Stacey Eden: Thanks but no thanks

University lecturer Akilah Alam argues that Muslims who applaud Stacey Eden’s “heroic” actions are inadvertently perpetuating the idea that Muslims “need saving” and detracts from the need for Muslims to defend themselves.

After a video of an incident in which a Muslim husband and wife were racially abused by a woman on the train went viral, Stacey Eden, the woman who came to the defence of the couple has been hailed a “hero” for her efforts.

The story has received considerable international media attention, with many individuals praising Ms Eden’s actions for standing up and defending the couple from the abuse, at a time where explicit forms of racist and Islamophobic discrimination are rife.

However, whilst a large number of people have condoned Ms Eden’s actions, there have been some that have questioned them, suggesting that despite Ms Eden’s good intentions, her actions were in fact more harmful than good as they perpetuate the notion that individuals from black and ethnic minorities need “saving” and, thus, denied the couple the opportunity to defend themselves.

Muslim women

As a Muslim woman, watching the video of this incident left me feeling somewhat perplexed.

Stacey Eden’s comments were nothing that myself, and many other Muslims have not heard before. Her response to the racist bigots comments about the Muslim woman’s dress, that she “wears it for herself…because she wants to be modest with her body” is an argument that Muslim women wearing hijabs and other forms of traditional Islamic clothing have been repeatedly making since the whole hijab/niqaab debate reared its head in mainstream politics.

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But this line of argument has been consistently overlooked by so-called feminists and those that are purportedly advocating women’s rights. Why? Perhaps it is because a Muslim woman’s voice is not heard or valued in Western society and does not carry the same weight as Stacey Eden’s voice does.

Australian Muslims
Australian Muslims

There is no denying that since 9/11, Islam and its practice has become a forefront issue for a significant portion of people in the West. Indeed, in recent years there has been a tremendous rise in anti-Muslim sentiments expressed by many individuals, commenters and the media by and large.

We are often confronted with headlines of “Islamic terrorists” and are continuously reminded of the Islamic religion of those that commit criminal acts. I emphasise “Islamic” religion, because we are rarely informed of the religious inclination (or indeed lack of) of those that commit criminal acts that are not Muslims.

We, Muslims are consistently portrayed as dangerous in Western media and are constantly scrutinised for the way we dress, our beliefs and our way of life, which further fosters prejudice against us. In fact, hatred towards Muslims has become so normalised that we now as a society deem the actions of anyone that speaks out against it as “heroic.”

But what is “heroic” in believing that people, Muslims included, have a right to live their lives without being held responsible for the actions of others?

It is important to mention that many Muslims have also been very vocal in applauding the actions of Stacey Eden, without even considering the issue at large. Why was it necessary for this woman to come to the aid of this Muslim couple? Why couldn’t this Muslim couple defend themselves?

Muslims in Australia

The history of Muslims living in Australia dates back to the 16th and 17th century, with Muslims permanently establishing a base in Australia after the Second World War when few European workers were willing to migrate.

As a result, Muslims have been an invaluable workforce for Australia’s numerous manufacturing industries. Since then, Australia has been enriched by the contributions of Muslims in all facets of Australian life. This includes its modern art, culture, sport, fashion, politics and science.

Thus, whether the bigots like it or not, Muslims have played a crucial role in creating the Australia we see today. They do not need defending against those individuals that fail to know of the rich and diverse history that Australia has.

But how many Muslims residing in Australia are even aware of this contribution?

Many have identified the ignorance of this bigotted racist, but the truth is she isn’t the only one that remains ignorant. At a time when incidents such as this one are on the rise, it is up to Muslims to develop the knowledge and the skills to defend themselves, rather than looking at the Stacey Eden’s of this world to do it for us.

The truth is we are more than capable of defending ourselves.

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