Muslims are being urged to report hate crimes under a special disaster plan to deal with the fallout from terrorist attacks. Under the Muslim Emergency Management Plan, backed by the state and federal governments, Victorians will be given advice on how to react to anti-Muslim incidents, even if they are considered minor.
Muslim victims of abuse are encouraged to save evidence, take photos and report any incident to police and their local mosque or Islamic organisation. And in another initiative, Victoria Police is introducing new strategy to deal with violence and threats motivated by prejudice.
It comes amid growing concern over inter-racial tensions in Melbourne’s suburbs and against the backdrop of fears of further terrorist attacks that could strain relations further.
Police are being asked to develop databases on crime motivated by race or religion, so that offenders can be prosecuted. The “prejudice-motivated crime strategy” focuses on crimes linked to race, religion, sex, age, disability or homelessness.
Muslims told the Herald Sun they faced increasing abuse on the streets because of their religion. “A lot of women get yelled at and told ‘Go home’, or ‘There’s no place for you here’, especially women wearing the burqa,” a Muslim source said. “It happens in shopping centres, at the park or just when you are walking along in the street.”
Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria director Ross Barnett said the new police initiative was needed. He said judges had the power to take into account hate-related issues in sentencing, but police were not equipped to provide the evidence. “The elements of the strategy include training for officers, capacity to start collecting data so they’ve got a sense of what is happening, how often it happens, and what the extent of it is,” he said.
The Muslim Emergency Management Plan, financed by the state and federal governments, was devised by the Islamic Council of Victoria with support from the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship.
Islamic Council general manager Nail Aykan said there was no doubt Muslims would suffer a backlash in the event of a terrorist attack. “Hate crimes can originate from a multitude of matters but in the case of, God forbid, a terrorist attack, of course, you end up with repercussions,” Mr Aykan said.
State Multicultural and Citizenship Minister Nick Kotsiras said the emergency plan arose from a deal struck by the former Bracks and Howard governments.
The report’s reference to possible “terrorist attacks” appears to refer only to those that may be carried out by Muslims. However, in its introduction to the Muslim Emergency Management Plan, the Islamic Council of Victoria points out that “The aftermath of a terrorist incident (irrespective of who the perpetrator is) is likely to increase the risk of anti-Muslim crimes”. The emergency plan itself features a “bomb threat checklist” which indicates the information that should be compiled in the event of a Muslim institution receiving such a threat. But the Herald Sun doesn’t bother to mention that sort of terrorist attack.