Skip to main content

Multiculturalism, Social Distance and “Islamophobia”: Reflections on Anti-racism Research in Australia and Beyond


There has been a flourishing of anti-racism research and commentary on Islamophobia in Australia over the last 15 to 20 years, utilising multiple national surveys on attitudes towards multiculturalism, Muslims and Islam. This article discusses and critiques this research and its accompanying discourse, with special attention given to the questionable way in which social distance scales are used to identify and then frame “Islamophobia” and apparent classes of Islamophobes in Australian society at large. The negative consequences of the resulting conceptual and linguistic framing from this research are discussed, and the underlying methodological flaws and biases of anti-racist researchers are identified and explained as three key “asymmetries” relating to social constructs versus reality; stereotypes and groups; and avoidance of reciprocity.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    The SBS media release can be found here: The title of the SBS documentary should give pause, as even if “Australia” is taken not to be a singular entity but rather a multicultural society where different groups may have reservations about one another, the answer to the question is guaranteed to be somewhere between “not much” and “a lot”, or, more precisely, between 0% racist and 100% racist. What constitutes “racism” and what proxies are used for racist attitudes are—as we shall see—critical to the way the results are being contextualised and “problematised”.

  2. 2.

    Western Sydney University, “Challenging Racism Project” press release available online at: Emphasis added.

  3. 3.

    For example, Ruud Koopmans, “Multiculturalism and Immigration: A Contested Field in Cross-National Comparison,” Annual Review of Sociology 39 (2013): pp. 147–169.

  4. 4.

    Halim Rane, Adis Duderija, Riyad H. Rahimullah, Paul Mitchell, Jessica Mamone, and Shane Satterley, “Islam in Australia: A National Survey of Muslim Australian Citizens and Permanent Residents,” Religions 11, no. 8 (2020): 419.

  5. 5.

    See, for example, the texts reviewed by Brian Klug, “Islamophobia: A Concept Comes of Age,” Ethnicities 12, no. 5 (2012): 665–681.

  6. 6.

    The Runnymede Trust, Islamophobia – A Challenge for Us All, Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 4.

  7. 7.

    Erik Bleich, “What is Islamophobia and How Much is There? Theorizing and Measuring an Emerging Comparative Concept,” American Behavioral Scientist 55, no. 12 (2011): 1583. Bleich himself proposes another definition that has been adopted by some scholars, namely “indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslims.”.

  8. 8.

    Islamophobia – A Challenge for Us All, 4.

  9. 9.

    Emory Bogardus, 1882–1973, American sociologist.

  10. 10.

    Katie Blair, Kevin M. Dunn, Alanna Kamp, and Oishee Alam, “Challenging Racism Project 2015–16 National Survey Report,” (2017), 3. Available at

  11. 11.

    From the online abstract, “Challenging Racism Project 2015–16,” available at

  12. 12.

    Alanna Kamp, Oishee Alam, Katie Blair, and Kevin M. Dunn, “Australians’ Views on Cultural Diversity, Nation and Migration, 2015–16,” Cosmopolitan Civil Societies (2017): 61. Emphasis added.

  13. 13.

    The easy conflation of what might otherwise be distinguished as “anti-Muslim bigotry” versus “Islamophobia” is highly questionable, as the discussion so far makes evident. Aside from what has been already cited, Meredith Tax and others have contributed to this discussion, and in her book Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights (New York: Lulu, 2013), she writes: “[W]hile it is essential that the progressive movement fight racism and prejudice against Muslims, the term ‘Islamophobia’ tends to echo the framing of the Muslim Right, which can lead to efforts to criminalize free expression and dissent; it this does more to confuse the issues rather than clarify them.” 94.

  14. 14.

    For example: Riaz Hassan, Australian Muslims: The Challenge of Islamophobia and Social Distance, International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia, (2018).

  15. 15.

    Kamp et al., “Australians’ Views on Cultural Diversity,” 73.

  16. 16.

    Kamp et al., “Australians’ Views on Cultural Diversity,” 74. Emphasis added.

  17. 17.

    Linda Briskman, “The Creeping Blight of Islamophobia in Australia,” International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy 4, no. 3 (2015): 112–121.

  18. 18.

    See, for example, Kevin Dunn, Thierno MO Diallo, and Rachel Sharples, “Segmenting Anti-Muslim Sentiment in Australia: Insights for the Diverse Project of Countering Islamophobia” Ethnicities 21, no. 3 (2021): 538–562.

  19. 19.

    Dunn et al., “Segmenting Anti-Muslim Sentiment in Australia,” 540. Emphasis original.

  20. 20.

    Dunn et al., “Segmenting Anti-Muslim Sentiment in Australia,” 550. Emphasis original.

  21. 21.

    Dunn et al., “Segmenting Anti-Muslim Sentiment in Australia,” 551.

  22. 22.

    Scott Poynting and Linda Briskman, “Islamophobia in Australia: From Far-Right Deplorables to Respectable Liberals,” Social Sciences 7, no. 11 (2018): 7/17.

  23. 23.

    Kamp et al., “Australians’ Views on Cultural Diversity,” 72.

  24. 24.

    Kevin M. Dunn, Natascha Klocker, and Tanya Salabay, “Contemporary Racism and Islamophobia in Australia: Racializing Religion,” Ethnicities 7, no. 4 (2007): 564–589.

  25. 25.

    Dunn, et al., “Contemporary Racism and Islamophobia in Australia,” 573.

