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HREOC Website: Isma - Listen: National consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australias


|| Meeting
Notes: August 2003

Consultations with NSW secondary
school students at three Sydney government schools, August 2003

These notes summarise three separate consultations attended
by a total of 41 high school students in Years 7 -11 from three government
schools in the Parramatta, Granville and Bondi school districts in the
Sydney metropolitan area. Most students invited to take part in the consultations
were of Muslim or Arabic-speaking background. Students were required to
obtain permission from their parents in order to participate. The meetings
were organised with the assistance of the NSW Department of Education
and Training and participating schools. Staff members from each school
attended consultations as observers. The meetings were facilitated by
Omeima Sukkarieh and attended by Meredith Wilkie or Rawan Abdul-Nabi (Isma
Project Reference Group member) from HREOC.

1. What are your experiences
of racism and discrimination?


Students felt that people who are readily identifiable
as Muslim experience more racism and discrimination than others.

don’t wear my religion on me so I never get called any of these

don’t get targeted because I don’t look Muslim and I’m
not Muslim. People wear crosses for this reason.”

personally don’t experience much but my sisters do a lot because
they wear the scarf.”

don’t look Muslim but I am. I look like an Aussie but because
I hang around Muslims I get abused.”

Women and girls who wear hijab are seen as particular
targets. One girl explained how the steady stream of abuse and discrimination
was causing her to rethink her decision to wear the hijab.

in Australia it makes me want to wear the hijab less and I shouldn’t
have to feel that way.”

On the positive side:

men treat me with much more respect because I’m wearing the hijab.
Other Muslims will greet me in the street. Being under attack has brought
us much closer.”

Boys were generally believed to attract less discrimination
on the grounds of their religion.

have to recognised as a Muslim to be discriminated against. Unless the
boys have beards or wear the hat, which isn’t compulsory, they
aren’t recognised and they aren’t discriminated against.”

However, students believed that young men of Arabic background
attracted more attention from police and security guards because of their
‘ethnic’ appearance.

brothers’ cars get pulled up because they look ‘wog’.”

While gender influenced participants’ experiences
of discrimination and vilification, international and national events
also had a bearing on the timing and frequency of racist abuse. Students
reported an increase in racism and discrimination following September
11, the Bali bombing and the war in Iraq. The intense media scrutiny in
2001 of a series of gang rapes perpetrated by young Lebanese-Australian
males in Western Sydney in 2000 also generated backlash against people
of Muslim or Arabic background.

was a huge impact on the community after September 11 but I think for
young people it got worse after the gang rapes incidents because it
was in Australia and it was concerning young people.”

happened more after September 11, because September 11 shook the world…The
gang rapes I think were when we were worst affected because it happened
here in Sydney. The effect of the Bali bombing was big too because that
affected Australia too.”

Discrimination and vilification also varied according
to social setting. While some students reported instances of discrimination
in school, participants more commonly discussed incidents which took place
outside the school setting.

In school

From students

Many students felt that racial discrimination was not
a major problem in their schools. Young people from schools with a high
proportion of students from language backgrounds other than English were
especially likely to report that racism was not a big issue in their school.

don’t think there’s a problem because we’re all wogs.
Being in a co-ed school helps too.”

have never been discriminated against at school or anywhere else and
I don’t know if that is because I am not a Muslim.”

my old school we - the Arabs - used to get called ‘Arab’,
‘Osama’, ‘Taliban’. But here it’s a multicultural
school so it’s not that bad.”

recently had to choose the Prefects and there were about 12 to 15 of
them to choose from and we had a whole range of people from different
religions and cultures. It was great.”

this school we all have different opinions but we still respect what
others feel and are thinking even if we do fight about it. The teacher
for example in Legal Studies when we start talking about these things
[terrorism and the war in Iraq] controls the discussion and allows everyone
to have their say and it reflects understanding generally across cultures.”

While most participants reported that racism was not
a major problem in their school, many felt that racism did nonetheless
exist and that it sometimes manifested itself in teasing, name-calling
and bullying between certain groups of students, particularly between
students of Arabic background and Pacific Islander background. In one
instance the former group refer to themselves as ‘wogs’ and
the latter as ‘fobs’ (meaning ‘fresh off the boat’).

are divisions in cultures and you can see that in sport. There are Wogs
and Fobs in different sport categories. Wogs play soccer and Fobs play
Rugby but there’s not much sledging going on though. It’s
pretty good actually.”

