By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS
A MUSLIM community advocate says hostile reaction to a hijab-wearing social experiment in Dandenong this month could drive more young people to the radicalised margins.
Reem Hakeem, of Noble Park, regularly addresses groups including police officers and trainees on cultural diversity.
She is of Egyptian background, has lived in the US and Australia and wears a hijab.
Ms Hakeem says she was not surprised there was some “discomfort” and “upset” in the community about the “well-intentioned” event on 10 April, which challenged women to try wearing a hijab for up to three hours in Dandenong.
She interpreted the event as a way of showing support for hijab-wearing women who are abused on the streets for their dress-choice – being a visible symbol for the Muslim community.
“There would be people not comfortable with the idea (of wearing a hijab). If you don’t feel comfortable you don’t do it.
“I can imagine Muslims would be uncomfortable wearing a turban or a crucifix.”
Ms Hakeem said young people felt their identity was under attack in the face of such vitriol as in recent Reclaim Australia rallies.
“It’s difficult trying to raise my children to believe this is their home – regardless of the differences, we’re all Australian.
“It’s one thing to highlight the thing that is happening but when it’s laced with bias and misconceptions, it’s hard for young ones to feel safe in their identity.
“They think oh my gosh they don’t like us, they don’t want us here.”
She warned that such negativity perpetuated a cycle of non-inclusion – playing into the hands of “terrorists trying to attract the attention of youth”.
“The (terrorists) can say: ‘See, they don’t want you there’.
“The majority of young people aren’t going to join terrorists because they have a good head on their shoulders. But unfortunately some are”.
Ms Hakeem said “negative sentiments” seemed to be “more out there” in recent times.
“What’s the message you’re trying to relate to these women in the community? They’re a part of the fabric of the society – what are you telling them?
“Then we complain about integration and social cohesion not happening. It becomes a cycle.”
Dandenong Ministers’ Fellowship spokesman David Owen said it was “so very unwise” for the council to involve itself in a promotion of a religion’s beliefs.
“I would imagine the only people not offended at the Dandenong Council’s promotion for non-Muslims to adorn themselves with a distinctly religious symbol are Muslims themselves.
“Perhaps the council should be consulting a wider range of religious groups before exposing themselves to negative publicity of this nature.”