Commenting on Reclaim Australia is in some ways boring and depressing. It is a movement of vulgar, anti-intellectual bigotry.
If you visit their website, you can see their list of demands. The first one wants “To make Sharia Law illegal in every State and Territory.” The second one is “Keep our traditional values ie. Christmas, Easter, Australia Day, Anzac Day and other beliefs a large number of Australians have grown up with.”
Now let us consider these briefly. Sharia is Islamic religious law – the things that Muslims think are religiously obligatory for them. Sharia law is kind of like saying “ATM machine”.
Let us try to consider what this might mean. There are five pillars of Islam, which are considered basic religious requirements for practicing Muslims. One of these pillars is giving charity. Does Reclaim Australia think it should be illegal to give charity?
It is not just Reclaim Australia who express this kind of vapid bigotry against Muslims. Jacquie Lambie made a name for herself with similarly ignorant claims about Islam and sharia. The fact that there is a political market for this kind of crude bigotry is depressing. It has lacked political leadership, which is presumably why Reclaim Australia has eventually emerged in the form it has.
Consider next the demand that Australia keep “our traditional values” like Christmas, Easter and so on, which are attributed to a “large number of Australians”.
Many Australians aren’t Christian. As it happens, religious Muslims revere Jesus. However, for Australians of other religious groups – like Jews, Hindus and atheists – Christian religious festivals hold no particular significance for us, other than possibly getting a day off work, or possibly extra pay for those who do work on those occasions.
How Easter is a “traditional value” of Australia is beyond me. It wasn’t invented in Australia, it doesn’t have any particular Australian development that I know of – and I can’t even figure out what supposed value Easter represents. If Australia does have traditional values, they are from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – which genuinely are in danger of being wiped out. But Reclaim Australia has shown little interest in… well, reclaiming Australia.
Looking more closely at the list, I wondered: what exactly is being threatened? Reclaim Australia wants to keep things safe, though those things aren’t under threat in any meaningful sense. Keep our traditional values? Who wants to ban Easter? Introduce pride in the Australian flag and anthem? Isn’t that something schools already try to do?
Others are more strange. They want to “keep our rights and freedom of speech”, apparently unaware that there is no meaningful protection of freedom of speech (or most other rights) in Australia.
They want to ban Islam in government schools, ban the burqa, make halal certification illegal, or performed by the government. Which in its own way is incoherent – these groups claim that their objection to halal certification is that they have to pay a halal tax on food, but seem to have no problem with costs for halal certification being assumed by the government.
Where do they think revenue for halal certification by the government will come from? And if the government were to certify food as halal – do they think the government wouldn’t hire Muslims to be involved in the process?
They also want to ban the burqa, so at least Cory Bernardi has some credibility with the movement.
The website says that they reject Neo-Nazi and white supremacist banners and placards. Their placards say things like “Reclaim Australia from the UN” (??), “Reclaim Australia over Islam”. Precisely how they think Islam has taken over Australia escapes me, but might be comprehensible to those who follow the tabloids and trashy radio.
They also want to “Reclaim tolerance of our ways”, which is a strange value to be upheld by a movement devoted to attacking a religious group in Australia.
Their Facebook page is no more coherent. One picture of women in burqas says “Take a good look at these women… This is sharia law. This is Islam” (but in capitals). Reclaim Australia commented: “ARE THEY WOMEN??”
Almost makes one forget that they want to reclaim tolerance. It is also passingly strange to say that that “is Islam”, when the vast majority of Muslim women in Australia don’t wear a burqa nor a niqab. Another picture complains that “WE HAVE IMPORTED INTOLERANCE”, with signs from a protest by fanatical Muslims. Again, a strange concern for a group which wants to ban certain Islamic practices, and “make Sharia Law illegal”. Are they in favour of freedom of speech or aren’t they?
Another picture says “Boycott Halal Certified Food! It’s not Australian”. Why isn’t it Australian? It might be said that Halal food isn’t indigenous to Australia, but then, neither are Europeans, or the English language for that matter.
And then – of course – there’s a picture of September 11, saying “THE RELIGION OF PEACE AND LOVE”. Savvy readers are meant to say how can Islam be peaceful when 19 Muslims did something really, really bad 14 years ago?
It then says “Islam: a history of hate, murder and terror” – and continues in that way. Reclaim Australia comments: “But still world leaders and left wing media are brainwashing people to believe Islam is an extremely peaceful ideology.” And then a sad face emoticon, because it’s sad face how people brainwash the world into not realising that Islam is pro murder and terrorism.
In my view, this picture can help account for some of the sentiments of Reclaim Australia. Since September 11, there has been the “war on terror”, which has mostly amounted to war on various Muslim countries, drone attacks in other Muslim countries, and torturing Muslims in Guantanamo Bay and black sites around the world.
Most Australians have very little understanding of the history of the Middle East and the rise of Islamist jihadis. The media ranges from the vulgar Islamophobia in the trashy press, to the ignorant and shallow coverage of these issues in Fairfax and the ABC.
