Muslims rallying in Sydney say the federal government’s proposed anti-terrorism laws would be a major infringement of their rights. Hundreds of members of the Muslim community met at Punchbowl, in Sydney’s south-west, to demonstrate their concerns that the federal government’s actions were inciting hatred towards their culture.
Federation of Australian Muslim Students and Youth (FAMSY) National president Chaaban Omran said Prime Minister John Howard had failed his community by not doing enough to stop anti-Muslim discourse. Mr Omran said the recent London bombings, calls by politicians to ban Muslim headdress in public schools and the media’s negative portrayal of the religion were feeding a growing prejudice. But he described Canberra’s proposed new anti-terror laws as be the largest infringement on the rights of Muslim Australians.
Earlier this month, Mr Howard flagged a new package of security measures, including tighter checks on citizenship applicants, jail terms for inciting violence and police powers to detain suspects without charge for up to a fortnight.
“Instead of coming out with practical steps to address terrorism, these laws will just work to create more intolerance towards Muslims,” Mr Omran told AAP. “As Australians, we just want to be treated like everyone else, we don’t wish to have all these laws set out that will lead to us becoming targets.”
Mr Omran also called on all Australians to make the distinction between terrorist activities and Islam. “There is nowhere in the religion of Islam that condones the killings of innocent civilians or non-combatants,” he said. “That needs to be accepted and made clear by the (Howard) government and it must request that the media promote that, rather than just saying every single terrorist is a Muslim and therefore the religion itself causes terrorism. A simple comment like that from the government would help promote tolerance.”
But Mr Omran said today’s gathering was also about sending a wider message to all Australians. “We all moved out to this country because we thought we would be able to carry out our traditions and our cultures, as well as making a good contribution to Australia’s society. Now we’re starting to find this is no longer the case and that is a tragic thing in a country that purports to value diversity,” he said.