Melbourne protest against Islamophobia

Senior Muslim community leaders have refused to sanction any further protests against the anti-Islamic film that has set off riots globally, but two women in their 20s are pressing ahead with a mass pro-Islam rally in Melbourne on Sunday to protest against what they describe as a decade-long campaign against Muslims.

In the wake of the riots that erupted in Sydney last weekend, a Facebook page has been launched inviting more than 1800 people to the rally and calling on Melbourne’s Muslim community to “stand up against racism and rally in defense of Islam”.

In contrast to Sydney’s violent rally of disenfranchised Muslim young men, Victoria’s protest organisers are educated at Melbourne’s top universities and high schools and driven by a broader political view that the Islamic community has been persecuted since the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and must assert its collective rights.

Muslim community leaders in NSW and Victoria presented a united front yesterday to condemn the Sydney protests. At a media conference at Sydney’s Lakemba Mosque, leaders denounced the violence and refused to endorse any future demonstration until the furore over the weekend riot had died down.

Victoria’s Muslim leaders also said they would not support any rallies in response to the film.

“The Board of Imams has taken the cautious step to say they will not sanction or support any future rallies regarding the offensive film,” Islamic Council of Victoria spokeswoman Sherene Hassan said. Instead they will suggest alternative grassroots action, such as holding open days at mosques and writing letters to organisations and politicians to express their concerns about the film.

But Swaybah Javed, a Swinburne University of Technology graduate, and Tina Bloom, from La Trobe University, are defying their religious leaders and calling on Melbourne Muslims and others to join them.

“I think Islamic leaders promoting peace within the Muslim community will further help my cause in it being a peaceful protest and I think they have done a good job,” Ms Javed said.

More than 200 people have already clicked to indicate they are “attending”. Victoria Police say they are monitoring the situation.

The Facebook page refers to September 11, 2001, as the turning point for the Muslim world and cites recent events surrounding the anti-Islamic film mocking the Prophet Mohammed, the Sydney riots and the police terror-raids in Melbourne last week as examples of sweeping prejudices against Australia’s Islamic community.

A self-proclaimed activist, Ms Javed says the peaceful protest would be against “Islamophobia”, or fear of Islam, which she says has been on the rise since 9/11. “But no one could have expected the mass hysteria that has erupted in the last week,” Ms Javed said on the protest’s Facebook page. “It is not a coincidence that these raids fell on September 12, an orchestrated reminder that all Muslims are to be viewed with suspicion. This is the message that the Australian media, police and politicians have been falling over each other in their rush to say.”

Ms Javed told The Australian she was “standing up against 11 years of racism and discrimination and it is as simple as that. I’m exercising my right to protest and voice my opinion, which I am entitled to.”

She said she wanted the demonstration to be peaceful and would be handing out placards with the sayings and actions of the prophet to protesters.

“I will not tolerate violence at this protest,” Ms Javed said. “The peaceful protests by Muslims in Sydney were brutally attacked by the NSW police who were not happy that Muslims were taking a public stand against injustice.”

The Australian, 19 September 2012

See also Mohamad Tabbaa, “He’s my brother – why angry Muslim youth are protesting in Sydney”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 2012