Radicalised and radicalising, Hanson represents a crop of anti-Muslim agitators currently running for Parliament. Incredibly, in a video released in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, her rhetoric has extended anti-Muslim politics to an even darker place, writes Max Chalmers.
If Pauline Hanson were brown, there would be government taskforces trying to make connections with her community and bring her back into the fold, desperately seeking to veer the Queenslander from her current, radicalised trajectory.
Instead, Hanson is running to enter the Australian Senate with the dutiful assistance of conservative media outlets, whose exposure has helped her build a reasonable chance of sneaking in under the lowered quotas of a double-dissolution election.
Late yesterday evening, the former MP released a video that serves as a warning for what is at stake should that campaign succeed. It’s hardly a revelation that Pauline Hanson is running as a racist, but the manner in which she is doing so is cause for alarm, both because of what it says about the levels of racism still acceptable in mainstream Australian politics, and the broad threat it poses to Australian Muslims, as well as democratic and liberal ideals.
It starts with Hanson standing in a driveway, a microphone pinned to her rose coloured blazer.
“Let’s have a serious chat about the latest terrorist attack that’s happened in America,” she says, looking directly down the barrel of the camera.
In the next two minutes, Hanson delivers a typically meandering dialogue which tries to reap political capital from the horrible massacre in Orlando, something other conservative candidates have also attempted to do. Insidiously, she refuses to acknowledge the fact the attack targeted LGBTI people, and offers not a single word of solidarity for a global community in mourning.
Bigotry and opportunism are no surprise coming from Hanson, the women whose anti-Asian migration stance has had its absurdity exposed the passage of time. But there is something particularly chilling about this video, an extremity of racism that goes beyond even the rhetoric of Reclaim Australia.
At one point she pauses dramatically, and then delivers the most important line of the video and, perhaps, of her campaign.
“We have to take a strong stance against Muslims,” she says.
Though a flimsy defence, Islamophobic movements in Australia have in recent years insisted that this is not a sentiment they buy into. Sure, they say, we hate Islam, but that doesn’t mean we hate all Muslims.
What often follows is an unconvincing attempt to downplay how diverse the global practice of Islam is, and render invisible the vast differences between those who practise it. It’s a cover for bigotry, in other words, and one that causes proponents to tie themselves in all kinds of knots. (When I interviewed Kirralie Smith back in 2014 – an anti-halal advocate now also running for the Senate – she acknowledged there were hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Australia who were peaceful citizens, forcing her to the awkward conclusion that they simply did not understand Islamic scripture accurately, as she apparently did.)
Hanson mentions Islam next, but the reducing of ‘Muslims’ to a single cohesive entity – a group of 1.6 billion people who are Sunni and Shi’a, Pakistani and American, radical and moderate, men, women, white, black, brown, gay, straight, and otherwise – helps explain the more obviously shocking statements that follow.
All pretence of ideological criticism or religious critique have been dropped. Being Muslim is adjudicated as a crime in and of itself. Regardless of their actual views, convictions, or actions, Muslims are demonised as inherently bad people.
Except to Hanson, they’re actually less than that. Muslims are nothing more than dangerous animals.
On the tails of the ‘strong stance’ comment, Hanson goes on to compare these 1.6 billion people to dogs. We don’t let Pit Bull Terriers into the country, or certain dangerous toys, she says. The obvious, odious punchline follows: Muslims, like pit-bulls, are dangerous. They must not be allowed to exist here either.
These are the sentiments of a women who gets soft-ball interviews on Sky News, and has been called on by breakfast morning television shows Sunrise and Today to provide expert commentary on apparent instances of terror. Like Trump, her celebrity status pays political dividends.
Samantha Armytage might be ok with it, but even some of Hanson’s own Facebook followers were upset by the above rhetoric, arguing with only slightly less prejudice that not all Muslims are terrorists. Others agreed heartily, and the video has managed to amass 185,000 views.
Opponents of multiculturalism like Hanson are fond of arguing that “Sharia law” – a term they do not understand – represents a threat to Australian democratic values.
But have a look at your Senate voting paper on July 2 and it should be clear the real, structural, cultural threat to these principles does not come from Australian Muslims. There are four parties currently registered with the AEC who boast a platform centred on policies designed to harasses and repress Muslims. That doesn’t even include parties like the Jacqui Lambie Network, whose leader wants the grand mufti to wear an ankle monitor. Other far right groups like the United Patriots Front failed to register, as they had promised to do.
Those like Hanson who did make it onto a ballot are now openly calling for the shredding of protections that shield religious communities from state persecution, in her case suggesting section 116 of the constitution be amended. Again, we see more radical propositions sliding into the conversation. Not just a religious test for migrants, but a wholesale change to legal protections for religious practice generally.
That won’t happen any time soon, but the embrace of Hanson, and others like Kirralie Smith, is a reminder of just how deep racism still runs in Australian politics.
Whether Hanson, Smith, and co end up involved in the Senate balance of power or not, a position in parliament will allow them to open new ground for major party players to tread. The radicalism of their racism will stretch political possibility, emboldening the likes of Bernardi and Abbott while making them appear more moderate in comparison.
These are the kind of shifts that don’t just nudge individual pieces of legislation over the line: they can fundamentally rebalance a nation.
Pauline Hanson has been radicalised. A seat in parliament would allow her to radicalise many more.