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SBS's Is Australia Racist? exposes a shocking insight into everyday bigotry

Sydney Morning Herald logoSydney Morning Herald 26/02/2017 Sarah Thomas

The man aggressively questions the manner in which the woman is dressed.

The man aggressively questions the manner in which the woman is dressed.
© Provided by Sydney Morning Herald
"Where's your f---ing face? What are you hiding from? F---ing Allah?"

These questions were among the abuse caught on shocking hidden-camera footage of a random hate-filled attack on a young Muslim woman by herself in a shopping centre.  

A 50-something white male is seen launching into an angry tirade of abuse against the woman, in a prime example of the extent of the bigotry and hate endured by the Muslim community on a daily basis.

Research has found that a staggering 77 per cent of Muslim women in Australia have experienced racism on public transport or in the street. 

The hidden-camera footage is one of many incidents featured in Is Australia Racist?, which aired Sunday night and is an hour-long documentary exposing the random, everyday bigotry and racism endured by ethnic groups across the nation. 

The documentary kicks off SBS's Face Up To Racism week, which features a series of special programming putting the spotlight on prejudice in Australia today. 

The woman in this incident is targeted because she's wearing a niqab – a veil which covers the head and face but not the eyes – in an attack triggered only by the fact she had the misfortune to happen to cross paths with the abusive man. 

Unbeknown to her abuser, however, she's a volunteer for the documentary, which follows a number of people of different ethnicities with hidden cameras to reveal the ugly truth of racism on the streets. 

It's the experience of the Muslim woman, Afghan refugee Rahila Haidary, that is the most shocking example in the program and a blunt insight into the vitriolic levels of Islamophobia in current society. 

The man is seen approaching Haidary, telling her, "You're in my face like that", before launching into an intimidating attack.

"You're in our country because we helped save you from where you came from, from where you've been persecuted and you wear things like that," he shouts. 

She responds by asking what should she do, to which he says she should dress like other Australians and become part of the culture. 

She asks how Australians dress, to which the man explodes with rage at his lone, diminutive female target.

"They dress with a  f---ing face," he says, gesticulating angrily. "Where's your f---ing face? What are you hiding from? F---ing Allah?"

It's a confronting scene as the man, who is much taller than Haidary, continues his verbal abuse. 

"Your f---ing Muhammad? You know he's a paedophile," he tells her.

It's at this point that two women passers-by stop and realise what's happening and start to move in to intervene. The man storms off, adding "f--- off"as he goes. 

The whole incident is little more than 40 seconds but its impact highlights the damage that can be done in just a matter of moments. 

Haidary, who doesn't usually wear a niqab, is visibly shaken by the experience. 

"It's shocking to see that sort of hate," she says. "I can't imagine how those women who dress up like that would get along every day."

It is clear the man did not know he was being filmed. Legally, it's permitted to film people without their permission provided it's in a public space where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. 

An SBS spokesman said: "All filming featured in Is Australia Racist? was captured in public spaces and all relevant filming laws have been adhered to, along with SBS's own Codes of Practice, in the making of the documentary. 

"The program shines a light on racism and prejudice in Australia today through a series of social experiments capturing racism and the reactions of people witnessing it, through the eyes of those who experience it."

Out of all the poisonous threads of racism featured in the program, Islamophobia appears to be top of the list in current times. The program notes that in 1998, 3 per cent of the population had negative views towards Muslims, now that proportion is 32 per cent.

Worse, as seen in the on-screen incident, the bullying targets women, with 77 per cent of Muslim women in Australia experiencing bigotry in a public place.

Ray Martin, the host of Is Australia Racist, on SBS: ‘Confronting viewing’: Ray Martin hosts the SBS documentary Is Australia Racist? © SBS ‘Confronting viewing’: Ray Martin hosts the SBS documentary Is Australia Racist? The program, presented by Ray Martin, is centred around a survey on racism and prejudice undertaken by SBS and Western Sydney University. 

Of the 6000 people questioned, it found that one in five people have experienced racism in the past 12 months, with 35 per cent of those surveyed saying they had experienced racism on public transport or on the street.    

There are glimmers of hope, however. On many occasions, the hidden footage shows bystanders instinctively intervening when volunteers are targeted in hate attacks.

There's also evidence that the younger generation have much greater support for cultural diversity.

"There are things to be done," says Martin at the show's conclusion. "But it's not all gloomy." 

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