The usual quiet of the streets of Piara Waters in Perth was abruptly broken weekend before last. Five-hundred teenage party-goers, gathering in response to a party advertised on social media, went out of control, hurling rocks, bottles and bricks at police. Reinforcements including mounted police, the dog squad and police helicopter were summoned in an attempt to disperse the crowd. A 19-year-old was stabbed and an ambulance which came to assist the injured had its window smashed.
The Perth incident is evidently quite similar, if not worse, than the Sydney protest as far as objective facts go, and it occurred on the very same night. Yet it has been treated very differently.
It received nowhere near as much media coverage. It was not dubbed the ‘Perth riots’. Politicians did not fall over one another to condemn the violence. Federal Parliament did not see a need to raise the issue in question time and forward bipartisan condemnation. Parents and community leaders in Piara Waters were not asked to condemn the behaviour, nor did they themselves go out of their way offer to apologies or to condemn the violence.
Why the difference?
Much has been said about the protest in Sydney. It is instructive for us to separate the objective reality from the subjective coverage and commentary.
Objectively, protesters angry about a given matter clashing with police is not an uncommon phenomenon in Australia. We have seen it time and again. We saw it in the occupy protests in Sydney and Melbourne . We saw it very recently at union protests in Melbourne.
It terms of the subjective response, it is uncommon that an entire community by held responsible and asked to apologise or condemn. It is uncommon for the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, Foreign Minister, Premier and other high-ranking politicians all to weigh in on the matter. It is uncommon for the matter to be raised in Federal Parliament. It is uncommon for the incident to be headline news for an entire week. And it is certainly uncommon for all of this to occur together.
Yet this is precisely what the response to the Sydney protest has been.
The reason for this is clear. The political establishment and the mainstream media adopt a different standard when dealing with Islam and Muslims. Their demonisation of Islam and all things Islamic has been persistent for a long time now, and quite evident in the last decade.
Thus, what makes the Sydney protest different, in the eyes of media and politicians, is not the violence but that the protestors were Muslim, and that the protest finds its context in the overarching reality of Islam-West tensions.
In this respect the insulting film is merely a trigger and the latest manifestation of a persistent Western aggression against Islam and Muslims. An attack defined by the likes of the unjust invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, decades of Western support for dictators in the Middle East and North Africa, and decades of economic and political subjugation and exploitation of Muslim lands.
From drone strikes in Pakistan, to soldiers burning copies of the Quran in Afghanistan, to torture by rendition, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Baghram airbase; the list is as long as it is ugly. Yet some still ask why Muslim anger around the world is targeting the US?
When this context is mentioned some respond by the allegation that we are justifying the violence. This is cheap tactic to avoid addressing the real issues. We have been clear on the point that we do not condone violent protest.
Yes, we do not condemn the protestors. We uphold the presumption of innocence. Not because we condone violence, but because it is against all principles to judge people as guilty without all the facts being clear. All the eye-witness accounts I have heard, and some media reports, suggest significant police provocation. What is the reality? Time will tell. Until then, media trials and sensational coverage is not a valid basis on which to condemn people.
Our focus should be on the real underlying issues. It is easy to scapegoat individuals for the deep social frays of a society. It is much harder to hold the powerful institutions – media and political establishment – to account for creating the environment that gives rise to and facilitates social tension.
If we continue down this path of turning a blind eye or providing hollow justifications to those who inflict the worst types of violence on entire nations like Afghanistan whilst getting all worked up about clashes in Sydney that pale in comparison, then we can only expect the situation to get worse, to the detriment of everyone.
Uthman Badar is the spokesperson of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Australia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @uthmanb (twitter).
This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald under the title ‘Muslim protesters held to hypocritical standard‘.