Woman warned of right-wing threat four years ago
A STUDENT of Sufi Islam and practising Muslim, ex-Gympie resident Sally Balkin has experienced prejudice and abuse in her own streets.
"I was standing in Balkin St in Gunalda, which is named after my grandfather, and told I don't belong in this community," she said.
This was not an isolated incident. Ms Balkin had previously encountered similar sentiments about her right to be in Australia, and had been harassed in the streets.
These pale in comparison to the death threats she received from white supremacists four years ago.
She flagged them with a senior Australian politician at the time as "terrorists waiting to happen", but was told "they're keyboard warriors and that's all".
She was told her complaints and fears about what could happen were "ludicrous", "personally insulting" and, ultimately, there was "no threat".
Now, in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack which killed 50 Muslims, and anti-Islam rhetoric which counter-terrorism research shows is used by far-right extremists to recruit for the movement, Ms Balkin says people need to wake up to the threat.
"A lot of Muslims are very frustrated with the powers who are supposed to protect people from this," she said.
Ms Balkin, who has relocated to the Sunshine Coast and is an anti-racism campaigner, declined to speak for all Muslims, but said there was a sense of "frustration, sadness and fear".
"All it takes is for some self-serving a------- to get them organised and you've got an Australian Taliban on your hands," she said.
Australian-born, Ms Balkin said converting to Islam was her own right to freedom of religion and a decision that defied claims the religion would be halted by tighter immigration laws.
And there was also the fact Muslims had been in Australia since 1860, when the Afghan cameleers arrived in Melbourne.
"This country was explored by Muslims and they helped to settle this country," Ms Balkin said.
"Muslims have been here since the beginning of non-indigenous settlers."
Of those who spewed hate at her and other Muslims, Ms Balkin said they were a few, loud, misinformed individuals and not representative of the wider Gympie region.
"When I wore my hijab I found people were being nicer to me than when I wasn't," Ms Balkin said.
"I wouldn't say Gympie is one of the worst places for anti-Muslim sentiment.
"There's a lot of misinformed people but not a lot of hateful people.
"Once they got to know me they found out more of the truth."
She said those who defended their comments as "free-speech" instead of "hate speech" needed to take a closer look at definitions.
"If you're inciting hatred or threats or trying to vilify people... that's not free speech.
"You're allowed to say you don't like Muslims.
"You're not allowed to spread misinformation to incite hatred against them," she said.
And this was where the nation's politicians and media had "a huge responsibility".
"You can't say that a Muslim who commits a violent act is a terrorist, and a white person is mentally ill.
"They're all bad people and it doesn't matter what colour they are; it doesn't matter what religion they are.
"Everyone has to denounce all of this equally."