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Newcastle skaters stand against 'right-wing Bogan' extremism

A group of skateboarders has shown that Newcastle doesn't tolerate racism by disrupting an alleged racially-motivated attack against a Muslim mother and daughter.

Newcastle is only half as multicultural as other big Australian cities, but this demographic is changing due to an influx of international students to Newcastle University.

“Largely, people in Newcastle all live in multicultural harmony, but an extremist minority seem to be inherently racist,” said Patrick Burgess, 24, of Mayfield West, a suburb of Newcastle.

“These extremists seem to be targeting Islamic people more than before,” he said.

“Definitely, now is the time for the community to take action and condemn these people.”

"Extremism of ‘right-wing Bogan Australians’ is just as much if not more dangerous than the extremism of Muslims."

– Patrick Burgess, 24, Newcastle skater

Burgess was with four other street skateboarders in Newcastle West, at 7pm on Monday, October 6, when a man allegedly approached a car stopped at a red light, where a Muslim woman was driving her mother, and verbally abused them before smashing the car’s side-mirror.

The woman drove on when the lights turned green, but when she stopped to attend to the mirror, the man allegedly approached them again and attempted to force his way into the car and place his foot on the accelerator.

The skateboarders then intervened and a “physical altercation” ensued until the police arrived.

The 27-year-old man was arrested and charged with two counts of intimidation, assault, two counts of larceny and malicious damage.

“I don’t feel we did anything special. If you see somebody in need and you can help, you help,” Burgess said.

But Diana Rah, vice-president of the Newcastle Muslim Association, labelled the skateboarders “courageous” and invited them to a post-prayer presentation ceremony at Newcastle Mosque to receive an ‘Award of Thanks’.

Rah said Newcastle was “pretty peaceful” but “in recent times, there has been an increase in attacks, especially against (Muslim) women, as they’re easily identifiable. They’ve been racially abused and had things thrown at them.”

An incident register has been set up at the mosque and these reports are being passed onto NSW Police.

In a related development, the NSW Government has announced a new Speak-Out Hotline (1800 131 155) to make it easier to report incidents of race or religion-based abuse, and to ensure accurate records on the prevalence of alleged racial abuse are maintained. The hotline will be operated by the NSW Police Call Centre (PoliceLink) in conjunction with Multicultural NSW, which publishes The Point Magazine. 

Building a multicultural Newcastle

Diana Rah has been working steadily towards a tolerant Newcastle. A Novocastrian by birth, she travelled the world in the 1970s and converted to Islam, marrying a man in Kashmir, where she lived.

When he passed away in 1995, she and her five children migrated to Newcastle.

“I lived through a war and came to Australia with a similar experience of many Muslims,” Rah said.

When she arrived, a Muslim community was being formed in Newcastle, with mainly Pakistanis, as well as Bosnians, Egyptians, Turkish and one Chinese man buying property for a mosque.

“Everyone is welcome at the mosque – we don’t segregate (according to sects),” Rah said.

By 2006, only 600 Muslims were calling the city home, according to that year’s Census.

An increase of international students at the university in 2005 prompted the Muslim association to work with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and produce an aid for Muslim students, a “Welcome to Newcastle” booklet.

In 2010, when a development application for a second mosque drew the ire of a loud minority, the question of racism reared its ugly head in Newcastle, even though an online poll at the Newcastle Herald found 84.6 per cent of locals supported the mosque.

So in 2011, Newcastle Muslims collaborated with Newcastle University – an institution that boasts a student body from 103 different countries - and produced a “Learning for Inclusion” research paper into cultural awareness and social inclusion.

The social experiment had Muslim community members visit schools to break down barriers between Muslims and other members of the Newcastle community.

When researchers asked high school students to ‘draw a picture’ of Muslims, 90 per cent sketched a Muslim women in head-dress, showing that females were the most identifiable of the religious group.  

What’s more, the report, written by Professor Stephen Webb and Kim Edmunds, said that “many of the racist insults and behaviours experienced by the Muslim community in Newcastle have been perpetrated by young people, particularly young men.”

The report found a “level of ignorance about Muslims” suggested the need for cultural competence and anti-discrimination training for teachers, as well as inter-faith activities throughout school years.

‘Blessing in disguise’

Azim Fadzli, a second-year medical student from Malaysia and president of the Newcastle University Islamic Society that has 200 members, said the campus “is a safe place for us. It’s one of the most multicultural universities in Australia with around 30 per cent international students.”

“From the pattern we’ve been observing, most (attacks) occur outside. In the last three or four weeks, there have been ten attacks – all on women. Logically, they are easily identifiable,” he said.

The racially-motivated attacks were carried out by “confused” white, young males, he said.

 “Newcastle is still a very peaceful place – I chose to be here and I see a future for myself here. (Recent events) are an opportunity, a ‘blessing in disguise’, as we need to talk to each other.”

The student association held a forum on campus last week to discuss living together in harmony.

Minorities are “being caught up in their emotions on both sides,” he said, and “we need good people to speak up.”

The future is optimistic, according to Muslim filmmaker Kamal Saleh, who conducted a social experiment in Sydney’s Hyde Park, where he hired actors to abuse passers-by in Islamic dress.

In the film, which has been viewed over 900,000 times on YouTube, every bystander who witnesses the ‘staged’ attack, thinking it is real, intervenes to help the ‘victims’ of abuse.

And for the skaters, their stand is just another step in Newcastle accepting multiculturalism.

“We need to be aware of extremism in all its forms,” said Burgess.

“Extremism of ‘right-wing Bogan Australians’ is just as much if not more dangerous than the extremism of Muslims.”

The Point

As attacks against Muslim women rise, communities are taking a stand against racist extremism

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