I first started here, I came from a Catholic school and before I started
I heard rumours that the students were all Muslim and that there would
be problems because I’m Maronite - but there were no dramas. There
are dramas with other boys in the school though, mainly Islanders.”

Islanders get told by their parents not to talk to Arabs.”

only problem at this school really is with people’s accents and
kids get picked on when they talk.”

had comments like, ‘Go back to your country!’ and I think
well, ‘You came from England! My mother was born here.’
The only people that can tell us to go back to our country are the Aborigines,
the Indigenous people.”

get called ‘Spics’ [after a tiny insect that breeds in great
numbers] and Catholics get called ‘Sarkis’ [a common Lebanese
Christian name] and people wearing the hijab get called everything.
It’s normal now.”

mates who aren’t Muslim even as a joke call me ‘rapist’.”

people don’t mean anything by it when they call you names and
some people do. I don’t get too offended by it. It happens so
often that you don’t get offended.”

While participants felt that racist teasing and name-calling
is relatively commonplace, racially motivated physical attacks are less

are a lot of Asian kids at our school too and each section controls
the others. It’s a bit like you have your own territory. When
there are fights, and I don’t think there are many at this school,
you have a fight either one on one or all bash them. So if there’s
a fight where an Asian kid picks on an Arab then we either all get involved
or none of us get involved....”

Student perceptions about teacher support

Students expressed three main concerns about teachers:
favouritism towards non-Muslim students, lack of support or assistance
in coping with discrimination and a perceived lack of understanding of
students’ religious and cultural backgrounds.

been in class and other students have said, in front of the teacher,
‘Why do you have a towel on your head?’ or ‘The Muslims
are coming to bomb us’ and ‘All Muslims are terrorists’.
But the teacher said nothing. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going
up to them [teachers] because I don’t know what they’re
thinking. They won’t stand up for us and they won’t help
us either. They’re not supposed to be biased in favour of any
group of students.”

One student who complained to her teacher about a racist
comment from a fellow student was disappointed with her teacher’s
response: “Don’t worry; she’ll grow out of it.”
Another student was so dismayed with the principal’s handling of
her complaint of racist bullying that she left her former school.

used to go to a girl’s school where most of the students were
Jewish and I was the only Muslim girl. They used to be so racist to
me and I had enough one day and after going to the principal so many
times to complain my mother met with the principal and he said ‘There
is nothing I can do. The message is brought from home and I can’t
do anything about that.’ He also told my mum that if I couldn’t
handle it then I could leave the school. So I left the school and came
to this one. I didn’t want to speak out because then I would look

The issue of providing a prayer space for Muslim students
in schools was a subject mentioned by several students in different schools.
At one school, students felt frustrated by the lack of support from teachers
in their campaign to have a suitable space set aside for lunchtime prayers.
The Muslim students felt that they are not given the same consideration
and support by staff as the Christian prayer group which has a room set
aside for its meetings, a notice in the school newsletter and reminder
announcements over the PA system.

say ‘You can pray’. But they act as though we’re inconveniencing

feel I have to beg for the key [to the room set aside for prayer].”

did have a room last year. It was next to the staff room. But they said
we were noisy and didn’t clean up. We have to wash and then the
floor gets wet. We did use tissues to dry it. But what can we do if
there aren’t enough tissues?”

Another student reported that his school is much more
understanding and supportive of Muslim students’ need for a space
to pray during lunch. However, there is still some ignorance among teachers
about the necessity for and protocol of prayer.

though it’s a school with mostly Muslims, there are teachers who
still don’t know certain things about our religion. Like one of
the teachers at our prayer room, which is the gym, he walked across
the front line of the prayer while we were praying. He didn’t
know you can’t do that so he needs education.”

were locked out of the gym once so [now] we don’t pray in it.
But generally the school is supportive and the principal is supportive
with the prayer. A few times, there is a team who want to play basketball
- they are mostly Islanders - in the gym during lunch. They usually
get 20 minutes to play and we get 20 minutes to pray. A few times the
teacher wouldn’t give us our 20 minutes because the other guys
were getting the shits.”

Impact of Sept 11 in schools

In response to the September 11 attacks, many schools
arranged assemblies or organised condolence books to express sympathy
for the victims and help students resolve feelings generated by the event.
Such activities were at the discretion of individual school principals.
The Deputy Director-General (Schools) in New South Wales issued a memorandum
to all school principals in the State on 13 September 2001 asking them
to “exercise discretion and care in relation to the constant
broadcast and availability of these disturbing images”
reminding them to provide counselling to students if they showed signs
of distress.

