Saturday, January 20, 2007

Muslims Piss Off Australians

Australia’s Muslims gathered on Friday for prayers at mosques around the country under a suspicious spotlight yet again after another radical cleric inflamed tensions with his extremist views. The widening gulf between Australia’s small, mainly Sunni, Muslim community of some 280,000 people, and the rest of the country is leaving many Muslims feeling their appropriate consequence and young Muslims trapped between two cultures - Islam and Australia. Newspaper headlines read “Jihad sheik” and “Crazy sheik’s DVD of hate” after news that Sheik Feiz Mohammed, head of the Global Islamic Youth Center in Sydney, had called for child martyrs for Islam in a series of DVDs called the Death Series”. Muslims arriving on foot under a blazing hot sun at Sydney’s Lakemba mosque look nervously at a television crew, scared by previous encounters with local media they believe expose Islam and Muslims as evil. “I’m Australian, I was born here, this is the only country I know. We will defend this country against anyone,” one angry Muslim says in publicly declaring his patriotism for Australia.
Sheik Feiz Mohammed
Suspicion, uncertainty and mistrust lie at the heart of the widening gulf between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians. “There is still an element of fear out there,” says Keysar Trad, spokesman for the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, and one of the faces of Islam in Australia. “I have had people put the head of a pig on my car and pigs’ trotters (feet) in the letterbox. I have had hate mail,” says Trad, who came to Australia with his family from Lebanon in 1976. Trad says that when he arrived as a boy, Australia was a very conservative and Christian nation, and he was forced to hide his Islamic faith. Religious prejudice then was based on ethics, unlike today when Muslims live under the shadow of terrorism. “A lot of people do not view Islam as modern or civilized,” he explains. “Today, Australia is less Christian, but less tolerant of Islam. Buddhism is more readily accepted because people see it as a force for peace and spirituality.” Like many migrants in Sydney, Muslims have grouped together for support, living in a handful of southwestern suburbs. One is nicknamed “Little Lebanon” due to the proliferation of Arabic signs and Muslim women shoppers in hijabs and scarfs. But this limited interaction between a small community and the rest of Australia has seen them categorized simply as Muslims, no matter where they were born.