Thursday, June 17, 2004

Racism in Australia 

"Muslims 'face increased racism'" says the headline in today's "Australian", referring to a latest report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission into post-S11 experiences of Australian Muslims:

"A key finding of the report was that 90 per cent of female respondents reported experiencing racism abuse or violence since September 11."
Racially (or religion) motivated abuse or discrimination is un-Australian and wrong; if criminal offences such as assault have been committed, the perpetrators should be punished - there's no doubt about it. I'm not denying the problem (God knows, no section of the community has got the monopoly on stupid people), but I'm a bit concerned whether it hasn't been inadvertently exaggerated. Looking at the study's methodology, we can find this:

"When planning consultations with Australians of Arab background, we relied on Arab community organisations to invite Arab participants from a variety of national, ethnic and religious backgrounds... [F]lyers and invitations were translated into Arabic for wide distribution through these networks in an effort to attract Arabic-speaking participants...

"[Also] 1,475 self-complete questionnaires (in Arabic and English) were distributed to individuals and through community organisations and mosques in NSW (685) and Victoria (790) between August and November 2003... 186 people returned questionnaires, a response rate of 12.6%, and one third agreed to a follow-up interview."
Now, a self-selecting sample is never quite representative. If you are publicising a study about racially motivated vilification, you will be more likely to be contacted by people who have experienced such incidents, rather than those who didn't. Bearing in mind that consultative meetings with Australian Muslims were all "hosted" by various ethnic community groups and organisations, it's only a matter of time before some unkind talk-show host or a columnists will come out saying "the ethnic industry - here they go again." And that would be very unfortunate; racism and prejudice are real enough problems - they don't need exaggeration. And as the Attorney-General says, education - not more laws - is the answer.

P.S. Gnu Hunter has got other observations about the report.


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