5 Dec 2014

Muslims facing discrimination in NZ

6:11 am on 5 December 2014

Muslim New Zealanders are facing increased discrimination in the wake of the political focus on the potential threat from Islamic State supporters in this country.

The tension is also being increased by continued fighting in Iraq and Syria involving ISIS forces.

Musa Taukuri

Musa Taukuri says his family has been verbally abused. Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

Those gathering details about racist outbursts say they are mostly being directed at women and children wearing a hijab or headscarf. But it's not just those who have moved to New Zealand more recently who are bearing the brunt of such discrimination.

Musa Taukuri decided to follow Islam shortly before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York and Washington DC in 2001.

He said the extra pressure and scrutiny of the Muslim community in New Zealand following those events strengthened his faith. But this time, his family have been the subject of verbal assaults.

Mr Taukuri tells his girls to walk closely with their brothers and if someone shouts abuse one of them is to look at the driver, another is to remember the colour of the car and another is to take note of the number plate. He then writes it down and hands the details to police.

Aliya Denzeisen, a secondary school teacher in Hamilton, is also a leader in a women's group part of the Waikato Muslim Association. She is tracking racist incidents and says in the last few months they have increased significantly.

Aliya Danzeisen

Aliya Denzeisen says most abuse isn't reported to police. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Along with insults being shouted from cars, a woman has had water thrown at her and people have told Ms Denzeisen about rise in adverse comments at work. International events are being blamed on people who have no involvement or responsibility for them at all, she said.

But the abuse is mostly not reported to police as it hasn't got as far as a physical attack and people don't feel it is important enough to justify making an official complaint, she says. That said, Ms Denzeisen believes the level of discrimination can make members of the community feel unsafe.

"For no reason suddenly you are told to 'Go home', 'you are horrible, you're a killer or a murderer or to get our of here' or to 'be careful because we are going to take care of you.'"

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy

Dame Susan Devoy says there's a lack of knowledge about what it means to be Muslim. Photo: HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

Aliya Denzeisen is also aware of more invisible forms of discrimination such as a venue cancelling a wedding booking at the last minute.

Police are well aware that communities here can become targets for abuse because of events overseas.

Inspector Rakesh Naidoo, the senior police official in charge of ethnic relations, says they are working alongside Muslim New Zealanders to provide support.

New Zealand as a country and New Zealanders as a people do not tolerate that sort of behaviour, he says.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy wants people to stop turning their backs on the problem. There is a general lack of knowledge about what it means to be a Muslim and about Islam as a faith, she said, but that was no excuse for hate-filled abuse.

"When people make comments, even when they're not directed as someone in personally or (when people) make comments about Muslims generally we need to stand up and say, 'Hey you don't know these people.'"

Dame Susan says it needs to be continually reinforced and understood by every New Zealander that all the leaders in the Muslim community here have condemned ISIS.

  • You can hear more about this on Insight on RNZ National after the 8am news on Sunday
A mosque in Hamilton.

A mosque in Hamilton. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae