Veiled Threats: Recurrent Cultural Anxieties in Australia

At the end of the nineteenth century, white Australians found themselves in a turbulent and rapidly changing world. As British settlers in a vast, often-perplexing and under-populated continent, they were increasingly aware that they lived in a crowded and predominantly Asian neighbourhood. Their supposedly empty spaces seemed to invite the unwanted attention of hostile outsiders, fertile soil for speculation about vulnerable borders, invasion and violation. It was commonplace of the period for white females to be considered at once particularly vulnerable and also innocent symbols of the new nation. They needed to be protected against Asian males allegedly bent on conquest and violation. It does not follow that these “invasion narratives”, however persistent, meant that the entire population was disabled by fear and dread, but there is convincing evidence of a deeply embedded cultural anxiety about the destructive possibilities and hostile intentions of Asian outsiders. In this article, the authors examine recent representations of Muslims as hostile outsiders in Australia, focusing in particular on the veil as a marker of female oppression under Islam and a sign of the threat attributed to the Islamic community in Australia. While it would be misleading to propose a simple line of progression from late nineteenth century apprehensions to those a century or more later, there are nonetheless intriguing parallels and recurrent expressions of survivalist anxiety across the period examined in this article.

Authors: Anne Aly; David Walker

Continue reading