Operation Hammerhead stirs up fear and endangers Muslim women
High-visibility policing: NSW Police Commissioner
Andrew Scipione, flanked by Premier Mike Baird and Police Minister
Stuart Ayres, briefs the media on Operation Hammerhead. Photo: Jessica Hromas
Like the vast majority of Australian Muslims, I was shocked
and horrified when I heard of Operation Hammerhead. For days, I have
felt nauseous at the sound of police helicopters in the sky, scaring
away the birds that usually woke me up at dawn.
Not only did I feel sick and paralysed with fear at the
thought that, again, criminals had hijacked my religion, I was fearful
of the backlash that would now race towards Muslim women in Australia. I
am incredibly fearful of the right-wing extremism that is breeding in
this country and the consequences for all of us.
I still feel the scars of the Cronulla riots, where the flag
of my beloved country was used as a symbol of pure hatred, of thuggery
and racism. It is a deep wound in my heart that is slowly healing.
I am an Anglo-Saxon and a publican's daughter. My family has
lived in rural NSW in a blink-and-you-will-miss-it place called
Boggabilla for the past 18 years. I grew up swimming in the river,
cotton chipping to earn extra money and helping my parents in the pub
they still own.
As I grew older, I developed a deep appreciation and respect
for the Aboriginal culture and their spirituality, as well as their
connection to country. When I lived overseas, I missed the smell of
eucalyptus, the feeling of grass under my feet and seeing cotton litter
the sides of the street.
Before I made the decision to convert to Islam, I was only
aware of the inequalities facing indigenous Australia as a result of
systemic and institutionalised racism. I only had a glimpse of the
injustices faced by those exposed to deeply ingrained prejudice and the
repercussions on individuals, families and communities. I realise now
that I was seeing through a prism of self-entitlement. I had
never experienced racism or prejudice. All that changed when I made the
choice to wear a scarf.
The Australian government and the media love the narrative of
an "authentic" Muslim woman, even if that narrative has been entirely
fabricated. During the past few days, both of them have further
politicised, "othered" and objectified Muslim women for their own
But something more sinister also occurred. They made comments
akin to "go back to where you came from". Calming my fears by saying
that the best defence was to be "… fully Australian". I have no other
home than Australia. I speak no other language, other than English. My
parents are Christian.
I have become a chattel of their political discourse and
analysis – a reduction of a stereotype of the migrant, oppressed and
disempowered Muslim woman.
They have tried to frame me as a terrorist sympathiser. They
have implied that every Muslim woman has the potential to be a "jihad
baby maker". Now even my womb has become a battleground, with my
ovaries being tested for loyalty.
My feminine body has been attacked in a new way. They have
used me as a symbol of a threat to democracy. My scarf and niqaab are
now not only symbols of subjugation, but also that of a facilitator of
terrorism. I am now both the oppressed and the oppressor.
This rhetoric has seeped through the paper, filtered through
the camera and spilled on to our streets into our homes, where we live
among our neighbours. I am now viewed with suspicion and as potentially
Since the raids, there has been an overwhelming increase in
physical and verbal assaults, as well as intimidation and harassment
directed towards Australian Muslim women (often with children present).
I do not care whether individual members of the government
are disciplined for their comments behind the closed and privileged
doors of Parliament. You are meant to be part of Team Australia and your
divisive language only seeks to undermine us. Australian Muslim women
are part of the solution and should not be used as political pawns.
I do not profess to speak on behalf of all Muslim women, as
we are heterogeneous and are different in ethnicity, culture and
political views, with a diverse range of observance to our faith.
The other day, one of my mates asked me how I was feeling. I
paused for a moment and said "it feels like I'm swimming and every time I
resurface, another wave hits me and I struggle to breathe".
I have always felt accepted when I return home to Boggabilla.
I have never once been criticised, intimidated or harassed for being
Muslim there. My friends still make homemade Peter Pan costumes for my
son and take my husband pig shooting (we have jokingly convinced my
mother that it would then be halal pork, but I am thankful they have
never caught any). They still bring us yellow-belly fish to eat or make a
horse available for my son to pat. Right now, perhaps going "back to
where I came from" isn't such a bad idea.
Lydia Shelley is a lawyer who appears on tonight's episode of Living with the Enemy at 8.30pm on SBS ONE, which explores Islam.