Racism As Performance Art: Pauline Hanson And The Great Australian Bigotry Binge

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Confronting imported Australian bigotry now is about creating a better society for later, writes Alice Aslan.

Like many things in this country, Australian Islamophobia is an import from Europe and America.

For more than a decade some of the racist members of our parliament and media have followed the international news very closely, copying all the recent racist trends in from overseas. For instance, when in France some politicians demanded “ban the burqa”, or when Trump declared a ban on Muslim immigration in America, they chanted these same racist slogans word by word to the Australian public.

Our leaders are basically plagiarising racism.

But recently, Pauline Hanson has done something unique; she donned the burqa in Parliament to promote its ban, combining racism with performance art. Even French politicians, a strictly secular country with popular Islamophobia, or a clownish Trump administration has never imagined such a publicity stunt to mock Muslims. So we should all give Hanson credit for it: she is very unique, not just a plain racist, but a “creative performance racist”.

American president Donald Trump. (IMAGE: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
American president Donald Trump. (IMAGE: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

Hanson got little support with her parliamentary stunt, but plenty of attention. Maybe she is quietly hoping to start a new trend – performance art plus racism inspiring many copycats or to become an internet star and revive her popularity. Fortunately, the wind of change is blowing.

Following the murder of anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer at a recent savage Neo-Nazi white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, even some of the most fervent supporters of Trump are coming to realise the destructive force of racism in America.

Hopefully Hanson and her ilk will soon find themselves on the wrong side of history, just like Trump. After all, the emperor has no clothes.

Racist, charlatan politicians have nothing to offer society. They only want to maintain their own power and boost their egos by playing the politics of resentment, and exploiting that resentment among ordinary white people, which is caused largely by inhumane neoliberal policies.

By constantly promoting racism and prejudice, they divide society and communities; they revitalize Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and cause violent, racist terror. They waste valuable time and resources that should be focussed on essential issues, such as housing, employment, education, health, social cohesion and climate change.

Unfortunately, Islamophobia and other bigotries are likely to stay around for a long time. Some commentators claim that geographically isolated white Australians with less formal education and limited job opportunities are more gullible and inclined to take racist views expressed by some politicians and in some media at face value.

Pauline Hanson delivers her maiden speech to the federal Senate, in September 2016.
Pauline Hanson delivers her maiden speech to the federal Senate, in September 2016.

But Islamophobic views seem widespread among some Australians from different walks of life as well. My recent conversations with some friends and acquaintances from multicultural backgrounds (mostly professionals with advanced degrees) and a working class refugee, show that people usually adopt the same stereotypical views about Islam and Muslims, such as female segregation and oppression, terrorism, and the Muslim community’s self-imposed social isolation.

These people are intelligent, well-educated, have comfortable lives with mostly secure jobs and are from migrant backgrounds. They don’t need to fear globalisation or migration. And they already know some Muslims. But they lack critical thinking skills to question such stereotypes.

Everyone has the right to criticise any religion, custom, tradition or cultural practice because there is no social progress without any criticism. But foolishly parroting the same old stereotypes isn’t criticism, because real criticism first requires some knowledge.

In every society, people have prejudices. And the disturbing persistence of anti-Semitism, and other bigotry such as racism against black and Indigenous people, reveal that people usually cling to their prejudices. Although some prejudices seem harmless sometimes, they can become fatal when exploited by those in power. Someone always gets hurt.

Prejudices are like landmines; maybe we can call them social landmines. They need to be cleared.

This will require constantly challenging all kind of prejudices in our society. And the best way to clear social landmines for good is to raise compassionate children with critical thinking skills.

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Alice Aslan

Alice Aslan is a Turkish-Australian social anthropologist, writer and activist, who lives in Sydney.

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