Why We Can't Ignore Andrew Bolt

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As one of the most popular writers in the country, Bolt reaches an unmatched audience. At a moment of heightened Islamophobia we would be wrong to leave his message go unchecked. Michael Brull explains.

We need to talk about Andrew Bolt’s problem with Muslims.

Given his long history of inflammatory writings, it appears that many progressives just ignore the things he says. That is the most charitable way I can think of to describe the non-reaction to his latest ravings.

In a column last week for the Herald Sun, Bolt wrote about the National Mosque Open Day.

Most ordinary, decent people probably thought this was a nice thing. This was a step to try to reach Australians on a personal level and counter anti-Muslim prejudices.

The fact that Australians have widespread prejudice against Muslims has been repeatedly documented. For example, last week a survey showed that about a quarter of Australians hold negative or very negative views towards Muslims. In 2012, a bipartisan parliamentary inquiry found that anti-Muslim prejudice is, as reported in the Australian, “the biggest racism issue in Australia”. In 2011, another study found that almost half of Australians held negative views about Muslims.

This doesn’t seem to worry Bolt. In his column, he wondered if “Australian ignorance of Islam” was “the key problem”. He explained that 21 Muslims have been convicted of terrorist offences in Australia, and that the real step to progress would be “Muslim clerics [opening]a debate on reforming Islam so fewer followers believe it preaches that nonbelievers should submit — or risk death.”

He then wrote of the need to “stop the production of jihadists.” This means “reforming the creed they say licenses their violence”. Presumably, Bolt means the problem is Islam. If we change Islam, there will be less terrorism.

Equating Islam with jihadi terrorists means equating the beliefs of 1.5 billion people with terrorism. The fact that this is a comment about religion, rather than the religious believers themselves is a disingenuous distinction. The blood libels against Jews were also claims about the Jewish religion. Their effect was to stimulate anti-Jewish bigotry and hatred.

Bolt proceeds to claim that another way to stop the production of jihadists is through “preaching pride in this country”. This is presumably a reference to his view that criticising Australian foreign policy is dangerous: “people could die”.

Furthermore, we should slash “Muslim immigration” until they are better integrated. Fighting terrorism also “means ending the enclaves that inhibit integration. It is dangerous to have suburbs such as Lakemba in Sydney and Dallas in Melbourne where half the residents are Muslim.”

That’s right. Andrew Bolt said it is dangerous to have suburbs which have lots of Muslims in them.

I’ve been writing critically about Bolt’s comments on Muslims for years. Frankly, I don’t get it. How could Bolt be more blatantly hateful than warning that there are places in Australia that have lots of Muslims in them? How can it pass without notice when he says it is dangerous for a place to have too many Muslims in it? If a public commentator with a national platform warned about the dangers of having too many Jews in Wentworth, does anyone think that person would keep their job?

The Power Index lists Andrew Bolt as the most influential commentator in Australia, and describes him as “the nation’s best-read columnist”. They estimate that “over four million Australians pick up a paper featuring his column each week and more than a million actually read it”. His TV show brings in approximate 233 000 more viewers, and he appears regularly on radio too. Bolt reaches a lot of Australians. And his latest message to them is that a suburb being half-full of Muslims is dangerous.

The message that Muslims are dangerous has been spouted by other Australian commentators and politicians, and the effects are plain to see. Since the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, there has been a torrent of anti-Muslim attacks and abuse in Australia. For example, a man threatened to set a Muslim woman on fire. When she looked to another man for help, he called her a terrorist.

Another man entered a mosque and threatened to hit a woman with a chair. He also threw cement bags at the mosque. Another Muslim woman was physically attacked and called a “fucking terrorist”. Another Muslim woman was spat on. Another Muslim woman was attacked by a large man, who told her to “go back to where you came from.” His physical assault broke her arm.

One could go on. In this context, anti-Muslim bigotry is particularly sinister, and deserves to be taken more seriously, especially when it comes from figures with major public profiles.

A few weeks ago, Tony Abbott was discussing the problem of “hate preachers”. He said we “should have a system in place that red cards these hate preachers.”

I’m not entirely sure what a “red card” means in this context. If a red card means expulsion from Australia, I’m not in favour of that. But if we were to adopt the soccer metaphor, Tony Abbott doesn’t need any special powers to give a yellow card, or a (figurative) free kick. It is unbelievable that the Prime Minister of Australia can openly describe as a friend a man who thinks too many Muslims in an area is dangerous.

Tony Abbott is free to criticise Bolt’s comments on Muslims. If he stands by his friend, we’ll learn something new about how he feels about hate preaching. If no one else in Australia comments on the anti-Muslim writings of the “best-read columnist” in Australia, we’ll learn something new about the values of Australian public commentators.

New Matilda

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