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Facing Scorn of Public And Press Down Under

AUSTRALIA. IMPACT ON MUSLIMS. Saddam Hussein has called the Gulf conflict a holy war and tried to enlist Muslims around the world in the battle. How are they responding? In some areas with large Muslim populations, such as Pakistan and Southeast Asia, people are in turmoil over their governments' backing of the US-led coalition. At the same time, in some Western nations, Muslims are facing new forms of discrimination.

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MANY residents of this small Sydney suburb fled from Lebanon so they could practice their religion and earn a living in peace and safety. Now, the Gulf war has made them highly visible - and open to abuse. According to one woman, dressed in a black veil and long dress, there have been ``heaps of problems'' with verbal abuse or people pulling off the women's veils. And last week a mosque in a nearby suburb was attacked by a primitive Molotov cocktail.

Ali Roude, chairman of the Islamic Council of New South Wales, says, ``The discrimination and abuse against Muslim Australians certainly has seen a dramatic upsurge in the wake of the Gulf conflict and eventual war.'' He blames the news media's handling of the crisis for the increase in violence against Muslims.

For example, this past Sunday the front page of the Sun-Herald, a tabloid, carried a story about an Arab charged with threatening to endanger the safety of an airplane. The headline: ``Aussie Arab Planned to Hijack Jet.'' Next to the story was a photo and story about a suspicious fire at the Jewish School in Sydney. In the story, a policeman says the fire was likely related to the Gulf war.

At the same time, the local news covered the expulsion of Iraq's charg'e d'affaires for ``security reasons.'' There was an implication he was involved with promoting terrorism.

Mr. Roude says there has been a lot of ``disinformation'' about Australian Muslims and their loyalties. ``The media typecast Australian Muslims as unqualifiedly endorsing the invasion of Kuwait and the policies of President Saddam Hussein.... Our reaction to the Iraqi invasion was right from the beginning `thumbs down.'''

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