Education the key to fighting Islamophobia: Deakin researchers

27 September 2016

New research from Deakin University reveals that Islamophobia is alive and well in Australia, with Australians having significantly more negative attitudes towards Muslims than Jewish, Buddhists and Christians.

However, the preliminary findings of the ongoing Muslims and Islamic Religiosity in the West research project also show that the more Australians know about Islam, the less prejudice they have against practicing Muslims.

Dr Matteo Vergani, Research Fellow at Deakin’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation and the paper’s co-author, presented the initial findings of the research project at the Australian Political Studies Association (APSA) conference at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) this week.

Dr Vergani said that the preliminary findings of the project showed that education is the key to fighting Islamophobia.

“We found that across the board – among conservative or progressive individuals, people of different age, education and country of birth – there was an association between someone’s level of knowledge about Islam and their prejudice against Muslims.

“In the wake of the recent Essential poll which showed that 49 per cent of Australians support a ban on Muslim immigration, this result is particularly heartening and important because it suggests that education and knowledge of Islam is key to overcoming Islamophobia and building a more cohesive society.”

Dr Vergani explained that the preliminary findings are based on the first of three sets of data from the 2016 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA), which comprises interviews with a national sample of randomly selected Australians. A total of 304 responses have been analysed to date and form the basis of the findings.

“Another significant finding among the data was the higher level of prejudice about a Muslim marrying a relative, a Muslim neighbour and living near a mosque, compared to other religions,” Dr Vergani said.

“More than half of the respondents – 57 per cent – said they would be concerned if one of their close relatives were to marry a person of Muslim faith, compared with the 33 per cent of respondents who would be concerned over a Jewish fiancé, 29.4 per cent a Buddhist fiancé, and 8.1 per cent a Christian fiancé.”

Professor Fethi Mansouri, Director of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation and chief investigator of the larger Islamic Religiosity project, said the findings were worrying and showed more education needed to be carried out around Islam and also other religions.

“The findings in this research gives more weight to this and gives evidence to reports from the Muslim community who are relentlessly made to feel that they do not fit in our society and don’t have a right to be here.”

The data also showed that, even if given the option, a concerning number of participants did not oppose Islamophobic statements such as:

  • Practicing Muslims do not fit Australian society (41 per cent of participants either agreed or were undecided);
  • Practicing Muslims pose a threat to Australian society (40.4 per cent);
  • Practicing Muslims should be searched more thoroughly than others in airports and stations (36.5 per cent); and
  • Counter-terrorism policies in Australia should focus exclusively on practicing Muslims (26 per cent).

The 2016 Australian Political Studies Association (APSA) Conference,The Politics of Justice and Rights: challenges and future directions is at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) from Monday 26 September to Wednesday 28 September.

The research project Islamic Religiosity in the West was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) (Discovery Grant number DP 130102601).

Media contact: Katie Thompson 0418 839 6387

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Media release Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI)

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