Ever since 9/11, the Western world has been living in a constant state of fear as they continue to wage their war on terrorism. While it has led to heightened security and ‘big-brother’ like surveillance, it has also arguably led to the persecution of the Muslim population. The media coverage of Islam and Muslim people post-9/11 has been largely negative, associating the religion and its’ people to criminality and most importantly, to terrorism. Such issues have remerged in the recent political climate with the growing prominence of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in Iraq and Syria. Currently, race, ethnicity and religion around Muslims have become major issues for Australian media. Even though It appears that the media has adopted ‘dog whistle journalism’ blended with Islamophobic encoded messages which has fuelled hostility against Muslim Australians.
The blatant racist and islamaphobic commentrary was apparent during two key events which occurred in the year of 2014. In September last year, Australia experienced the largest ‘counter-terrorism raids’ operation in Sydney, with more than 600 police officers raiding homes across Sydney. The police force reacted immediately upon intercepting a call between two men, allegedly planning to implement a ‘terrorist attack‘ (this term was used across media outlets and political rehertoric). Media outlets had no problem in foregrounding the ethnicity and religion of the men involved. For example, The Daily Telegraph, did not hesitate to include descriptions of the accused’s physical appearance: ‘Azari who has dark hair, a beard and moustache, had displayed ‘an unusual level of fanaticism’ in the call…’, followed by ‘Azari, who had sat in the dock stroking his beard…smiled briefly…’. Such written descriptions racially profiles the man and perpetuates the stereotype of the appearance of a Muslim man, or I dare say, the appearance of a ‘terrorist’. The unnecessary inclusion of Azari ‘stroking his beard’ and ‘smil[ing]’ is another stereotypically ‘evil’ image. Finally, the inclusion of the ‘curved sword inscribed with black foreign lettering’ was one of the most frightening and powerful images to emerge from the raids. It was described as a ‘lethal sword terror cell’, with the quick assumption that the sword would be used for a terrorist act of beheading a civilian. Such claims were untrue as it was later found that the sword was a decorative piece.
However, while Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph reported the anti-terrorism raids under the headline of ‘terrorism’, the discovery of 50 kilograms of explosive materials in a Brisbane property along with maps hinting that these explosives were to be used in the areas of central Sydney and Newcastle, was simply labelled as a ‘bomb plot’. Behind this plot was a Newcastle local Daniel Fing, a criminal who was jailed in 2006. In particular,Sydney Morning Herald described it as a potential ‘mass attack’, while Daily Telegraph failed to even report that the same materials (DMDT) were used in the 2005 London bombings. The preceding news reports suggest that had the man behind this ‘bomb plot’ been Muslim, then there would have been greater media scrutiny, making unnecessary relations to the religion and the Islamic State. It would have conveniently added to the fear —created by the Australian government — of the growing terror threat from Australian Muslims who had become radicalised in Iraq and Syria. However, unlike the ‘anti-terrorism raids’ considering this was merely a ‘bomb plot’, it was only worthy of a third of page six of the Sydney Morning Herald (Rooke 2014). Thus, considering Mr Fing had 50 kilograms of explosives and Mr Azari was charged in relation to a phone conversation, it really is questionable whether 800 heavily armed NSW Police and AFP officers were needed for the latter.
The media treatment and the political circus surrounding these two events clearly illustrates the islamaphobic undertones that exists in these reports. Considering mainstream media and our political leaders have the power to reach mass audiences, it is scary to think how their messages may be translated for the ordinary layperson. However, thankfully, amidst all this tension last year, this video emerged which has instilled some faith for me in the Australian population. Even though we unfortunately still come across the videos capturing racist tirades on public transport, it’s nice to know these people exist in our society and have the capacity to promote acceptance, diversity and an equal treatment of all Australians regardless of your religious background, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation and socio-economic status – we all deserve a fair go!