October 14, 2015 – 6:31PM
If Monique Toohey needed proof of the point she was making when she met a group of Labor MPs on Wednesday, it came within seconds of Tanya Plibersek tweeting a picture of the encounter.
Ms Toohey was shown arguing for a change in the tone of Australia’s conversation about the threat posed by violent extremism and how best to de-radicalise young alienated Muslims.
Tasneem Chopra (left) and Monique Toohey at Parliament House on Wednesday.
Tasneem Chopra (left) and Monique Toohey at Parliament House on Wednesday. Photo: Andrew Meares
“When will you learn?” the two MPs who facilitated the dialogue, Victorians Clare O’Neil and Joanne Ryan, were lectured in one tweeted response. “Muslim women do what their men tell them to do.”
“That’s never happened to me before on Twitter, ever,” Ms O’Neil said later of the 20 negative comments, several of them vile and offensive, that came almost immediately. “What about the GANG RAPES? BAN ISLAM NOW,” was among the first responses.
To Ms Toohey, who runs a psychology clinic in Melbourne’s outer north, the reaction was just another example of the dynamic of bullying, where an attack on one Muslim is felt vicariously across the entire community.
Accompanying her was Tasneem Chopra, who grew up in Bendigo when racism was reserved for the local Indigenous population. “Even though I was a brown girl in a white block, the Islam factor was very innocuous,” she says.
“Muslims in those days were Arabs with flying carpets and four wives who didn’t eat pork. That was fine. It didn’t make me feel threatened. Fast-forward to 2015, where I have three teenage kids who I can’t allow to go jogging, and a daughter I can’t allow to walk from the station by herself.”
Their message to MPs on both sides on politics was to consult before rolling out de-radicalisation and other programs and speak to the Muslim community, not at it. It was well-recieved by those happy to meet them, like Sydney Liberal Craig Laundy, but the women felt they were preaching to the converted.
“If you alienate a community or there is a huge level of perceived injustice from young people, you will create the very thing you fear,” says Ms Toohey, who maintains a swag of basic questions about programs that are being rolled out have not been addressed.
They include whether the names of children referred to programs are kept on a database and whether their parents are consulted.
Ms Chopra says there has been a promising change in tone from the Prime Minister since Malcolm Turnbull assumed the role, “but I don’t yet feel like it’s a whole-of-government response at all”.
Like many prominent Muslims, she will be looking for evidence that policy makers understand the need for a new approach at Thursday’s summit of law enforcement and government officials.
For Joanne Ryan, who succeeded Julia Gillard in the seat of Lalor, one priority is for people to simply put themselves in the shoes of those who feel under siege.
“When I get up in the morning I’m not thinking about my kids going to school that day and what they are going to confront – and I think if more Australians understood the impact of this dialogue in people’s homes and on children, they’d pull back.”
Follow us on Twitter
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/twitter-reaction-highlights-the-case-for-a-new-conversation-on-islam-20151014-gk972x.html#ixzz3oYWg89kO
Follow us: @smh on Twitter | sydneymorningherald on Facebook