It’s surprising what you can get away with provided you stick to the script on ‘hating the other’. Michael Brull explains.
The fringe movements of the far right basically don’t like Muslims. They claim various other values, but they’re mostly just a smoke screen. If you look at the kinds of mini celebrities among their ranks, you’ll find that whatever they claim, basically all they need to do is trash Muslims and Islam. The rest is basically flexible. Including the patriotism stuff.
If you watch videos by the various racist and neo-fascist personalities of the far right, they typically begin with the salutation: “G’day patriots”. Ordinarily, one might think that Australian patriots would be Australian, Australia would be the only country they loved and were committed to, and they just wanted to protect their beloved country from foreigners (above all Muslims) who were going to wreck the place. But the thing is, the patriots seem flexible on what one might’ve thought were the fundamentals of patriotism.
Take Senator Malcolm Roberts, from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. It turns out, when he stood for election as a Senator for the most xenophobic party in parliament, he wasn’t just an Australian citizen. He was also an English citizen. The High Court judgment on his case makes for amusing reading.
Firstly, Justice Patrick Keane establishes that Roberts spent the election trying to find out if he was a British citizen. In May 2016 he wrote an email to two (seemingly defunct) email addresses, asking them “Please advise whether or not I am still a British citizen? If I am a British citizen, how do I renounce it?”
In June, he tried to renounce his British citizenship by sending another email which he hoped would be “effective immediately”. When his wife, Christine Roberts, found the correct office to get in contact with in September, Malcolm emailed them to find out “Am I a British citizen, national, subject or UK classification of any kind?” And if so, how could he renounce it?
The United Kingdom Home Office corresponded with Roberts until he finally was able to register his renunciation on 5 December 2016. Remember: the election was held about 5 months earlier, in July.
Here is the part that is a bit weird. To prove that he was entitled to be elected, and even to run as a Senator, Roberts needed to show that he was always just an Australian citizen, and nothing else. When being questioned in court, Roberts said “At the time of my nomination I considered myself Australian and only Australian. This is my sincere belief based upon having grown up in Australia, our family culture and the fact that I had always had an Australian and only an Australian passport.”
Justice Keane seemed bemused by Robert’s theory that all it takes to be an Australian is the belief that one is Australian. Justice Keane observed that, “Senator Roberts referred on several occasions to this evidence as the foundation of his claim to be, and always to have been, an Australian and only an Australian.”
He comments that “Senator Roberts equates feelings of Australian self-identification with citizenship, and so confuses notions of how a person sees oneself with an understanding of how one’s national community sees an individual who claims to be legally entitled to be accepted as a member of that community. The extent to which Senator Roberts’ subjective beliefs and objective reality diverge became apparent when Senator Roberts, pressed by Mr Lloyd SC as to whether ‘believing that you are an Australian citizen by reason of what is said amongst family members is actually the test for Australian citizenship’, answered: ‘Knowing my father I certainly do’.”
I don’t think there’s any question that this would not be accepted by the “patriots” – or by One Nation’s leader – if stated by a Muslim. The citizenship of Muslims is constantly up for questioning and scrutiny, and those who fail various tests of proving commitment to Australia – “Australian values” and so on – are routinely invited to leave the country.
Roberts was born in another country, broke the law set out in the Constitution, was a citizen of two countries when running for office – and is one of the leading exponents of Australia’s most patriotic elected party. It turns out to be Australian, all it takes is thinking you are Australian.
All the stuff about Team Australia, Australian values and so on doesn’t really apply to patriots who hate Muslims. They can even get a pass for breaking the Constitution – the kind of document that patriots in other countries might hold sacred.
Or take another patriot, Avi Yemini. Yemini is the son of Zephania Waks, and his brother is Manny, well known for exposing the sexual abuse of children in the Jewish community. It appears that Avi, who alleges his father was abusive, changed his last name to distance himself from his family.
Moving along, Avi brags about serving in the Israeli army, and has a gym called IDF (Israeli Defence Force) Training. Again, it seems strange for an icon of the movement of patriots to have served in a foreign army, which he continues to glorify and encourages others to support.
This seems like it would be relatively straightforward: Australian patriots are supposed to love and serve only one army – the Australian army. If Australia went to war with Israel, we might assume that patriots would serve on the Australian side. If a “patriot” would hesitate, or have doubts, or be unsure about which country to support – is that person really so patriotic?
Or take another supporter of the patriots – the former Facebook group, Australian Jewish Communal Lobby. Seemingly coming from nowhere, it primarily posted anti-Muslim memes and diatribes, and offered to give free legal support to Reclaim Australia protest attendees. AJCL also supported the anti-Muslim political party, Australian Liberty Alliance.
AJCL had no communal legitimacy, and every peak Jewish organisation distanced themselves from it. It soon found itself in legal trouble – despite its various alleged directors, it seemed to basically be a man called Jaron Chester and his Facebook page.
Mr Chester was deeply upset at allegations of “fraud”, insisting that the “thought of any law being breached is preposterous”. Chester had claimed that certain individuals had consented to become directors – which they were unaware of – and had not obtained their signatures before claiming they were on board. This was, according to Chester, “clearly an unfortunate oversight”.
In August this year, Mr Chester was arrested. It is alleged that he laundered vast sums of money for a “massive drug importation ring”. On one occasion, police allege, Mr Chester was asked to withdraw $200,000 from the Commonwealth Bank for Michael Ibrahim. Mr Chester allegedly only withdrew $170,000, attempting to embezzle $30,000 from Mr Ibrahim. The latter allegedly responded a few days later by shaving Chester’s head and plucking his eyebrows.
It seems passing strange that the “President” of an imaginary organisation devoted primarily to complaining about Muslims should allegedly be part of a crime ring led by Muslims. Of course, this too may be a misunderstanding – Mr Chester’s lawyer claims that all of his actions occurred under duress.
I want to stress: I’m proudly unpatriotic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Malcolm Roberts being a dual citizen, Avi being proud of his heritage, or being passionately committed to another country. Serving in the country of an army with an egregious human rights record, of course, is another question. I think dual citizens should be able to serve in our Parliament. For people interested lucrative criminal activities, I don’t think they should abstain from working with people from other religious backgrounds. I just find it a bit weird that such people should identify primarily as patriots. The only thing they really seem to have in common is their views on Islam and Muslims.
I favour internationalism over nationalism, love of peoples rather than one people, and devotion to what’s right rather than the country you’re born in. If Australia – hypothetically – were to invade another country unjustly, I would support the right of the invaded to resist the Australian army, and hope that Australia was defeated and fled.
That might be unpatriotic. So be it. I am committed to universal ideals, not to pieces of earth with particular titles on maps.
The patriots claim to have another set of ideals. To be Australian is to subscribe to Australian values. Asylum seekers have to follow our very strict rules of migration, or suffer the consequences. It seems those rules and their confusing details aren’t worth fussing about for “patriots”. Australians should get over where they came from, and become Australian before anything else. Unless you hate Muslims. Then you can proudly serve in and promote another country’s army, and that’s okay.
Muslims who don’t respect our laws should go back to where they came from… and then we have the case of the allegations against Mr Chester, and the constitutional impropriety of “Senator” Roberts.
Patriotism hasn’t ever really been my cup of tea. I will concede that patriotism can and does push some people to try to make Australia a better and fairer place. Yet the movement of far-right patriots is mostly flexible about all of the patriotism stuff they use against others.
Whatever the sins of the patriots, they can seemingly get a pass for all of it, so long as they trash Islam and Muslims.