Several students feared or experienced an immediate backlash
in their schools following the events of September 11.

the day after [Sept 11] some girls came running up saying ‘The
Muslims are coming to bomb us’. My friend said to me to watch
out because they’re really going to hate us now.”

student knew people who’d died and she blamed and teased the Muslim
kids – even kindergarten kids. One of us told the teachers about
it but she didn’t react at all.”

Most students
reported no major disruptions or problems in their school following the
terrorist attacks.

principal did come on the assembly and talk about it. People thought
it was funny at first ...”

teachers were trying to keep everyone calm. At assembly we had a minute’s

were told that the counsellor is available for anyone who wants to talk
to her about it.”

Students felt that talking through the issues raised
by the terrorist attacks was an important part of coming to terms with
dramatic events. While most felt able to discuss their feelings about
the attacks with their teacher immediately following September 11, some
students expressed disappointment that they were not able to continue
the dialogue after the Bali bombings or during the war in Iraq.

would ask a couple of teachers what’s going on and we would talk
about it, but that’s it.”

September 11, we had a lot of arguments with teachers about what happened.
But communication leads to discussion and so we need to give way to
each other to speak.”

September 11, we didn’t discuss politics in school because the
school includes people from many cultures ... you just feel like you
shouldn’t discuss it.”

September 11 everyone talked about it but then after Iraq and Bali some
of the teachers wouldn’t let us talk about anything, and they
just tell us to shut up.”

Outside school

Students were keen to describe incidents of discrimination
or vilification against themselves or their family and friends which took
place outside school. Most young people felt that prejudice and discrimination
against Arab and Muslim Australians was becoming more commonplace, especially
after September 11, the Bali bombings and reporting of the gang-rapes
in Western Sydney in 2001.

In the street or on public transport

Students reported that Muslim women and girls who wear
hijab are particular targets of violence and vilification on the street
or on public transport. One student, a young Muslim girl who wears the
hijab, objected when she saw another passenger on her bus trying to set
fire to the hair of the passenger in front of her. The offending passenger
kicked her and yelled ‘Bloody Taliban! Bloody Muslim!’

A young male of Lebanese background felt that he was
targeted and fined for having paid incorrect fare by ticket inspectors
on a train because he was travelling with his sister who wears a hijab.
“I know he [the ticket inspector] picked on us because my sister
wears the hijab.”

A serious incident happened to a student and her friend
in the Sydney central business district. A young ‘white Anglo’
man punched her friend, tore off her hijab and swore at her, yelling abuse
such as “you Muslim terrorists! You don’t belong here!”
Many people witnessed the attack but did not intervene. The victim
was too scared to go to the police and also felt there would be no point.
Despite her fear since the attack, the young woman who was victimised
continues to wear hijab.

Another student reported that for at least six years
women and girls entering the Surry Hills mosque via the rear door (located
in a back lane frequented by homeless men) have been subjected to racist
taunts such as ‘Dirty Muslims’ and ‘You’ll
be the ones burning’.
Although members of the mosque have complained,
nothing has been done to stop the abuse in six years.

Women in hijab are not the only targets. One student,
an Australian-born girl of Egyptian (Christian) background, explained
how a family member was attacked following September 11.

Aunty was walking on the street in Granville and this guy drives past
in his car and threw stones at her and she fell to the ground and was
lying on the ground and after a while a stranger came by and then she
was taken to hospital. That happened right after September 11 and till
this day she is afraid of leaving the house. It’s scary because
you don’t expect to get stones thrown at you, especially at Granville,
and she’s not a Muslim either…”

Young male students in the consultations explained how
they were also targeted and abused or attacked. Racist perpetrators focused
on their ethnicity, or perceived ethnicity, as ‘Arabs’.

I was at Burwood recently with my friends, even though we were wearing
the cross [crucifix] some guy said to me ‘Stupid dirty Arab, go
back to your country’. What do you say to people like that?”

call me an ‘Arab’ or Lebanese all the time and mum experiences
discrimination too because she wears the hijab. Turkish people do experience

I went to Tallara and Wagga on a boxing tour, the Australians, the ‘Anglos’,
were scared. You can tell they were afraid of me because I was an Arab.
They would always say to me, ‘Don’t take offence, but what
religion are you?’”

