Australia’s political leaders should condemn Islamophobic rhetoric, claims a Deakin expert.
One of Australia’s leading experts on Islamic Studies, Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh has called on political leaders to unite in condemning Islamophobic rhetoric.
Professor Akbarzadeh is the Alfred Deakin Institute’s Deputy Director International and Professor of Middle East and Central Asian Politics, holding a prestigious ARC Future Fellowship.
In a recent paper, “The Muslim Question in Australia: Islamophobia and Muslim Alienation,” published in the “Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs,” Professor Akbarzadeh said Australia’s political leadership set the tone of public debate on the Muslim question.
Professor Akbarzadeh’s paper reported on a pilot-study exploring the experiences of recently-arrived Afghan community leaders in Victoria.
“The settlement of the Afghan community is significant because their arrival in Australia was the result of the brutal Taliban rule, so they have experienced puritanical Islam. Their experiences represent a microcosm of the larger challenges facing the many ethnic communities that follow Islam in Australia.”
Professor Akbarzadeh said community members were increasingly frustrated by various politicians’ questioning of their loyalties and the range of security measures that were perceived to target Australian Muslims. Muslim youth were also growing increasingly uneasy at being singled out and scrutinised as terror suspects.
“The youth aspect is significant and should speak to all of us,” Professor Akbarzadeh said.
“If young Muslims, who by nature of their age are unsure about their place in society and are searching for meaning and identity, are relentlessly questioned about their ‘Australianness’ and portrayed as violent fanatics, misogynists and IS loyalists, then they will gravitate away from the mainstream Australian culture that rejects them.
“They will look for alternative interpretations to make sense of bad news. Fringe groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and IS fill this gap by providing simplistic answers to complex questions.”
Despite the challenges of settling in to Australia and missing their home country, the Afghan leaders interviewed for his research were happy to be in Australia, valuing its peace, security and the opportunities it presents.
“They are in no doubt, Australia is their new home,” he said.
“For every case of political extremism and alienation in Australia, there are hundreds of examples of harmony and understanding.”
Professor Akbarzadeh said further research was needed to examine the extent of the relationship between the rise of Islamophobia and the political alienation of Muslims, but the study highlighted a link and the need for political and community leadership.
Professor Akbarzadeh is the founding Editor of the Islamic Studies Series, published by Melbourne University Press, and a regular public commentator. He has produced key reports for the Australian Research Council (ARC) on Australian-based scholarship on Islam, and for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on Muslim Voices and Mapping Employment and Education.
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