The Rising Online Anti-Muslim Hate: A Background

On the International Human Rights Day two years ago, December 10, 2013, the Online Hate Prevention Institute published a report “Islamophobia on the Internet: the growth of online hate targeting Muslims”.

Our report was the first of its kind tracking online hate items against Muslims that were circulating on Facebook . We trawled through 50 Facebook pages promoting anti-Muslim hate and archived nearly 350 images and memes promoting such hate.

As we had pointed out in our report, theological debate and criticism of religion should be protected under freedom of expression principles. However, the vilification of a group of people on the basis of their religious belief or practice, or of individuals on the basis of membership of such a group, is a fundamental affront to human dignity. Accordingly, the hate items we collected were specifically targeting Muslims, either vilifying them as people or targeting their way of life, not debating Islam.

Our analysis of the pages showed that while a majority of such pages were non-Australians, the support base for the pages had strong Australian participation. It was a sign of the rising hate against the Muslim community within Australia. Accordingly, we recommended that, “The Australian Government should pass laws to make vilification on the grounds of religious belief or practise unlawful [as it is, with respect to race] and expand the remit of the Australian Human Rights Commission accordingly.”

We laid out seven clear categories, where the criticism of the Muslim people crossed the line into vilification, and recommended that Facebook use that as a guideline to examine anti-Muslim hate reported to it.

Unfortunately, our recommendations fell on deaf ears. The government instead of expanding its hate speech laws locked itself into a battle for reducing its mandate. OHPI strongly advocated against the government’s proposal to amend the Racial Discrimination Act, which it finally ditched after months of back and forth with community organisations.

International events, too, have fuelled the anti-Muslim hate and fear further. First, the rise of ISIS and its brutality has given fodder to the negative stereotypes of Muslims. The fear of homegrown terrorism (aided by the grooming of Muslim youth by ISIS) has made mainstream Australians vulnerable to the far right anti-Muslim rhetoric. The Syrian refugee crisis is set to amp up this fear and hatred.

Facebook’s response to our report was disappointing. Most of the pages we highlighted in our report are still up (see here), and many more pages have been added to them. The Australian contribution to such hate on Facebook has shot up, and some strands of hate that originated in the UK – such as anti-Halal movements – have particularly gained ground in the country.

We have seen the hate spill into our lives by way of boycott campaigns of Halal-certified products (a bullying tactic used against companies to discontinue the certification), the protests against the building of mosques in councils across Australia, and the country-wide anti-Muslim rallies organized by the far right. We discuss these issues here. It is worth noting that most of these campaigns and rallies were organized through a judicious use of social media.

The anti-Muslim extremism of the far right works into the hands of the Islamic terrorist. It alienates and marginalises the Muslim community of Australia, and it is exactly this sense of grievance that terrorist organisations such as ISIS exploit.

What is heartening is the popular support that ordinary Australians have shown against such rhetoric. Most companies and businesses have withstood the pressure against discontinuing Halal certification. Councils such as that of Bendigo have braved the opposition and approved the building of mosques, and every anti-Islam rally has been met with a counter anti-racism rally. (Read here). Supporters of OHPI are constantly reporting anti-Muslim hate on social media to our reporting system, and participating actively in the reporting campaigns managed by us. (Here’s a list of all the work we have done in this field).

Unfortunately, a similar initiative and concern has not been shown by the social media platforms, which are being used to promote such hate. They continues to reject anti-Muslim hate items reported to them, even though they clearly violate the platform’s community standards. The government agencies, focused on countering terrorism and extreme violence being promoted by certain Islamic groups, have ignored the rise of far right extremism.

OHPI’s major new campaign “Spotlight on Anti-Muslim Internet Hate” (SAMIH), which will be officially launched today evening, has been called to correct this deviation. We hope that the concerted effort put in concerned citizens and community organisations to build a comprehensive report on the anti-Muslim hate circulating on social media will force both the social media companies and government agencies to take note of the problem. At the very least, it will reveal the gaps in their responses to combat this hate.

We invite all of you join our campaign. You can sign-up as a volunteer here. Community organisations can find information here. We have also launched an online crowd-funding appeal to fund the campaign. Your donations are critical to the kind of results we can achieve through this campaign, so donate generously.

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