Sport and recreation centres

One student reported an incident at a soccer match that
involved spectator abuse, in this case, of a family member. The incident
shows that discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians is not the
exclusive preserve of ‘Anglo-Australians’.

brother went to play soccer and I was watching them at [a soccer club]
because that’s who he plays for. Someone got injured in the team
and my brother went to get a drink of water and this guy from the crowd
yells out to him and says ‘You black c**t…go back to your
country!’ Then he started blaming us for September 11. So my dad
got up and said to the man ‘You go back to your country!’
and the man said ‘September 11 was your fault’. So my brother
asked the man, ‘You’re Italian?’ It got worse and
dad and the man started fighting.”

Another student felt targeted by employees of a local

[a cinema] in Auburn, the worker, an Aussie started arguing with me
after September 11 about everything. He was so racist and would make
comments against Arabs all the time. We had a fight once, and I think
it was some conspiracy between him and another worker to get rid of

In shopping centres, banks, government offices

Several male students described incidents involving
their mothers being abused or attacked in or outside shopping centres.
As a consequence, they were often required to accompany their mothers
on shopping excursions to help them feel more secure.

mother is proud of taking my older brother, who is 23 years old, out
with her shopping and stuff. She feels it’s more protective.”

got rolled in Granville outside the shopping centre and she doesn’t
go out by herself anymore.”

In the media

All students felt that vilification of Arabs and Muslims
in the media was cause for serious concern. Young male students felt ‘provoked’
and outraged by media commentary on a range of specific incidents from
September 11 to the student protests against the war in Iraq on 26 March

talkback radio stations, they are so racist. They don’t shut up.
Every morning there is something negative about Muslims or Arabs.”

11 unleashed it all and it gave everyone, especially the media, a reason
[to target Arabs and Muslims]. You can’t really identify religion
by terrorists or rapists, because no religion says this is ok. No religion
says it’s alright to kill people, or rape them.”

I wasn’t Muslim myself I wouldn’t like them either the way
the media portrays them.”

media is always attacking us, making us like animals and like they are
protective of the Australian community from us. And we are reacting
instead of responding. It’s our attitude that makes media perceive
us that way. And what makes us like that? The media.”

media make us fight. They want to stir us up. It’s like we are
animals. If they attack us and step in our boundary, we want to protect
our reputation.”

Several students alleged that media reporting of the
‘Books not Bombs’ anti-war student protest which took place
in downtown Sydney on 26 March 2003 was biased and provocative. One student
claimed that a reporter told young ‘Arabic-looking’ males
at the protest to ‘go psycho’ and that following the protest,
assuming that all protestors were Muslim, cameramen and reporters went
to schools with high proportions of Muslim students to try and get follow-up

media always portray us as being very bad. Like the student strike in
the city…the cameramen went straight to our high school and another
high school after the student strike. Why? There were students from
all over Sydney and there are a lot more Christians than Muslims who
did things at the rally. It’s a fact that they were all Arabs,
so it’s not a religious thing.”

Another student, a keen boxer, gave a specific example
of media misrepresentations of Muslim men as ‘violent’ in
an article which appeared in a Sydney tabloid newspaper.

was an article in the Daily Telegraph a few months ago about Muslims
doing boxing because they want to be violent. The journalist came to
the gym and asked if we liked the article. It was bad!”

Students also commented on media portrayals of all Muslims
as terrorists. The failure to include information about the death toll
of Iraqis or Palestinians in media coverage of Middle East conflict was
another example cited by participants of media bias.

September 11, Time Magazine always raised the issue of terrorism and
the pictures were always of Muslims, especially women, and business
people read this all the time.”

there are Muslims starting to think that Muslims are terrorists. It’s

lot of people aren’t aware that we get affected too by terrorist
attacks. Muslims also died in the Towers. They don’t say that
in the media. When Muslims die in any conflict they don’t give
the number but when two American soldiers die it’s big news.”

you don’t hear about the other side dying, you don’t know
they are.”

live in a Western country you get Western eyes news.”

