Giving Bigots More Rights Is The Wrong Response To Charlie Hebdo Massacre

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I oppose any amendments to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. This is despite the fact that the Act does not protect me, or any other Australian Muslim, from discrimination on the basis of our faith.

I say this as both a Muslim and an Australian. Although I am not from a racial minority, as Noel Pearson recently rightly recounted, one need not be to understand the importance of these issues.

This is because they define the nation in which we live.

We can learn an awful lot from Australia’s Jewish community on this score, for they know too well the horrific consequences when countries are permitted to vilify, dehumanise and essentially treat other people differently based on racial (and religious) grounds. 

I was always taught while at school to shy away from bringing the Nazis into your school debate. It usually meant you lost. I am, however, coming around now to the view that this avoidance is guaranteed to see them rise again. Maybe under a different name, or a different leader, or a different flag – but the danger is there.

When Australian Muslim leaders ask for further resources for the Bias Crimes Unit based within the New South Wales Police, we do so in acknowledgement that perhaps, having only one officer responsible for investigating crimes committed against Australians – based on their perceived or real gender, ethnicity, disability status, sexual orientation, age, homeless status or religious identity – is inappropriate and inadequate.

From my life and my professional career, I can tell you that hate crimes are very real. It is disappointing that tackling these terrible crimes – crimes against our whole social fabric – are not a priority for the NSW police.

I would have thought terrorism, arguably, is the ultimate bias crime – the ultimate hate crime.

The tragedy in Paris or Martin Place should not result in Australian Muslims being at the end of “collective punishment” for criminal actions they did not commit. We do not deserve to be ridiculed, reduced, legislated against, mocked, vilified and subjected to hate speech.

Political actors and social commentators have confused section 18C as being an obstacle to free speech.

The Australian Muslim community most certainly has not “bullied, bludgeoned or terrorised” largely White Anglo Saxon men in keeping silent on what Muslim women wear, what Muslim’s eat, halal certification, terrorism, radicalisation, “imaginary backlash” or whether Australian Muslim women are permitted to enter our parliament.

It is mischievous to assert that the mere existence of section 18c has halted any criticism of Australian Muslims. In fact, the opposite is true. Islamophobia is still alive and well under the “18C regime” – but I would hate to think how and what we will end up without it.

Those who advocate an absolutist position on “free speech” ought to comprehend what they are arguing for. Surely the absolutist would support the letters written by the Lindt Café shootist to war widows? They would support the anti-vaccination advocate Sherri Tenpenny in proceeding with her anti-vaccination speaking tour highlighting the “dangers” of vaccination from the United States. They would speak out against the (then) Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to cancel pick up artist and “dating coach” Julian Blanc’s visa on the basis that his seminars were derogatory against women.

Significantly, they should have opposed the ‘Advocating terrorism provision’ in the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 which was introduced by our ‘you have a right to be a bigot Attorney General’. This provision is so expansive, it could capture legitimate speech and have a chilling effect on public discourse on issues of terrorism, armed conflict and Australia’s foreign policy.

As we slide back into Iraq for a “humanitarian mission with military elements” (not a war!) this is significant.

The context of the current discourse surrounding civil liberties and rights is also significant. There has been a sustained ideological attack against our democratic values and civil liberties since the introduction of the first tranche of counter terrorism laws in 2003.

To further illustrate that the threat against our rights and freedoms is not just contained to terrorists, one can turn to the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) 2014 which was also passed in 2014 with little opposition.

The NSLA restricts press freedoms and criminalises whistleblowing – hallmarks of a healthy democracy – in an environment with declining transparency and accountability.

Not all those who pose a threat to civil liberties and freedoms stand behind a foreign flag and hold Kalashnikovs. Some stand behind the Australian flag and promote the myth that civil liberties and freedoms need to be sacrificed in order to obtain security.

They can be persons in positions of power who seek to use freedoms and civil liberties as tools to maintain their power. They draft, and then pass, draconian legislation that strikes at the heart of democracy and the very same freedoms they are purporting to protect.

To truly champion civil liberties and freedoms, we need to engage in more than hashtag politics. If all we take from the Paris tragedy is that romanticised Charlie Hebdo is martyred into a symbol of free speech and a backdoor to state sanctioned vilification, the rights discourse in Australia is in deep trouble.

We need to defend our freedoms and civil liberties from all attacks, reinvigorate the public rights discourse, refuse the temptation for our core democratic values to be hijacked and demand a Bill of Rights for all Australians.

Our Constitution should be a living and breathing document that protects all minorities. I can think of no better way of honouring those who lost their lives in the Martin Place tragedy. I can think of no better way than uniting all Australians.

The question is whether the politicians want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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