On the way to class yesterday, I bumped into a friend I had not seen in a while. We walked over to campus and stood by a staircase to chat. A man suddenly approached us, boldly looked at my friend and said (paraphrased):
“Do you know about that Imam in Pakistan? The one who framed the eleven-year-old and tried to get her jailed? That was disgusting. Will he be going to jail for that?”
Now let’s get some things about the situation clear. My friend is very visibly Muslim. She wears the headscarf. She’s also ethnically South Asian. We’ll call her K.
K politely said that she had no clue.
But the man, up close and towering over the two of us, insisted that K answer for the Imam.
I interjected. I wasn’t going to let this bold twat walk around bullying people. The exchange went along the lines of this (close, but not ad verbatim):
Me: “Excuse me. Why are you asking her? Do you think because she wears the headscarf she’s some kind of authority on the case or somehow involved?”
Man: “I’m just asking. I want to know if he’s going to get any punishment.”
Me: “Why are you asking her?”
Man: He dodged the question. “I want to know if this Imam is going to go to jail for this.”
Me: “You want to know by approaching a Sri Lankan Muslim stranger in a headscarf? Are you serious? Read the news or ask someone who's a legal expert in the Pakistani criminal system if you’re actually interested in the sort of outcome he’ll face.”
Man: “How? Where am I going to find a legal expert?”
Me: “Um, use the Internet for news? Don’t approach Muslim women and interrogate them about the Imam. Take your racism somewhere else.”
Man: “I beg your pardon?”
Me: “No one has the patience for your racism. Leave us alone.”
Man: “I beg your pardon! I’m not racist! I have more Indian friends than you! What the Imam did was evil!” (This man is so bigoted and devoid of any intellect that anything related to South Asia is presumably Indian).
Me: “You’re racist for insinuating that she is somehow culpable and must explain his actions. Don’t speak to us.”
Man: “I beg your pardon?”
Me: “I said don’t speak to us.” Twat.
His spouse (I assume) appeared suddenly (what the hell where they doing wondering around the law building?) and yelled: “You don’t speak to us!”
They then both hurried out of the building and just before leaving, the spouse turned to K and said: “I wouldn’t want to speak to you anyway!”
K was, understandably, shaken by all this intimidation.
And I was astounded by his audacity to confront a stranger with such a filthy motive. I was also surprised at his own astonishment when I challenged him. Was he used to cornering and intimidating people without getting called out for being an uninspired bigot?
What’s most disturbing is that these views find some kind of legitimacy and validity because Islamophobic, racist, sexist and homophobic leaders and commentators in Australia encourage it. When you have people like Alan Jones on air going on tirades against non-white immigration and, recently, claiming that women politicians are “destroying the joint”, it’s no wonder why this man believes he can just broadcast his bigotry to any stranger.
If I was to go by this man's logic, I should have approached every white stranger and demanded an explanation for the Norwegian judicial system when Anders Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison. “Hey, white person. Why is 21 years the max for a mass-murdering terrorist? Will he be getting a longer sentence? I have Swedish friends!”
The fact of the matter is that Muslims are expected to explain, justify and apologise for the actions and wrongdoings of other Muslims, no matter how far removed they are from said person or crime. It's a vicious double standard and it's one that's reserved for all minorities. Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot more than an exchange like this to stamp out racism.