Students felt that the most damaging media coverage was
of the gang rapes which took place in Sydney’s western suburbs in
2000 and were widely reported in 2001.

media has a big influence. The biggest problem is when they started
using the words ‘Lebanese Gang Rapists’, like it’s
the first thing that comes to their mind, and they don’t care
about the effect it has on people.”

the gang rapes happened they [the media] kept saying that it was a part
of the culture of Islam and that they don’t respect women. But
they don’t show the facts.”

the gang rapes, the media kept repeating that it was Lebanese Muslims
but a couple of months later there was a gang rape by Lebanese Christians
but they only said they were Lebanese and only a couple of weeks ago
there was a home rape in Newington but they [the media] didn’t
mention their religion and ethnicity but only bring it up when they
were Lebanese or Muslim. In this case the race card wasn’t used.”

In politics

Students felt that certain Australian and international
politicians were either inflaming anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment
or not providing enough support to help counter stereotypes.

Fred Nile said those things about Muslim women and that they could be
hiding guns under their clothes, man, that’s stupid. If that’s
not racist and makes people scared about Muslims, I don’t know
what is? How is my mum supposed to feel? It makes Muslim women scared
of others too. They don’t leave the house.”

some cases when we have bombing or war it’s because politicians
spread it out. Like George Bush says we’re going to be attacked
by terrorists then people believe this, especially since September 11.”

of our politicians people think that all Muslims are evil, savage terrorists.”

should focus on the good and the positive as well as the bad.”


Young men were far more likely than their female counterparts
to report feeling ‘targeted’ and ‘picked on’ by
police because of their ethnic background. Police surveillance of young
men of Arabic background, particularly young men in groups, was a particular
concern for many young male students.

were outside Parra [Parramatta] station not long ago and a couple of
cops walk past and say to us ‘What’s with the ‘ratties’
these days?’…If cops see a‘rattie’ [this is
a term used to describe the Rat tail/plait hairstyle popular with some
boys] or a hot car, then they stop you. I was with a friend and he was
wearing a white hat and we were pulled over. We didn’t know what
we did wrong so when we asked them why they pulled us over, he accused
us of being part of gangs.”

say that Lebs and Wogs are all part of gangs. Cops pull us up outside
Westfield’s [mall] all the time. Sometimes we ask for it ‘cos
my mates yell out ‘pigs’ and they [friends] do need to stay
away from them. But cops do single us out. Cops need to understand that
it has to do with us as teenagers, and that we wear things ‘cos
it’s a trend not because we’re in gangs.”

and a mate went to Auburn Park and the cops followed us there and said
that they have been watching us for the last couple of minutes and we
were just having a conversation, and they asked us “Are you sure
you’re not part of a gang?” They told us that we weren’t
allowed to sit together and asked us to go our separate ways and then
they followed my mates. We weren’t even doing anything wrong.
They’re afraid of seeing people who look like Arabs together in
a group. They automatically think that we’re part of a gang.”

cops caught me once on a train without a ticket. I didn’t buy
a ticket and in one second they were in the carriage and went straight
up to me. My mates are all Islanders and they weren’t stopped
even though we were all together. Even people who carry the right ticket
and look Arab or Muslim get stopped at train stations to get checked
and it’s clear because other people don’t get stopped.”

Burwood Road, at our hangout, the coppers would provoke us all the time,
and because I’m big they are worse. Once one of the coppers said
‘Come on you bloody Arab. You think you can take on this road?
This is ours…’”

Several students alleged that police had acted in a provocative
manner at a student anti-war protest which took place in downtown Sydney
on 26 March 2003. Students stated that the media reported that: “A
group of young men, described by police as `Middle Eastern males' created
havoc by throwing chairs, rocks, bottles, eggs and golf balls at the police
and media during several hours of chaos in the CBD.”
students who attended the protest also alleged that police provoked a
violent scuffle when a uniformed officer from the Tactical Response Group
(TRG) tore the hijab off a young woman’s head. One young man also
alleged that police were provoking young men with racist comments.

copper at the student protest said, ‘Your parents could only afford
half a haircut’. We can’t say anything. I reckon ‘cos
you look Arab they provoke you…”

Law and justice

Several students commented on the sentencing of the
young men convicted of gang-raping several girls in Western Sydney in
2000. While no students condoned the rapes, some felt that the severity
of the sentences was more related to the ethnicity of the perpetrators
than the nature of the crimes.

think all rapists should get long sentences. But when an ‘Anglo’
boy rapes a girl he doesn’t get 55 years; he gets 10 years or
something like that.”

2. How do students respond
to discrimination and vilification?

Students responded to discrimination and vilification
they experienced in a variety of ways.

Some try to ignore abuse.

get called a ‘dumb Lebanese’ and I’m Egyptian, but
I don’t really get upset about it.”

Fear and trepidation were more common reactions.

scared for ourselves and our family. How could I live my life if something
happened to them?”

have to think about the whole family as well. Even though my father
passed away I still have responsibility to protect them.”

are the most important people in the world. I fear for my mum the most.”

Auburn, Lidcombe…people were scared after September 11 so they
stay in these areas. You feel more security for yourself. In an area
where there are a lot of Muslims you can’t feel scared. Everyone
knows everyone.”

the gang rape thing, Muslim Lebanese women were scared that Australian
men would do the same thing to them...”

were scared after September 11 and Bali…and after the gang rapes
meeting up with girls was hard. We had to watch our moves around a girl.
It was hard to approach a girl. You had to be careful.”

Many students reported that they are tired of being judged
on the basis of their religion or ethnicity and ‘fed up’ with
constantly having to explain or justify their religion or culture.

asks you now what religion or background you are. They judge you by
your religion and culture.”

sick of comments that aren’t directly racist but are said with
that tone of voice.”

sick of always having to justify my beliefs. I shouldn’t have
to. I don’t make Jews or Christians justify their beliefs.”

Students were especially frustrated by what they regarded
as ‘double standards’ in the way Muslims are portrayed compared
to other groups.

priests who raped the young boys – people don’t look down
on Christianity because of that. But when a few Lebanese Muslim boys
raped some girls, the religion is looked down on.”

rapists were not religious leaders and may not even have been religious.
It’s just their background. But the Catholic priests were religious

Tamil Tigers have done more suicide bombings than in the Middle East
but you never hear about them.”

Sometimes, frustration can lead to violent outbursts
as in the following incident.

was going to Melbourne with my Aunty and the way this Australian man
was looking at her, it was awful. He started speaking to his wife and
he says ‘F***ing Arabs! Terrorists!’ We retaliated and so
there was a scuffle on the plane. So the security came and took me and
my Aunty off the plane and said to us to board another plane. You get
angry and hurt but you can’t do nothing.”

However, students
themselves talked about the need to keep their anger in check to avoid
a cycle of escalating violence and discrimination.

it in a calm way because [otherwise] people get more geed up…”

has to respond and not to react - especially us.”

retaliate. People believe that all Islam does is teach you violence,
so it’s important that people when they respond don’t make
themselves so noticeable.”

Tell someone

Few students actually told teachers or parents about
their fears and experiences of discrimination. However, most participants
felt that they could approach their teachers or school counsellors with
problems. Relatively few participants knew about the designated position
of Anti-Racism Contact Officers (ARCOs) in schools, however students had
used their services and regarded them as simply ‘counsellors’.
No participants reported racist incidents to external authorities such
as the police or community or government agencies that receive formal

advisors or teachers are pretty approachable. We’re comfortable
with them and I think teachers feel the same way, like they can open
a discussion with us and they know they’re not going to get eaten.
And teachers are not going to reply in a way that’s going to hurt
my feelings…”

teachers already know about different cultures and we share our beliefs
and experiences with them and they ask us questions and know that they
can inquire about anything and we’ll tell them.”

3. What are the underlying
causes of discrimination and vilification?

While students were
not asked this question directly, many were eager to share their thoughts
on the underlying causes of discrimination and vilification against Arab
and Muslim Australians.
One possible cause of racism and prejudice identified by students was
ignorance of the tenets of Islam.

who know ‘Islam’ means ‘surrender’ think we’re
saying ‘surrender to us, we’ve got the weapons’. But
it means ‘surrender to Allah’.”

is the opposite of Islam. But everyone hears ‘terrorist’
and thinks ‘Muslim’.”

means peace and it’s a religion of peace, love and brotherhood.
Muslims have been forced into war because people look at them as if
they are nobody.”

is it that whenever someone asks you what religion or culture you are,
and you say Arab or Muslim, you are seen as a fundamentalist? Someone
should teach people at a young age that not all people are fundamentalists.”

One student, a young
male, who stated he was of Lebanese (Christian) background, felt that
people’s ignorance and misconceptions about women’s role in
Islam was a major factor in the moral panic and widespread fears generated
by the gang-rapes in Western Sydney.

gave the rights to women? Islam gave rights to women. In SURAH 2 of
the Holy Qur’an, it talks about how women are precious and deserve
the highest respect. I’m not Muslim and I’ve read it. People
attack other people because they are different. Aborigines were killed
because of it. Black people in America are killed for this. Anything
that’s different they kill, and not just physically.”

