What started as little-seen, low budget, YouTube video in July became a trigger for demonstrations throughout the world in September. Josh Lees from Socialist Alternative was at the protest in Sydney.
Hundreds of police have savagely and repeatedly attacked a Sydney demonstration opposing racist insults to Islam. Police used tasers, pepper spray, police dogs and batons. Several women reported police trying to rip off their headscarves. Many protesters were injured, and dozens, including children as young as seven years old, and some even younger in prams, have been hit with tear gas.
The protest in Sydney came as part of a wave of demonstrations around the world, sparked by an anti-Islam video made in the US. But while the racist video may have been the catalyst, the broader context is the ongoing domination and intervention of US imperialism in the Muslim world, justified since September 11 by a concerted campaign of Islamophobia, which has seen Islam systematically vilified. Recent so-called “anti-terror” raids were another target of the protest.
The protest began at Town Hall and marched peacefully to the US consulate in Martin Place. Police were clearly taken off guard by the size of the demonstration – 500 strong at its height – and its determination to exercise the right to protest, including marching on our streets, despite police threats. The police launched their first attack at the US consulate, tasering some protesters and pepper-spraying others. Within half an hour it seemed that every cop in Sydney had arrived on the scene looking for a fight. Police hate protesters at the best of times. When protesters are not white, when they are Muslim, and when they refuse to be easily pushed around, police become particularly nasty.
Protesters kept on the move, marching from the US consulate to Hyde Park and then back towards George Street. There a stand-off ensued, as hundreds of cops blocked people from marching into George Street. After about 20 minutes, the police surged forward waving batons; about five indiscriminately sprayed tear gas. Socialist Alternative members who were present witnessed young children being gassed. Police tried to rip off a woman’s headscarf. The crowd retreated back down Market Street, with some protesters pelting the cops with water bottles to slow their violent advance.
The protest turned down the busy Pitt Street Mall, before eventually marching back to Hyde Park. There people heard a few speeches and prayed. Hundreds of police swarmed around, surrounding the rally on three sides. Soon more scuffles erupted as police again pepper-sprayed people and made arrests. One man was witnessed being mauled by a police dog and bashed by police, before being dragged across the ground and hand-cuffed, while he appeared to be unconscious.
Stoking anti-Muslim racism has been absolutely central to the US and Australian establishment for the past decade. Their whole imperialist project in the oil-rich Middle East has been built upon it. That’s why we now see a hysterical response to today’s protest. The media and the political establishment are now demonising the victims of police brutality. We live in a country which constantly lectures the Muslim world about “democracy”, “free speech” and “tolerance”. But our rulers today practised none of it.
Regardless of your religious views, any decent anti-racist and left winger in Australia needs to stand on the side of the Muslim protesters and their right to protest to defend their religion against the racist abuse meted out for over a decade, and against the outrageous brutality from police.