One in 10 Australians fear Muslims

According to a new study released by The University of South Australia’s International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, one in 10 Australians are highly Islamophobic.

The International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, which is part of The University of South Australia (UniSA), surveyed 1000 Australians and found that 10 per cent of them had hostile or negative attitudes towards Muslims. Most respondents in the negative claimed fear of terrorism as a strong catalyst for their views.

The study also found that older Australians, along with the less well-educated and those less accepting of migrants were most likely to hold such views.

UniSA’s Riaz Hassan said the survey was the first to take into account the perception of Australians’ attitudes towards one of the country’s most diverse religious communities.

And whilst the study’s findings showed that one in 10 Australians fear Muslims, 70 per cent of those surveyed said they felt comfortable having a Muslim as a friend or family member. Although these same Aussies did say they felt more distanced from Muslims socially than from other religious groups.

The International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding believes the role that governments, communities and the media play within a social and cultural context is as much a part in forming perceptions as the religion itself.

According to the report, “There are pockets of prejudice and anxiety directed towards Muslims, for example among the aged and those facing financial insecurity, but the great majority of Australians in all states and regions are comfortable to live alongside Australian Muslims”.

Interestingly, the report showed that political affiliations also strongly influenced Islamophobia, with Liberal and National Party voters more likely to be Islamophobic than those aligned with the Labor Party or the Greens.

Read the UniSA report

Opinion: Are you Islamophobic?

As much as we’d all like to claim we are not prejudiced against Islam, the stigma attached to terrorism is simply too much for some to bear. But is it fair to blame Islam for IS?

One in 10 Australians are Islamophobic. At first glance, that doesn’t sound so bad. If I’m being honest, I would have expected that number to be higher. Upon further scrutiny though, that’s 10 per cent, which equals 2,397,550 people who are afraid of Muslims. That’s a lot of Australians. It is worth mentioning, however, that a survey of 1000 people is a relatively small sample size.

I’d like to think that I hold fairly liberal (in the true sense of the word) views when it comes to religion, race and culture, as I’m sure many of you do. But I’m also the first to admit that, as much as I’m loathe to do so, my initial reactions to anything ‘Islam’ are slightly tainted by a little bit of fear and misunderstanding. 

Do I blame the media for this? Or does this attitude run much, much deeper, through hundreds of years of an ‘us versus them’ mentality created by and imposed upon us by both the Christian church and western politics?

Sure, it’s easy to blame others for a negative perception of Islam, but really, it’s up to us how we treat and perceive our fellow human beings.

I have a few Muslim friends and they are absolutely superb human beings. I have had beautiful experiences with Muslims in my community and I have watched others have the same. When I see these types of interactions between Aussies (be they Christian, Buddhist, atheist, etc) and Muslim Aussies first hand, it really does open my eyes to the fact that most of our perceptions of Islam may actually be based more on media portrayal than direct association.

Now, I’m perfectly aware of the type of comments that may follow this article, but I ask you, what direct experience have you had that has formed your opinion of Islam? Is it actually fair to tar all Muslims with the same brush because of a minority of extremists? Similarly, do you automatically assume that all catholic clergy are paedophiles because of the actions of a few dodgy priests? Are all men (or women) evil because a few are murderers and rapists? Clearly not!

They may be difficult questions, sure, but if we are to somehow, someday have peace in this world, they are questions that need to be answered. If not aloud, then at least to ourselves.  

In closing, I have only one call for comment, and that is: what direct experiences have you had with Muslims on which to base your attitude towards Islam?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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