Another student blamed
the climate of fear generated by terrorism as fostering prejudice.

these days is mixed and there is a variety of things happening around
the world but they bring it as one issue; the issue of terrorism, even
if it has nothing to do with it. No wonder people are confused.”

Several students
also felt that internal divisions within Arabic communities often spark
or exacerbate discrimination between groups.

stuff happening against Arabs and Muslims has been a long time coming.
For example, with my parents who are both Arabs, other families had
trouble accepting them because they are both Arab, but one is Lebanese
and the other is Egyptian. Sometimes people have fights with each other
within their own community.”

4. What is being done to fight
anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination in the school?

Students mentioned
several programs and events organised through their school which aimed
to fight racism.

One participant talked
about his involvement in the ‘Cooling Conflicts’ program.

The program involves
the use of drama techniques to examine identifiable stages of conflict
and to offer participating students ways of managing their own conflicts
and those of their school and its community. The program focuses on issues
of racism and involves the peer teaching of younger students by older

“We are
doing an anti-bullying pilot program using drama for English regarding
de-escalating conflicts and most of us here have done a mediating course
as part of something called ‘Cooling Conflicts’. This is
really good and we just try and make sure that there isn’t much
conflict around the school.”

Another student mentioned
multicultural events like ‘Harmony Day’ although he was circumspect
about how much such events can tackle racism.

multicultural days are ok. They’re a bit of a bludge but on every
assembly there is a different cultural dance and I guess that helps
you show your good things about a particular culture.”

5. What more could be done
to fight anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination?

“I can’t
even see it getting better in the future. Nobody gives a damn.”

Very few students
were as despondent as the student quoted above. Most students were eager
to share their ideas about a range of different strategies to address
anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice in schools and in the broader society.

In school

One participant
argued the necessity of having more inter-school visits and exchanges
between schools whose students are of different faiths.

“We should
integrate more with other schools. It would only take a day.”

One student was actively
involved in conducting inter-school visits and lectures through his local
(Maronite Christian) parish church through a program called ‘Cuminvarim’
[Latin for ‘True Light’]. The student felt that,
while it is important for key religious figures such as Priests or Sheikhs
to be involved in inter-faith education, involving young people was crucial.
“It’s more effective when young people teach young people…”

Many students felt
that students themselves should be given the chance to educate their peers
and teachers about Islam and to learn from their peers about other religions.

“We should
have a chance to explain to the rest of the school about Islam. It could
be a day where students from all religions talk about their beliefs.
If I heard a well-spoken, intelligent girl talking, I might change my
opinion about her religion.”

teachers here need to be educated about Islam. We could have an Islamic
Festival like they have at the University.”

This would have to
be handled with care, others felt.

“If we
spoke about our religion other students would say ‘You’re
going extreme’.”

Outside school

positive public awareness

Many students felt
that community organisations could be more actively involved in educating
politicians, government workers and the broader public about different
religions, not just Islam.

leaders should be doing letter drops or something. They should be educating
their community about Islam like this. This should be about different
religions, not just Islam.”

Students also stressed
the importance of inter-cultural awareness training for people in positions
of authority such as politicians or police.

“I would
tell John Howard to go out and learn more about Islam.”

politicians, all of them, they should be educated about Islam, on Arabs,
the culture. Young people need to also learn about it, Arabs and Muslims
included and it will be more peaceful.”

sure that all cops at all levels attend the cultural training.”

should be educated on the different cultures and the issues of the culture,
especially the police.”


Challenging media
stereotyping of Muslim and Arab Australians was seen as crucial. Some
students suggested the best way to do this is through enforcing a more
‘balanced’ perspective in newspapers and talkback radio and
promoting more positive images of Arabs and Muslims through alternative

need] more media programs and pamphlets on Islam.”

show programs about Jesus at Easter. They could show programs on Eid
about the history of Islam…”

them to change the whole way the news is reported and presented is huge.
But they should have to do unbiased reporting on whatever they’re

has to be a balance in the media and in politics.”

should keep religion out of politics.”

communities about their rights

Making information
about anti-discrimination laws and discrimination complaints procedures
was seen as vital by several students.

“We need
to make young people more aware of their rights.”

people don’t take it [racism] seriously. They should have workshops
which can teach people how to deal with these incidents, for young and
older people.”