Soaliha Iqbal

Soaliha Iqbal. Photo: Supplied

First Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Then Fatima Payman. I Am Tired Of Seeing Women Like Me Vilified

"As a Muslim woman, knowing standing by my politics is a threat to inclusion is exhausting," writes Soaliha Iqbal.

After a week of public rebuking and vicious character assassinations, Fatima Payman has left the Labor party. But make no mistake: this has done nothing to end the racist onslaught against her, which has become more hysterical and frenzied by the day, and likely won’t stop until it feels it has adequately broken her spirit. How do I know this? Because it’s happened before. And sometimes I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before something like this happens again, but to me

When I was in first year university in 2017, I watched helplessly as Muslim media personality Yassmin Abdel-Magied was vilified for simply saying “lest we forget” regarding asylum seekers in offshore detention. 

Somehow, one sentence became a lightning rod for conversations about ungrateful, unassimilated Muslims. Her comment calling out racism was considered far more divisive and inflammatory than racism itself. I watched on, as an 18-year-old hijabi Muslim woman only weeks into my journalism degree, as she was tone-policed, harassed, bullied, threatened on live television and social media, and eventually left the country out of fear for her safety. And I was supposed to accept this as normal.

Even now, my hands clench and my throat closes up as I type this. The sheer injustice of it all haunts me every single day. And now, I’m watching this go down all over again with Fatima Payman.

It’s been immensely triggering as a young, hijab-Muslim woman in media to watch one of us be yet again slandered and arguably chased out of her job for simply standing up for her beliefs (specifically, racism), with the Australian media and political class yet again adopting a “HOW DARE SHE” attitude. 

By now, we’ve all seen attacks on Payman’s character appearing in news articles across Australia. In one ABC News Radio interview, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accused Payman’s support of the Green’s motion to recognise Palestine as a state of  being “designed to undermine the collective position that the Labor Party has determined” and suggested she does not prioritise teamwork.  To me, the comments imply that Payman is conniving and acted out of self-interest instead of good conscience. 

Earlier this week, a furor erupted after she said the phrase “inshallah”, which means “God willing” and is used not just by Muslims but by Arabic speakers in general. The ABC reported her Labor colleagues were “shocked” — as if the phrase were some kind of slur. Which, ironically, would probably be less offensive to them. 

Albanese also claimed Payman received only 1,600 votes in the election, implying that she was a charity case the Labor party took on, rather than a valuable candidate. How dare she be ungrateful for being generously given a seat at the table despite being a Muslim, Afghani woman? Doesn’t she realise she was only let into the party as someone who could convince the Muslim community to trust Labor while still assimilating into its colonial ideals?

Labor’s National President Wayne Swan slammed the final nail into Labor’s coffin when he released a statement on Thursday associating Payman’s defiance with “the rise of the fascist right”. I wish I was joking but this is truly the lengths our politicians will go to ensure Payman is never trusted again. 

The racial gaslighting and orientalist exotifying of Payman to diminish and discredit her are all common forms of attack women of colour have had to contend with in the workplace for decades, and it is shameful to see them play out by our leaders so openly and brazenly.

In an almost-comedic parallel to this repeat in history, Sonia Kruger — who was found to have vilified Muslims after her comments that we should be banned from entering Australia back in 2016 — is also experiencing a renaissance. 

She made those comments a year before Yassmin Abdel-Mageid was vilified for standing up against racism. A year before Payman was vilified, Kruger won a Gold Logie. And last week, she was nominated for a second one in a row

It seems that in the near-decade since I entered journalism, Australia is still as racist and Islamophobic as ever. The media and political class are still united in vilifying and discrediting us. Our Prime Ministers still believe us to be nothing more than pawns in a game that they’re at least starting to lose. Nothing has changed — except perhaps young women like me who now have the platform to speak out about it. But how long must we do this for? How long before our voices are tired and our throats hoarse?

And how long before it’s one of us that’s stepped too far, called out too much, shaken the boat too rigorously? How long before it’s me there are headlines about?