlightened west, has moved beyond such colonial barbarism.

While the recent designation of a nonfatal stabbing in a western Sydney church, which resulted in the  charging of seven Muslim teens, despite only one having committed a violent act, appears to reveal that the Australian system is not done with demonising local Muslims for political gain.

The view from social media platforms has involved posts from key voices within the NSW Muslim community decrying a return to the past: a time when terrorism raids, widespread surveillance and the dubious fear of an ideological attack were a feature of the Greater Sydney region.

And in mirroring how the Gaza horror has served to reveal certain political and social systems geared to propagate a skewed version of the global geopolitical landscape, so too has the just relaunched ‘threat of suburban terrorism’ given NSW a clearer picture of how these processes work.

Indeed, as advisor to the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN) Rita Jabri Markwell tells it, the community doesn’t have to “look far into the past” to appreciate the double standards at play, as another recent deadly stabbing in Bondi and a Botany bomb threat are informative enough.

Hidden agendas

The violence in a Bondi Junction mall saw Joe Cauchi, a white Australian man of European descent, stab six people to death, with five of his victims being women, and the NSW Police Force was confident enough to publicly state that the killer was targeting women.

Members of the public then raised the point that the far-right-linked Incel movement has been a phenomenon in the Anglosphere over recent decades, which involves misogynistic heterosexual white men, unable to forge a relationship with a woman, blaming, and at times harming, them for it.

And this type of violence, which is often fatal, has been recognised as terrorism in other nations, to the point that Incel motivated crime in Canada has been charged as a terrorist offence.

Yet, NSW authorities obviously aren’t up to date on these matters. And as AMAN pointed out in a 24 April statement, in the same amount of time that NSW police was able to determine Cauchi stabbed six people due to “mental health issues”, it was also able to deem a 16-year-old Muslim a terrorist.

The nonfatal stabbing of a priest in a Wakeley church by the boy was not only labelled an act of terror by NSW police commissioner Karen Webb within hours, but the designation then gave rise to 400 law enforcement officers carrying out 13 fresh terror raids on mainly minors on 24 April.

So, the television screen is now telling us that a white guy stabbed five women, as well as someone else who got in the way, and the killer obviously had issues, yet the Muslim kid who stabbed a priest is a terrorist of sound mind, and his mates, who he’d been speaking with, ought to be locked up too.

And the final takeaway is that an Israeli man, who has confessed to leaving a homemade bomb at the house of a pro-Palestinian white Australian man, with a note demanding that the victim remove his show of support or else he might die, has had stalking charges laid against him.

Applying the law prejudicially

Since the 2001 9/11 attacks in New York, the Muslim equals a terrorist equation has widely been propagated both globally and domestically. And the thing about a NSW terror designation is that it doesn’t just open up special powers of inquiry for police, but it also triggers draconian penalties.

So, not only is a broad suspicion being cast over the entire Muslim community in NSW, as these old tropes are given a shot in the arm, but some of the families caught up in last week’s terror raids are seeing their children, who were allegedly pondering crime, now facing up to life imprisonment.

“It’s an ongoing problem with significant consequences because terrorism or terrorism conspiracy comes with a life sentence, and factors like age, mental health and disability are not considered like other crimes,” explained Markwell.

Just a week after 9/11, the UN issued resolution 1373, which recommended all member states enact terror laws domestically with appropriately severe penalties.

Since then, the Australian major parties have gone to town, with over 100 pieces of counterterrorism and national security legislation having been passed just at the federal level, while this bipartisan project continues to this day.

These local laws go much further than in other comparable western nations though, as Australia is the only such country without federal human rights protections.

And while these laws have eroded the rights of all constituents, the systemic prejudice within the criminal justice system has seen Muslims targeted by them.

“Terrorism-related offences must be judged by a jury, so when police work to elevate terrorism concerns by designating events as terrorism it doesn’t lead to irreparable prejudice,” said Markwell, as she reflected a call from her community to ensure that recent charges are tried in that manner.

“Unfortunately, because of the dehumanisation of Muslims,” the Birchgrove Legal lawyer continued, “the public is primed and conditioned to accept this kind of differential treatment.”

Advantageous prejudice

Besides raising questions as to why haters gonna hate’ police commissioner Webb decided it was necessary to announce to the entire NSW population that she had identified the Wakeley stabbing as an act of terrorism at 1.35 am, the designation also carried a sense of foreboding about it.

