Australia’s Islamophobia problem goes right to the top
Like frogs in a slow-boiling pot we have become used to the mainstreaming of hate speech against Muslims over many years. The hate has come from so many corners, there are too many to point at. It’s not just the far right. It’s not just the hate media. As commentator after commentator has pointed out, the Abbott–Turnbull–Morrison governments have to take some responsibility for fomenting it, from the treatment of asylum seekers to stoking fears about Muslim immigration and Islamist terrorism, from bringing One Nation into the fold to accidentally-on-purpose voting up an “It’s OK to be white” resolution. They have to take some responsibility, and pull back from the brink of what was threatening to become a(nother) race election. Perhaps the shock of Friday’s massacre of 50 people at prayer in two Christchurch mosques by an Australian terrorist – as Opposition leader Bill Shorten said yesterday, a phrase that still takes some getting used to – will snap our politics out of it. Perhaps as well as being a referendum on wages the next election should be a referendum on hate and putting it behind us.
The overwhelming public support for a petition calling on the prime minister to force Senator Fraser Anning to resign from parliament for his offensive statements after the attack, among other things – almost 1.2 million signatures at time of writing, making it the biggest petition this country has seen (disclosure: I signed) – raises the interesting question of whether there are or should be any limits on extremist politicians. The petition’s author, Kate Ahmad, told The Sydney Morning Heraldyesterday that she understood there was no mechanism for expelling politicians unless they were criminals or ruled ineligible, but perhaps there should be. Australia now has a known Nazi sympathiser in the Senate, who uses his parliamentary platform and a supple media – which turns up to his press conferences, even today – to undermine our way of life. Both major parties will have move a censure motion, but the Greens today have urged the parliament to go further, with leader Richard Di Natale exploring options including amending the Parliamentary Privileges Act to allow members of parliament to be expelled.
Australia’s hate problem goes well beyond Anning – it goes right to the top, specifically to Scott Morrison. In an indication of how sensitive the prime minister is to suggestions that he has stoked Islamophobia, The New Daily reports that his office is threatening to sue Channel 10 for defamation over Waleed Aly’s Friday op-ed that has been viewed an astonishing 12 million times and surfaced old allegations that Morrison went to shadow cabinet in 2011 and recommended taking political advantage of fears about Muslim immigration.
As the AFR’s Phillip Coorey writes [$] today, in a reminder of the Lindsay pamphlet scandal days out from the 2007 election, “conservative politics no longer dog whistles over Islam. For years now, it has been using a loud hailer.” Sean Kelly points out that only a few weeks ago the prime minister was hoping out loud that passage of the medivac bill would be his Tampa moment. Today, he is announcing $55 million to protect against terrorism at places of worship.
If Christchurch was going to force a revaluation on the conservative side of politics, then we wouldn’t be hearing Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton this morning likening Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi – who is the only Muslim in the Senate, and who has been outspoken against racism – with Fraser Anning. As former race commissioner Tim Soutphomasanne tweeted this morning: “Stop with the false equivalence. It should be simple for political leaders: condemn and reject white supremacism and far-right extremism. The problem is racism, not anti-racism.” Dutton’s comments were widely condemned, including by Labor Senate leader Penny Wong, who accused him of “normalising hate speech”.
Faruqi is the solution here, not the problem. Her comments this morning bear repeating: “Some politicians in Australia have for years been whipping up anti-muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment,” she told ABC Television’s News Breakfast, “and for years, Muslims have also been warning; we’ve been speaking out and saying this is damaging and hurting the community, and that this does have consequences – this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And when I talk about politicians, I have to say I’m not only talking about the usual suspects like One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, or Fraser Anning.” On Radio National, she added, “It is politicians like Peter Dutton who have actually contributed to creating an atmosphere where hate is allowed to incubate in our society. They can’t shrug off their responsibility.”
As Ruby Hamad writes [$] powerfully in Crikey today, white nationalism is abundant here in Australia. The hate Australia must deal with is not only on the fringes, it is mainstream.
“For more than forty years, both the architecture of labour market regulation and the discretionary choices of governments have been designed with the precise objective of holding wages down. These policies have been quite successful … However, at least until recently, there has been bipartisan agreement on at least one aspect of them – that no one should mention their role in holding back wages.”
Economics professor John Quiggin explains why the finance minister was quite right that that low wages are deliberate, in the first of a three-part series on wages, unemployment and underemployment in The Conversation.
“The tax has been carefully crafted so that rich people are not affected provided they make sensible adjustments to their investment portfolios … [but] there are at least 1 million battling Australians whom the ALP believes deserve to be hit, and hit hard. These people are spending their money because they need it for living so a big portion of the billions set to be raised via the retirement tax will come out of retail sales.”
“Ecological damage to the planet is becoming so dire that millions of lives will soon be at risk unless urgent action is taken … Green investment to the tune of 2 per cent of countries’ GDP would deliver long-term economic growth as high as presently projected but with far fewer impacts from climate change, water scarcity and loss of ecosystems.”
“The conservatives have got themselves into a terrible lather about last week’s climate-change protest. The kids, of course, are utterly wrong – misguided, subverted, brainwashed – but by whom? Well, obviously their teachers, the crypto-communists devoted to tearing down Western civilisation, which is, by definition, the only sort worth saving.”
“Pell had not looked particularly thin to me, though he did appear, from where I stood next to the dock, to be almost imperceptibly deflating over the hour it took Chief Judge Peter Kidd to sentence him – now a serious sexual offender – to six years in prison with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.”
“The fact that the bigots of the past have been wrong every time has not deterred the bigots of the present ... Pauline Hanson’s warnings in the late 1990s about the threats of Asian migration are considered ridiculous now, but the absence of non-assimilatory crime gangs hasn’t deterred her, or her voters, from a copycat hysteria. She still insists she was right. As it’s currently constituted, Islamophobia can’t even work on its own terms.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
Like frogs in a slow-boiling pot we have become used to the mainstreaming of hate speech against Muslims over many years. The hate has come from so many corners, there are too many to point at. It’s not just the far right. It’s not just the hate media. As commentator after commentator has pointed out, the Abbott–Turnbull–Morrison governments have to take some responsibility for fomenting it, from the treatment of asylum seekers to stoking fears about Muslim immigration and Islamist terrorism, from bringing One Nation into the fold to accidentally-on-purpose voting up an “It’s OK to be white” resolution. They have to take some responsibility, and pull back from the brink of what was threatening to become a(nother) race election. Perhaps the shock of Friday’s massacre of 50 people at prayer in two Christchurch mosques by an Australian terrorist – as Opposition leader Bill Shorten said...