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Muslims Feel Violent Backlash After Australian Anti-Terror Raids

FILE - Members of a Muslim community say a prayer as they gather for a peaceful demonstration at Lakemba in suburban Sydney.

Islamic groups are reporting a rise in anti-Muslim attacks in Australia since counter-terror raids in Sydney and Melbourne, and threats made by Islamic State. Muslim leaders are compiling a list of racially or religiously motivated assaults, and say there have been dozens so far, mainly against women wearing the hijab.

Organization cite more than 30 attacks

Islamic organizations in Australia say there have been at least 30 attacks on Muslims since counter-terrorism raids in Sydney and Brisbane. Threats made against Australia by the radical Islamic State group have also fueled the backlash.

Mariam Veiszadeh, a lawyer and Islamic community spokesperson who is compiling a list of assaults, says violence has been reported across the country.

“In one case, a Western Sydney mother and her baby were spat on and her pram [baby carriage] kicked. In another, a man in Perth tried to rip the scarf off a woman's head. Several mosques around the country have been threatened, egged, vandalized and a pig's head impaled on a cross,” she said.

Acts of assault and intimidation

The highest rate of reported acts of assault and acts of intimidation have been in the state of Queensland, where mosques have also been threatened and death threats made against Islamic leaders.

Silma Ihram, from the Australian Muslim Women’s Association, says intimidation is rife.

“I have got two family members who are living in South Australia and they have copped [received] verbal abuse. It seems to be the most common thing that there is more suspicion attached now to particularly women because they are vulnerable and because they wear the hijab and even children. We have not heard a lot about what is happening to kids in the school yard but that is also an area of concern,” she said.

Accurate police statistics on assaults are unavailable, although Australia’s largest force, in New South Wales, says it is actively seeking to ease tensions with the Islamic community since last month’s anti-terror raids in Sydney.

Religious intolerance

One small, far-right group is campaigning to have Islam banned in Australia.

Ralph Cerminara, a former soldier a the president of the Australian Defense League, says Muslims have been responsible for a breakdown in law and order in the nation’s biggest city, Sydney.

“They're coming after us. They're raping our children. They're raping our families. Now in the west [of Sydney], it's pretty much a crime capital of Sydney,” he said.

While most of Australia’s political leaders have urged restraint and respect for those of different faiths, others have been accused of stoking tensions between Muslims and the broader community.

Rights groups have criticized conservative Senator Cory Bernardi, who has called for a ban on the burqa at the federal parliament in Canberra. “I see no reason why any individual should be allowed to enter the parliamentary building with their identity concealed. It makes no sense. It doesn't pass the pub test or the common sense test," he says, "And whether it's a balaclava wearer or someone wearing a niqab or a burqa, I think the principle is exactly the same.”

New counter-terroirism laws

Australian jets have joined U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq, and fueled by concerns about the dangers posed by Australian jihadists returning home from conflict in the Middle East, Canberra recently raised its domestic terror threat level from medium to high. New counter-terrorism laws will also give the authorities greater powers to detain suspects and confiscate passports.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the laws will not affect law abiding Muslims. He is also planning new measures to make it a crime to promote terrorism in Australia, and has singled out the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir. “There is no doubt they are an organization that campaigns against Australian values, that campaigns against Australian interests. They are a thoroughly objectionable organization,” he notes.

Moderate Muslims in Australia have publicly condemned Islamic State, but community leaders say the level of anti-Islamic abuse and intimidation is rising as it did after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, and following the bombings on the Indonesian vacation island of Bali a year later in which 88 Australians died.

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