  26. 26.

    Dunn, et al., “Contemporary racism and Islamophobia in Australia,” 573–4. Emphasis added.

  27. 27.

    Poynting and Briskman, “Islamophobia in Australia,” 5/17.

  28. 28.

    Halim Rane, Adis Duderija, Riyad H. Rahimullah, Paul Mitchell, Jessica Mamone, and Shane Satterley, “Islam in Australia: A National Survey of Muslim Australian Citizens and Permanent Residents,” Religions 11, no. 8 (2020): 419. This article presents the findings of the “Islam in Australia” national survey and stands in stark contrast to the types of studies discussed previously. Whereas in the anti-racist works of the scholars already discussed, one would look in vain for reference to Saudi Arabia’s promulgation of Sunni Islam, funding of mosques or the petrodollar-funded dissemination of Wahhabi prayer books, Rane and colleagues write frankly of such real-life concerns, while also highlighting the range of anti-Muslim bigotry that survey respondents face.

  29. 29.

    Rane, et al., “Islam in Australia,” 419, 12/39.

  30. 30.

    Rane, et al., “Islam in Australia,” 419, 19/39.

  31. 31.

    The results of the later 2015–16 Survey show the same question regarding marriage as not showing a “statistically significant” (a point made in the research with particular precision) difference between males and females when related to Middle Eastern, Asians and Muslims, although in the remaining categories (Aboriginal Australians, African Australians and Jewish Australians) females scored statistically significantly higher in tolerance. Kamp et al., 74.

  32. 32. Pages 110 and 107 respectively. Note here that the survey used a different methodology and sampling.

  33. 33.

    Hadi Sohrabi, “Identity and Muslim leadership: The Case of Australian Muslim Leaders,” Contemporary Islam 10, no. 1 (2016): 11–12. Emphasis added.

  34. 34.

    Kim Webster, C. Vaughan, R. Yasmin, K. Diemer, N. Honey, J. Mickle, J. Morgan et al., Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women and Gender Equality Among People from Non-English Speaking Countries: Findings from the 2017 National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS), Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, 2019.

  35. 35.

    Webster, et al., “Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women”, 26.

  36. 36.

    Webster et al., “Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women”, 16.

  37. 37.

    Susan Rees and Bob Pease, Refugee Settlement, Safety and Wellbeing: Exploring Domestic Family Violence in Refugee Communities, Immigrant Women’s Domestic Violence Service, 2006. 4–5. Emphasis added.

  38. 38.

    Rees and Pease, Refugee Settlement, Safety and Wellbeing, 36–37. See also Derya Iner et al., Islamophobia in Australia-II (2016–2017), Charles Sturt University, 2019.

  39. 39.

    A. Vandermaas-Peeler, Cox, D., Fisch-Friedman, M., Griffin, R. and Jones, R.P., “Emerging Consensus on LGBT Issues: Findings from the 2017 American Values Atlas,” Public Religion Research Institute (2018), 9. Emphasis added.

  40. 40.

    Jimmy Bangash, “Islamic Homophobia is Empowered by Leftist Silence,” Queer Majority Essays, 2021. Emphasis added.

  41. 41.

    “Juniper Survey of Muslims 2015,” ICM Muslims Survey for Channel 4 (2016), 117.

  42. 42.

    Asifa Siraj, “I Don’t Want to Taint the Name of Islam: The Influence of Religion on the Lives of Muslim Lesbians,” Journal of Lesbian Studies 16, no. 4 (2012): 464. Emphasis added.

  43. 43.

    Ruud Koopmans, Religious fundamentalism and Out-Group Hostility Among Muslims and Christians in Western Europe, WZB Discussion Paper, No. SP VI 2014–101 (2014), 18. Emphasis added.

  44. 44.

    Rane et al., “Islam in Australia”, 19/39.

  45. 45.

    “Apostate Report: Leaving Islam in North America,” Ex-Muslims of North America (2021), 14.

  46. 46.

    Tax, Double Bind, 103. Emphasis added.

  47. 47.

    Lee Jussim, Jarret T. Crawford, and Rachel S. Rubinstein, “Stereotype (In)Accuracy in Perceptions of Groups and Individuals,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 24, no. 6 (2015): 492.

  48. 48.

    Jussim et al., “Stereotype (In)Accuracy”, 492.

  49. 49.

    Pew Research Center, The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (2013), 124.

  50. 50.

    Heather Al-Yousuf, “Negotiating Faith and Identity in Muslim–Christian Marriages in Britain,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 17, no. 3 (2006): 317–329.

  51. 51.

    See, for example, Cila and Lalonde, “Personal Openness Toward Interfaith Dating and Marriage Among Muslim Young Adults: The Role of Religiosity, Cultural Identity, and Family Connectedness,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relation, 17, no. 3 (2014): 357–370.

  52. 52.

    See, for example, Philip Mounstephen, “Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians: Final Report and Recommendations,” (2019).

  53. 53.

    Silma Ihram, “Muslim Youth and the Mufti: Youth Discourses on Identity and Religious Leadership Under Media Scrutiny,” (PhD diss., University of Western Sydney, Australia, 2009): 136. Emphasis added.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alan Davison.

Additional information

Publisher's note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Davison, A. Multiculturalism, Social Distance and “Islamophobia”: Reflections on Anti-racism Research in Australia and Beyond. Soc (2021).

Download citation


  • Anti-racism
  • Islamophobia
  • Social distance
  • Social constructs
  • Stereotypes