'We are not jihad babymakers': a Muslim mum speaks out

muslim mother baby
muslim mother baby Photo: Getty Images

Like the vast majority of Australian Muslims, I was shocked and horrified when I heard of Operation Hammerhead. For days, I have felt nauseous at the sound of police helicopters in the sky, scaring away the birds that usually woke me up at dawn.

Not only did I feel sick and paralysed with fear at the thought that, again, criminals had hijacked my religion, I was fearful of the backlash that would now race towards Muslim women in Australia. I am incredibly fearful of the right-wing extremism that is breeding in this country and the consequences for all of us.

I still feel the scars of the Cronulla riots, where the flag of my beloved country was used as a symbol of pure hatred, of thuggery and racism. It is a deep wound in my heart that is slowly healing.

I am an Anglo-Saxon and a publican's daughter. My family has lived in rural NSW in a blink-and-you-will-miss-it place called Boggabilla for the past 18 years. I grew up swimming in the river, cotton chipping to earn extra money and helping my parents in the pub they still own.

As I grew older, I developed a deep appreciation and respect for the Aboriginal culture and their spirituality, as well as their connection to country. When I lived overseas, I missed the smell of eucalyptus, the feeling of grass under my feet and seeing cotton litter the sides of the street.

Before I made the decision to convert to Islam, I was only aware of the inequalities facing indigenous Australia as a result of systemic and institutionalised racism. I only had a glimpse of the injustices faced by those exposed to deeply ingrained prejudice and the repercussions on individuals, families and communities. I realise now that I was seeing through a prism of self-entitlement. I had never experienced racism or prejudice. All that  changed when I made the choice to wear a scarf.

The Australian government and the media love the narrative of an "authentic" Muslim woman, even if that narrative has been entirely fabricated. During the past few days, both of them have further politicised, "othered" and objectified Muslim women for their own political purpose.

But something more sinister also occurred. They made comments akin to "go back to where you came from". Calming my fears by saying that the best defence was to be "… fully Australian". I have no other home than Australia. I speak no other language, other than English. My parents are Christian.

I have become a chattel of their political discourse and analysis – a reduction of a stereotype of the migrant, oppressed and disempowered Muslim woman.

They have tried to frame me as a terrorist sympathiser. They have implied that every Muslim woman has the potential to be a "jihad baby maker". Now even my womb has become a battleground, with my ovaries being tested for loyalty.

My feminine body has been attacked in a new way. They have used me as a symbol of a threat to democracy. My scarf and niqaab are now not only symbols of subjugation, but also that of a facilitator of terrorism. I am now both the oppressed and the oppressor.

This rhetoric has seeped through the paper, filtered through the camera and spilled on to our streets into our homes, where we live among our neighbours. I am now viewed with suspicion and as potentially violent.

Since the raids, there has been an overwhelming increase in physical and verbal assaults, as well as intimidation and harassment directed towards Australian Muslim women (often with children present).

I do not care whether individual members of the government are disciplined for their comments behind the closed and privileged doors of Parliament. You are meant to be part of Team Australia and your divisive language only seeks to undermine us. Australian Muslim women are part of the solution and should not be used as political pawns.

I do not profess to speak on behalf of all Muslim women, as we are heterogeneous and are different in ethnicity, culture and political views, with a diverse range of observance to our faith.

The other day, one of my mates asked me how I was feeling. I paused for a moment and said "it feels like I'm swimming and every time I resurface, another wave hits me and I struggle to breathe".

I have always felt accepted when I return home to Boggabilla. I have never once been criticised, intimidated or harassed for being Muslim there. My friends still make homemade Peter Pan costumes for my son and take my husband pig shooting (we have jokingly convinced my mother that it would then be halal pork, but I am thankful they have never caught any). They still bring us yellow-belly fish to eat or make a horse available for my son to pat. Right now, perhaps going "back to where I came from" isn't such a bad idea.

Lydia Shelley is a lawyer who appears on tonight's episode of Living with the Enemy at 8.30pm on SBS ONE, which explores Islam.

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