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Saudi students: Anti-Islam rallies in Australia a minority view

Saudi students studying in Australia have dismissed anti-Islamic rallies around the country

Published: Updated:

Saudi students studying in Australia have dismissed anti-Islamic rallies around the country over the weekend as the views of a minority, but have said that students are now more fearful of anti-Islamic attitudes and attacks than in the past.

“Most students absolutely know that it’s only a minority act and that it’s not representative of Australian society,” said president of the Saudi Student Association in Brisbane, Abdullah Asiri, who has been studying in Australia for the last four years.

“But those who use public transport are scared of people who are against Islam. It’s not as before where people would go anywhere without thinking about this.”

The rallies, held on Saturday in many towns and capital cities under the banner Reclaim Australia, attracted hundreds of protesters rallying against halal certification, Shariah law, and Muslim immigration.

Counter protests, some with larger numbers, were held in many cities, with violence breaking out between two groups of protesters in Melbourne and Brisbane.

Saudi students received an email from the Saudi Embassy in Australia two days before the rallies warning them not to wear “national dress in public,” to avoid suspicious groups and unsafe areas.

The CEO of the Arab Council of Australia, Randa Kattan, also described anti-Islamic protesters as a “minority group,” but said they can still do “massive damage in terms of relations.”

“When the white side of this country starts talking like they are superior to the rest of us, it is not well received,” she said.

Kattan criticized Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott for not speaking out against the rallies that many have described as racist.

In Melbourne, where three protesters were arrested after violence broke out, the president of the city’s Saudi Student Association, Abdulrahman Al-Mosa, said that protesters “did not represent Australia.”

“The country is safe and Australia is a very cooperative country. The people are very friendly,” he said.

Al-Mosa, who has been completing his PhD at Monash University since 2008, did acknowledge that he had received a warning email from the embassy, but that female students “still feel free to wear the hijab, go to university, take public transport.”

Asiri said there are about 2,000 Saudi students studying in Brisbane at present, and more than 12,000 across Australia.

He said the protesters “need to know that Australia is multicultural, and not just from one group.”

“Some students prefer to come to Australia rather than go to Europe or the US because they see it peaceful and multicultural.”

“That’s what they want from Australia.”

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on April 22, 2015.