Nope, can’t think of one.

Well, I’m gonna guess that it’s safe to assume everyone’s heard about the assault by a lone gunman on the Canadian Parliament and War Memorial (where an unarmed soldier was killed). A senseless act of violence, and apparently not the only senseless act of violence perpetrated in Canada by another senseless jackass cloaked in the figurative banner of Jihad (though the police are saying the two acts are unconnected). I can’t speak for the media in Canada, but the news down here in Oz was a weird – but not unexpected – mix of pollies (and people in the know) saying “we’re good, we take safety seriously and are confident in the strength of our counter-terrorism measures to stop something like this happening here,” and others saying “we’re so much like Canada! It could happen here too! Be afraid! Be very afraid!” This followed an incident earlier in the week when Australians were once again reminded that we should be scared of young, angry, Muslim men/boys, after a 17 year old twat from Western Sydney ranted on an Islamic State propaganda film. It seems radical Islam is still frightening.

I’m a firm believer that the greatest threat to radical Islam is moderate Islam, and one the best ways to strengthen moderate Islam is through inclusiveness, positive example and normalisation in our media, writing characters that for whom their religion is a defining characteristic rather than the defining characteristic. To strengthen the Islamic community within the greater community and combat ignorance. At some point in the future I’d like to write about this in a bit more detail, but had a thought I felt like sharing. You see while I was at work monotonously packing boxes (gotta pay for this decadent blogger’s lifestyle somehow, hookers and cocaine ain’t cheap) something occurred to me. I could not think of a single Muslim character on what is probably the pinnacle of western pop-culture, perhaps the most pervasive show in the world. I could not remember seeing any named, speaking Muslims in The Simpsons. Seriously, try and think of one. A google search brought up a kid named Bashir and his parents with the surname ‘Bin Laden’ (sigh) in an episode where Homer thinks Bashir’s dad is a terrorist (I’ve seen kicks to the face with more subtlety) from Season 20 in 2008 (showing just how long it’s been since I watched The Simpsons regularly). If the kid’s wikia page can be trusted he’s only appeared in four episodes, including the first, in the last six years. That’s it.

That’s a bit weird. I mean, I can think of Hindus, Buddhists, multiple Jews and atheists all part of a regularly recurring and literally colourful cast (even if it is a little light on Asian characters beyond the traditional stereotypes). But apparently there’s only one Muslim kid and his parents in the entire of Springfield, used in a blunt force morality tale about how ‘not all persons of Middle Eastern appearance are terrorists.” Doesn’t seem very inclusive or normalising.

Banning the Burqa? Probably not a good time

It’s been a bad couple of weeks in the news for Australian Muslims, with a long stream of reporting on the terrors of home grown extremism. We had Prime Minister Tony Abbot announcing to the public that the terror alert was being raised from medium to high (meaning attack was “likely” but “not imminent”). Then there were the massive counter-terrorist raids in Sydney and Brisbane, preventing a plan which (according to the police) would have involved kidnapping a random member of the public and broadcasting their beheading. Just a few days ago an 18 year old “person of interest” who’d recently had his passport cancelled was shot and killed after he stabbed two police officers in Melbourne. This comes on top of the occasional reminder that there are 60-odd Australians (or 120-150 depending on who’s doing the counting) fighting with Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, as well as the government’s attempts to sell and push through a raft of new anti-terror legislation and amendments that have varied from adorably bumbling (y’aaaaw, he doesn’t know how the internet works) to genuinely concerning for a lot of people (like how the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – ASIO – would be liable if they kill or cripple someone, but hadn’t specifically been told they couldn’t torture people until recently) with the Islamic community feeling noticeably targeted.

Here in the capital of NSW (with a around half of Australia’s Muslim population) it’s been enough to get poor innocent white folk – the kind with only vague notions of a distant, mysterious and dangerous land known as ‘South Western Sydney,’ filled with mosques and kebab shops – quaking in their thongs (flip flops).

And then you had SA Senator Cory ‘If-you-think-I-sound-ignorant-now-just-ask-me-about-gays-and-climate-change’ Bernardi from the Coalition again calling for banning the Burqa, and Tas Senator Jacqui ‘Even-my-own-party-thinks-I’m-dumb’ Lambie both supporting him and possibly setting herself up as the heir-apparent of Pauline Hanson and One Nation‘s dubious crown. She certainly didn’t hurt her growing image as the new face of bigoted Australian politics when she struggled her way through an explanation of what she knew about Sharia Law and when she posted an anti-burqa meme (used first by far right group Britain First) to her Facebook page, which co-opts a photo of one of Afghanistan’s first female police officers, Malalai Kakar, who was murdered by the Taliban in 2008, in a way meant to look aggressive and threatening. The photographer calls it a desecration, though apparently Lambie reckons she’s honouring the fallen policewoman by using her image to try and scare people and dehumanise those who wear it (I don’t see the logic, and I don’t think anybody who thinks about it for more than five seconds does either).

In all honesty I hate the Burqa and the Niqab. They’re oppressive garments that rob the wearer of their face, their identity and their individuality, and that is wrong by my standards. But if they’re going to disappear from Australia it needs to be because the Islamic community agrees (which many of them do) and makes a determined effort to excise it from their faith and community (which many of them are), not because some dumbarse senator is worried that a Burqa-clad assassin is going to try and shoot up her office or some such shit. Certainly not because it conflicts with the western morals of a self-righteous inner-city white male like myself.

The rhetoric being flung at the Muslim community is not good. It doesn’t seem as bad as what was being thrown around right before (and after) the Cronulla Riots in 2005 but I think those very unpleasant days are what a lot of us in Sydney at least are remembering right now, and bizarre claims about the security risks created by a handful (relatively speaking) of Burqa wearers does not help matters. All it does is leave one side feeling even more targeted, victimised and isolated from the rest of the nation and gives the other side another caricature with which to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’.

I’m not saying these are discussions we shouldn’t be having at all. Far from it. I think inclusive debate allows us to hammer out social problems, reaffirms shared values and makes our communities stronger. But we need to pick times and contexts where one sides not pouring gasoline over the issue and daring the other side to strike a match, and ignorant fearmongering should never be used.

Besides it’s distracting us from our true enemies, those bastards in the English cricket and New Zealand rugby teams.