By Karen Percy, ABC
Nasrin did not know Martin Place gunman Man Haron Monis but during December’s deadly siege the Melbourne IT worker said she felt his actions personally.
“I was returning from work on the train — a lady started pushing me with her bag and she started yelling at me and telling me to go back to the Middle East. I didn’t come from the Middle East,” the petite and softly spoken mother of three said.
Nasrin is originally from Bangladesh, but has been in Australia since 1991.
She was attacked twice around that time and admitted she was “shaken inside” and lived in fear.
She would sit next to the emergency button on the train just in case she was attacked again.
“Racism hurts”, she told a 200-strong crowd at a forum on Islamophobia in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg.
Nasrin wears a black veil that covers half of her face. She organised the awareness forum in part because of her personal experience, and because of the stories she heard of other Muslim women who have been attacked.
Incidents included having their scarves pulled off them, and in one case, a woman had coffee thrown on her.
“From a victim’s point of view, Islamophobia is racism,” Nasrin said.
“People can say Islam is not a race … but from a victim’s point of view this kind of abuse … affects our lives, how we go on with our daily lives.”
Melbourne’s Muslim community is increasingly concerned about anti-Islamic sentiment.
I’m not a scary person. I’m very friendly and if you have any questions come to this type of event, ask the question and learn that we are just normal people like you.Nasrin Amin speaking at a forum on Islamophobia
Last month nationalist groups clashed with anti-racist groups in the CBD, some of them calling Islam an evil ideology.
Hatred was directed at Muslims in the town of Bendigo after the council there approved the building of a mosque.
The emergence of radicalised Muslim youths from Melbourne’s suburbs also added to heightened suspicion and, in some cases, threats made against local Muslims.
‘I can’t remember a week without a story … about Islam or Muslims’
The forum heard that for Muslims much of the national debate and several federal policies — including the war on terror, anti-terrorism legislation including a proposal to strip citizenship — seem to be directed against them, said Doctor Yassir Morsi from the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding at the University of South Australia.
“It’s tied to the asylum seeker debates, tied to immigration debates, tied to what you might say is a sense of what it means to be Australian in a global world, so there’s plenty of factors,” he said.
He said scrutiny of Australian Muslims began in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, but escalated in the media and in the political sphere.
“I can’t really remember a week without there being story of something or other about Islam or Muslims and their threat,” Dr Morsi said.
Nasrin is also concerned about “the media and politicians’ publicity of the highly publicised raid cases”.
“If you look at those raid cases, as soon as they are on the television, the news, that’s when the Muslim women start to get attacked.”
She hopes forums like the this one will generate better understanding.
“I’m not a scary person. I’m very friendly and if you have any questions, come to this type of event, ask the question and learn that we are just normal people like you,” Nasrin said.
“There’s nothing to be scared of, we can be friends.”