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Young Muslims take to Facebook to relay diverse Australian stories

Young Australian Muslims on Facebook networks are far from a ‘mono-culture’, but fear and distrust of the mainstream media is isolating their discussions, writes Kavita Bedford.

Media coverage of Muslim issues is dominated by concerns about radicalism and violence. For the large majority of young Muslims, this is the only context they see their Australian experience reflected in the public sphere.

“This is having a huge impact on the way young Australian Muslims identify with their home and with each other. It’s having a negative impact on their feelings of empowerment and their sense of culture and belonging,” said Mostafa Rachwani, 23, a project officer at Sydney’s Lebanese Muslim Association.

Muslims are endlessly discussed and dissected and are highly aware of the way they are presented in the mainstream.

“This community isn’t a homogenous one, and as such, its representatives aren’t homogenous,” Rachwani said. 

“It is extremely important to show respect to the community leaders who have 15-20 years of experience in dealing with the media and the government... (but) it is just as important that there are independent Muslim voices making up the media.”

“Having dissenting voices and critique of what is being said is imperative to our engagement as a community and our continual growth and development,” he said.

“No one wants to put up their hand to be the one who speaks to the media, as words are twisted – and we have to deal with the repercussions within our community - you just can’t win.”

– A young Iraqi-Australian who didn’t wish to be named

Many young Muslims are aware that independent voices and moderate stances are lacking in mainstream media, so many have by-passed traditional models and created alternative platforms on social media to subvert dominant narratives and tell positive Australian stories.

Groups like Australian Muslim Faces, which has over 12,000 followers, are choosing their own narratives. Experiences, like ‘Naomi’s’, which is shared online, show how disparate, complex and multi-layered being an Australian Muslim can be.

"I'm a convert to Islam. I was raised around Christian beliefs but was never fully engaged in Christianity. I am an Aboriginal - both mum and dad are Aboriginal but are not Muslim,” she said online. 

She said her family has suffered from discrimination “and to see racism today with my own eyes, hearing that it has and is happening to my extended family to (who are) also Australian makes me sick.” 

Experiences like Naomi’s are ones that can be difficult to frame for mainstream media outlets – but it is in these online communities that young people can share their own, un-labelled stories.  

Suleiman, 24, who works in Lakemba, said, “People and the media always lump all Muslims together – but even calling Muslims a ‘mono-culture’ makes no sense. Here people come from Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Indonesia.”

“I am from Azerbaijan, which is technically Eastern Europe, but no one will treat me that way because they just see the beard.”

According to Pew research, 62.1 per cent of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific and only 19.9 per cent in the Middle-East and North Africa. 

“It is tricky to find a united voice, as it is a disparate faith, which in times of crisis can be a problem as you have people who have no sway in the community speaking... (And) the media targets young, outspoken radicals who want to be in the limelight but do not represent the majority,” Suleiman said.

Another Facebook group, ‘Non-Muslims supporting Muslims’, has attracted over 8000 people and is used as a forum for discussions ranging from Woolworths’ recent recall of offending t-shirts to creative topics like knitting. 

A Facebook personality dubbed The ‘Crudely Islamified Mannequin Man’ is a parody of an article that appeared in the mainstream press and has attracted close to 3000 likes.

Facebook groups are not without their own pitfalls: they can be subject to trolling, identities are exposed and it can be a space for ‘preaching to the converted’. It is a flawed platform, but it also gives individuals confidence and support to speak up, allowing young people to shape their own narrative outside of the ‘terrorism’ context.

But problematically, when it comes to the mainstream media, many young Muslims fear how their voice will be treated and are concerned of the reaction within their own community. Indeed, many interviewed for this article didn’t want to be named.

“No one wants to put up their hand to be the one who speaks to the media, as words are twisted – and we have to deal with the repercussions within our community - you just can’t win,” said a young Iraqi-Australian who didn’t wish to be named.

The Point

Young Muslims are taking to Facebook to tell their stories, but are isolated from the mainstream narrative

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