The fact that so many Australians think sharia equates to the Taliban, and halal funds terrorism is really a testament to how terrible the media has been in addressing these issues.
Jeff Sparrow has drawn the parallel between the bigotry of Reclaim Australia and traditional anti-Semitism. Jewish communal organisations have had a mixed reaction to Reclaim Australia.
The mysterious group Australian Jewish Communal Lobby – which seems to be basically no more than a Facebook group – was denounced as unrepresentative by basically every relevant Jewish organisation. The most principled response came from the editorial (10/4/15) of the Australian Jewish News, which observed that the AJCL “brought shame on our community when they publicly supported the Reclaim Australia rallies”, which “were attended by Neo-Nazis”.
Prior to these rallies, the strongest leadership from the Jewish community on anti-halal bigotry came from Chabadnik Rabbi Moshe Gutnick. Rabbi Gutnick has also shown strong leadership on the issue of child sexual abuse within the community – setting a finer example than much of the secular leadership.
The parallels between halal certification and kashrut certification are obvious – which is perhaps why the Australian Jewish News has issued an editorial denouncing the anti-halal campaign in its latest edition.
The Reclaim Australia movement and its sheer ignorance reminds me in a way of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In his seminal study of the Protocols, Norman Cohn wrote, “The Protocols are such a transparent and ludicrous forgery that one may well wonder why it was ever necessary to prove the point.”
Which is a timely reminder, as is another observation: “Save in Britain, the unmasking of the forgery in 1921 seems to have made little difference.”
When Walter Rathenau was murdered in Germany, the judge who tried the murderers explained that the “the chief culprit [was]irresponsible, fanatical antisemitism”. Anti-Semitic propaganda was banned – but what really caused a reduction in the influence of the Protocols was an improved situation in Germany, such as a more moderate reparations agreement, and allied troops withdrawing from German territory, which caused “the wave of right-wing extremism” to ebb “all over Germany”.
Australia isn’t experiencing anything like the crisis that faced Germany during the Weimar years. But there is a pervasive anti-Muslim bigotry, radiating from broad segments of the Australian media, and even major political parties.
Perhaps the leading mainstream ideologue of anti-Muslim bigotry in Australia is Andrew Bolt. He complained that Reclaim Australia protesters were subject to such horrors such as being abused as “racists”. Recall that open neo-Nazis were at these protests. Even his own paper showed a picture of one of the Reclaim Australia protesters with the back of his head covered in Nazi tattoos.
Yet Bolt warned: “It is dangerously easy to sneer at the several hundred protesters who dared hold anti-Islam rallies around the country on Saturday” (Note that Bolt has no problem with “anti-Islam” rallies). Yet, “It’s much easier for the smugly sanctimonious to ridicule the worried than admit there’s something serious to worry about. But, a warning: If interpretations of Islam are not reformed, we can expect two things: more terrorism, and angrier reactions from Australians feeling threatened and pushed too far.”
Tony Abbott, for his part, has apparently seen no need to comment on the movement, despite the fact that it included neo-Nazis marching across Australia and getting involved in violent clashes with counter-protesters (identified in scare quotes as “anti-racists” by Andrew Bolt, who was mysteriously found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act a while ago).
Abbott has done his share of Muslim baiting, such as calling on Muslim leaders to condemn terrorism and actually “mean it”. Muslim baiting has essentially been his only way to sell our latest war on Iraq. The shared ignorance of the Australian government and Reclaim Australia was demonstrated recently by our defence minister being unable to name the current alias of the leader of ISIS. That was on the day that Australia sent an additional 330 troops to Iraq.
Yet even that supposedly triumphant interview conducted by Leigh Sales was revealing in its own way. Sales said: “Minister, you're responsible for putting Australian men and women in harm's way in the cause of this mission, I'm surprised that you can't tell me the name of Islamic State's leader. The US State Department has a $10 million bounty on his head.”
Finally, she said, “The specific person who I have been referring is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” Yet that is not his real name – that is the name he chose to adopt. The real name of the leader of ISIS is thought to be Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai.
The point is not that Leigh Sales is the worst journalist reporting on these issues. Obviously she is not. It is that whilst the more high-brow and sophisticated outlets are less ignorant than our extremely ignorant leaders, they haven’t shown any particular interest in meaningful understanding of these issues either. Even though we’ve been at war with Muslim countries for 14 years.
Norman Cohn’s book on the Protocols analysed the question of why “such a transparent and ludicrous forgery” could be so widely believed. We can ask ourselves the same question, as over 75,000 people like a Facebook page called “Boycott Halal in Australia”.
In a trial in Switzerland in 1935, Judge Meyer expressed his hope “to see the day when nobody will be able to understand why otherwise sane and reasonable men should have had to torment their brains for fourteen days over the authenticity or the fabrication of the Protocols of Zion.”
The fact that similarly vulgar anti-Muslim bigotry in Australia is understandable is a serious indictment on Australia’s political culture.
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