Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fear in the wake of the Sydney Seige

How were your social media feeds yesterday?

Mine was filled with fear, concern, anticipation and unfortunately racism. 

A particular thread I read, that began as an expression of concern for the hostage victims, and fear for our way of life that I am sure mirrored many posts in yesterday’s social media feeds, turned into an outpouring of rage directed at a young Muslim woman, whom for privacy reasons we will call Kate.

I saw Kate being subjected to abuse, she was called names such as ‘Muslim Pig’ She was asked intrusive questions regarding the religious clothing of her faith. One person asked her;

“Why do you wear that shit when you know Aussies hate it here?’

I saw comments suggesting that those of ‘Her Kind’ should go back to where they came from’

I saw her answer fear and hate fuelled  questions openly and honestly, I saw her deflect personal attacks with dignity and grace. I personally would have had to shut my computer screen and walk away, and yet Kate didn’t. She openly and honestly answered intrusive questions surrounding her lifestyle and choices, and answered attacks on her faith, clothing and origin with the skilled practice of a politician or sports personality. Someone who was used to scrutiny and debate over their daily actions.

At the end of reading the thread, I had so many questions of my own about Kate, so this morning I sat down for a chat with her, and this is what she told me.

*Kate, a wife and mother, was born in Australia. In fact, her family origin could be traced back to the first settlement. Kate is also a Muslim. She practices her faith with her husband and young family, and lives in the outskirts of Sydney. Kate took in the events of yesterday’s attacks on television and social media yesterday like all Australians. She watched the events of the Lindt cafe siege with dismay, and fear and sadness. Kate prayed for the safety of the hostage victims and for her country along with millions of other Australians.

Yesterday though, opening her social media pages and voicing her concerns also subjected her to countless acts of what she describes as racial bullying, some of which I had been privy to, many of which I wasn’t.

I wear a Hijab Kate said, A Hijab is a form of religious covering, it shows my face. It is not unlike the religious clothing worn my many other religions such as Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks, and is worn for the same reasons, for modesty, humility and faith.

I choose to wear my Hijab. Says Kate. There is a big misconception that I am forced in some way to cover myself, but this is simply untrue. It is clothing worn by the women of our faith, and I chose to wear it, and so does my daughter, but I want to be very clear that it is a choice.

When I asked Kate if she had been subjected to comments regarding her Hijab, she said that most of the time things were very peaceful, and she doesn’t see a great deal of criticism, but after the September eleventh terrorist attacks, and after news surrounding ISIS hits the headlines, or when PM Tony Abbott made the statement that he found the Burqa confronting, things tend to flare up around those sorts of things. 

Kate recalled one time, when she was on a bus with her daughter, and a woman shouted at her in a full bus 

“Why would you make your daughter wear that shit on her head?” 

Kate said the woman was loud, the whole bus heard. It was humiliating and I was scared, although I was more scared for my daughter. She is young, she has no idea why grown adults would say such things and embarrass us so? How do you explain that to a child?

When Tony Abbott spoke of the fact that he found the Burqa confronting, I was saddened. He is the leader of my country, the leader of my people. 

He was in effect saying that there is something to fear from the burqa, there is a reason to say these things, he was saying that the bigots and people who say things to my daughter and I on the bus were justified, and he is the leader of my country. 
He was justifying these attacks on the religious clothing of myself and my daughter.

Why wouldn’t that woman say something to me on the bus? Our Prime Minister thought so too? How do I explain that to my children? It was out of line.

There is enough misunderstanding surrounding our religion without someone in his position of power adding to these fears.  People don’t know about Muslims, they only know to be afraid. Islam is not evil, the lives and actions of the prophets are kind to all, and peaceful. 

People don’t know this, I get told to “Go back to Islam!” Islam is not a race! It is not a country! This is my country, I was born here! Where do you want me to go back to? I don’t understand?

When I asked Kate if she or members of her community were fearful, or were they more fearful today after yesterday’s siege, she answered, Yes. People are fearful. 

I am not afraid for myself, I can look after myself, but many cannot. We are often taught to just put your head down, and ignore, to fit in, to practice being peaceful in the face of these taunts, we need to be peaceful so that people will know we are peaceful.  

We try and yet exaggerated and fear fuelled newspaper headlines do not help us with this. 

I fear for my daughter. There have been times that she has taken her Hijab off because it has been easier. My Grandmother is not a Muslim. My Grandmother is a catholic, and she sometimes gets scared when we go out and we are wearing the Hijab, sometimes my daughter takes it off to help my grandmothers fears, so that we are not subjected to comments when my grandmother is with us.

At times like these, such as after yesterday’s siege, or headlines surrounding ISIS, or comments made by the prime minister, our Mosque will organise escorts to help the women go shopping, or ride the bus, just so we are not alone. 

It can be frightening. I personally will not change my routine, like all Australians, I don’t want to live in fear. I won’t change my routine, but many do, many women are afraid to go out with their children mostly. I find public transport seems to be the worst. My sister is scared for me, my sister isn’t Muslim, and what she was reading on her Facebook yesterday made her scared for me.  

She begged me not to go outside today, but I am. I have to go to the shop; I will let you know if anything happens.

I asked Kate what she thought of the #I’llRideWithYou hashtag,  and she said it was very sweet, it was good to feel like people had our back, like we may have less to fear. These things really help, they help with feelings of solidarity. 

Please, join in on the I’ll ride with you hashtag, there is another called WISH, which stands for Women in Solidarity with Hijabs too. 

Support for these groups is helpful. They make us feel less divided. Joining in on these movements. More than these movements though, please, if you see something, say something! If you see a Muslim being targeted or harassed, stand up and let people know this is not OK. When we all stand together, and we can all live without fear.

I ended my chat with Kate, as she tended to her children who were laughing and crying and playing in the back ground, and I attended to mine who were doing the same, and I couldn't help but wonder, why are we attacking fear for our way of life, with fear for our way of life? 

*Kate is not her real name; At her request names were changed to protect privacy.

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