And those in the community that immediately expressed their misgivings about the commissioner’s decision, which was supported by the NSW premier after he woke up, were proven right when the Joint Counter Terrorism Team unleashed hundreds of officers upon a bunch of teenagers last week.

Markwell pointed to a Deakin University study, which found that regardless of whether a person has left or right political affiliations, along with any understanding of Islam or relationships with Muslim people, once someone like Webb cries terror, all this goes out the window as prejudice takes hold.

“So, we know that the religiously motivated category and exclusive use of terrorism laws, designations and policing for Muslims, serves to benefit certain political agendas,” the lawyer, who has worked as an advisor to multiple Australian political leaders, made certain.

A clear example of this was revealed by the Herald in 2011, as it reported on a Liberal Party meeting, which saw then shadow immigration minister and later PM Scott Morrison suggesting his party should exploit prejudices against Muslims within the community to gain a political advantage.

“Right now, it helps those who want to maintain control of a narrative about Australia being on the side of good in relation to its ongoing military support to Israel by diminishing empathy for Palestinians,” the lawyer set out regarding why terror hysteria is flooding the mainstream media.

Over the course of Israel having killed tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, including huge numbers of children, the Australian government has provided unbridled support for the massacre, as it’s portrayed it as a justified act of self-defence on the part of the Netanyahu government.

According to Markwell, the Sydney Palestinian community has, as has the Muslim community, been “intentionally conflated with terrorism” by pro-Israeli groups like the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the Australian Jewish Association (AJA) and the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA).

And, of course, in regard to the pro-Palestinian marches that have paraded through the Sydney CBD upon unceded Gadigal land for the last 29 weeks, the media has been consistently demonising it as antisemitic, which involves conflating genocide opposition with prejudice against Jews.

Demonising Palestinians and Muslims

“The attempt to align Palestinians with Muslims and terrorism has been concerted for the past six months, because it’s the most effective way to deflect moral responsibility from Israel for its carnage,” Markwell continued. It serves “to dehumanise the victims”.

And AMAN provided four clear examples of how this is playing out. ECAJ chief executive Peter Wertheim publicly described the pro-Palestinian movement as a combination of Islamist extremists and Western progressives, who have a shared hatred of Western liberal democracy.

Australia Israel & Jewish Affairs Council chair Mark Leibler suggested on Q&A that Jewish people appear to have a natural aversion to terrorism, whereas Palestinians do tend to partake in it, and he actually raised 9/11 during his diatribe, which had nothing to do with Palestinian people.

And local economist Henry Ergas has gone as far as to claim that Islamic theology is antisemitic, while an all-star 25 October Daily Telegraph article, featured ECAJ co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin, AJA chief executive Robert Gregory and ZFA president Jeremy Leibler, all demonising Muslims.

Markwell underscores that these instances show the deliberate dehumanising of Palestinians and Muslims “via the imputation of a terrorist connection”, and this is a strategy that “sadly works to activate Australian prejudice and disarm rational thinking by elevating terrorism concern”.

Scarifying constituents to the greater cause

The local solicitor further told  Sydney Criminal Lawyers that a campaign running in the Murdoch press of late, asserts that Labor is not supportive enough of Israel, and this is lending credence to the crackdown on Muslim terror, as in the public mind, it equates to a show of support to Tel Aviv.

“Look at the PM’s comments following the Bondi and Wakeley stabbing incidents,” Markwell continued.

“On Bondi, he was focused on the victims and the bravery of first responders. On the Wakeley incident, he did not challenge assertions that the boy was driven by Islam and made prejudicial remarks about the boy being ‘radicalised’.”

The counternarrative regarding the Gaza genocide that’s been conveyed to the community online via Al Jazeera, TikTok and the alternative media, provides true insight into the devastation Israel is propagating in Gaza, and this is making it difficult for Labor to continue its support for Tel Aviv.

Yet, the propagation of a terror scare, as Markwell has noted, triggers irrational fears within the public, with the trope of Muslim as terrorist rising to the surface, and the recent conflagration of this stereotype with Palestinians in public forums, has served to erode calmer understandings.

“Albanese claims to be letting the police do their job, but really, there is a use of criminal laws and policing for political ends,” the Sydney lawyer advised.

“The way we currently see it though, is that Labor is just as committed as the Liberal Nationals in expanding criminal laws into areas that could be easily weaponised against protesting communities,” Markwell warned in conclusion.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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