Tim Blair


New Criterion



Thursday, June 17, 2004
HERE'S A CAUTIONARY TALE from real life, using 'life' in its broadest sense.

Uncle was darting into a servo on one of Sydney's busiest arterials (what in other cities would be a freeway is, in Sydney, an over-grown local road).

I was driving too fast, no doubt, but so would you with a queue of Sydney drivers nudging impatiently at your exhuast pipe.

As I entered the concrete apron I came windscreen-to-windscreen with another moving car occupied by two bandits in balaclavas.

Fortunately, before I had done anything silly in the way of self-preservation, like reversing back into the piranha pool of the arterial road, I realised the bandits were in fact two people in the full Ned Kelly disguise of the assertively Islamic woman.

I ask you not for your sympathy, but to consider that I had inadvertently given cause for two more citizens to complain to our National Vilification Commission, HREOC, that, like the "two thirds of Muslim women" identified by HREOC, they could "feel the hands of racism tighten around them".

I am sure that the two women confronting me at the servo could "feel the weight" of my gaze falling upon them.

I was indeed guilty of not treating them like just two more car-jockeys on the public roads, of interrogating their faces with an interest, in fact with an anxiety, I rarely feel in my dealings with my fellow Australians.

I had become part of that "racism, [that]like a grass fire, flares in certain climates" according to Henny Herald's HREOC-credulous writers Brigid Delaney and Cynthia Banham. Their source of this understanding, apart from HREOC, was Iman Eid, who confirmed to their satisfaction that "There was definitely more racism around after these events [9/11 and Bali]".

So concerned was she about this threatening racism that after both 9/11 and Bali had occurred Eid, a 21 year-old shop assistant, decided to wear the hijab.
Her decision to wear a hijab 10 months ago was another trigger [for racist responses from her fellow citizens]. She has experienced nothing as overt as the university friend who had her scarf ripped off soon after the Bali bombings, but she says the scarf has given people licence to question her about her religious and political views.

I am sure that spending a few years in down-town Quetta would help to inoculate me against my racist tendency to 'question' such declarations as Iman Eid's choice to change costume as consciousness of Islamist violence was rising. Some time in the Taleban's Kandahar would have helped me to read my 'bandits' as two suburban women on a shopping expedition.

Until I find time for that kind of consciousness-raising experience, I guess I'll just have to allow Iman Eid and HREOC to call me names. It would be unreasonable, and racist, to expect any accommodation or understanding on their part.