Murdering Muslims Is Not Extremism. In Australia, It’s Business As Usual

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Australia’s history of indiscriminate slaughter of Muslims goes back a lot further than the attack in Christchurch on Friday, writes Michael Brull.

On November 5 2017, the Houthi insurgents in Yemen responded to the Saudi invaders of their country by firing a rocket deep into Saudi Arabia. There was no allegation that this rocket physically harmed anyone. In response, Saudi Arabia tightened the already devastating siege on Yemen. The response was devastating.

By November 8, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock gave a speech about Yemen. He said that unless the Saudi measures were lifted, in addition to other urgent steps, “there will be famine in Yemen. It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.”

This had no discernible effect on Australian policy. A few days earlier, at the start of November, Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne visited Saudi Arabia. His goal was to expand Australian military exports to Saudi Arabia.

About a year later, Save the Children conservatively estimated 85,000 children had starved to death since 2015. We don’t know the scale of deaths in Yemen caused by the blockade. What we do know is that Australian politicians have supported the invading force led by Saudi Arabia, and that Australian mercenaries have played a leading role in the ground invasion force. Among these mercenaries are the Australian major-general, Mike Hindmarsh, reportedly a leading figure in the invading forces.

The Greens requested in Senate estimates a breakdown of our military exports to Saudi Arabia in recent years. They show that our military exports have expanded since the war started in 2015. Other information shows that there were 8 military exports in 2018. That is nine approved military exports in the two years before the war, and 29 in the four years since the war started.

In February this year, the ABC reported that the government has given over $36 million to Electro Optic Systems, “which has designed a remotely operated vehicle-mounted platform that holds cannons, machine guns and missile launchers”. ABC journalists saw “confidential EOS board minutes which describe signing a Letter of Intent (LOI) for the sale of 500 remote weapons systems (RWS) units destined for the Saudi Ministry of Interior”. EOS has praised Pyne for visiting “foreign capitals” to lobby foreign governments with them, to “provide assurance of Australia as a reliable defence partner and supplier to its allies”.

EOS has also reportedly secured a $410 million deal to send military exports to another key member of the Saudi invading coalition, the United Arab Emirates. Australia has approved 37 military exports to the UAE since 2016 alone.

The Federal Government openly has announced its intentions to expand our military exports, and will spend $200 billion to achieve this goal. The Middle East is among our “priority” markets. We hope to go from being the 20th highest military exporter, to entering the top 10.

That is, as Saudi Arabia’s brutal war has threatened a famine on a scale that the world hasn’t seen “for many decades, with millions of victims”, the Australian government has sought to ramp up our support of two of the key invading armies.

As Australia enriches itself off the threatened famine in Yemen, the political and media class – with a notorious fascist exception in Queensland – condemn the attack on the two mosques in New Zealand. They are shocked at his fascist ideology, and the slaughter of Muslims.

Yet the truth is, Australia is routinely complicit in the murder of vast numbers of Muslims across the world. It barely even rates as news. When it does, it doesn’t rate as outrageous. Australia has been involved in wars in several predominantly Muslim countries in recent years, including Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. There has been no effort to account for how many people we have killed.

We may also be complicit in the worst famine in decades: we may be complicit in killing millions of people, overwhelmingly Muslim. And that too will hardly register as news. Criticism of our support for the Saudi blockade occasionally scrapes into the political spectrum, either via a few NGOs or the Greens.

In March 2017, Penny Wong, the Labor Foreign Affairs spokesperson made her first comment on Yemen. It amounted to zero substantive comment on the blockade, or Australian support for the invasion. In December 2017, Wong expressed “deep concern” at the “dire humanitarian situation”, and “urges” Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade. She didn’t call for an end to the blockade again. Almost a year later, Wong was again “deeply concerned” at the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, with half of Yemen’s children “chronically malnourished”.

The ALP’s Opposition spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Senator Penny Wong. (IMAGE: NCCARF, Flickr)

In February this year, she was asked whether Australian military exports could end up in Yemen. She responded: “We are all deeply concerned about the situation in Yemen and the humanitarian crisis and I have made public comments about that.”

Wong has not called for an end to Australian military exports. Instead, she has urged the Australian government to “assure itself that any Australian military cooperation in the region, including defence equipment sales, does not inadvertently contribute to the suffering of the Yemeni civilian population.” This is vapid waffle – the government could assure itself of anything, and continue the military exports. Thus, the bipartisan political spectrum remains: continued military exports are legitimate.

Or take the outrage specifically of targeting Muslims in a mosque.

During Israel’s war on Gaza from 2008-09, Israel destroyed 30 mosques, and seriously damaged another 15. Former United Nations rapporteur to the occupied Palestinian territories, Jon Dugard observed that “what was extraordinary was the number of minarets of the mosques that had been shot out. It was quite clear that members of the IDF were simply having fun targeting minarets because they serve no security purpose”. In one incident, Israel targeted the al-Maqadmah Mosque when 200 to 300 people had gathered for evening prayers. 15 people were killed, and about 40 were injured, after Israel struck the entrance with a missile. The Goldstone Report concluded that the “mosque was intentionally targeted by the Israeli armed forces”, and this “was an attack on the civilian population as such”.

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This didn’t register on the political spectrum either. Attacking mosques, or even Muslims gathered for prayers in a mosque didn’t cause a blip on either party’s continued support for the Israeli government.

Or consider the case of Egypt. In 2013, a military coup overthrew the recently emerged democratic government, plunging Egypt back into military dictatorship. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi proceeded to conduct multiple large-scale massacres of unarmed protesters, killing thousands of people, and by their own admission locking up at least 22,000 people. Human Rights Watch said these were the “worst mass killings in Egypt’s modern history”, along with one of the worst massacres of unarmed protesters in recent times.

The Prime Minister of Australia celebrated all this. Tony Abbott proudly said that he “congratulated [Sisi] on the work that the new Government of Egypt had done to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood”. Abbott said it was important “to make it very clear that the Australian Government respects the legitimacy of the new government in Egypt. We respect the legitimacy of their judicial process. We understand their concerns about extremism”. As the Egyptian military dictatorship slaughtered protesters, imprisoned and tortured tens of thousands of political prisoners, Abbott proudly and openly celebrated the murderous dictator responsible for it all.

Former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

This is the context for the man who murdered dozens of Muslims in New Zealand.

The Australian man did so in the name of a fascist ideology. If he had joined the Australian government, perhaps he wouldn’t be in jail. He could support the large-scale murder of Muslims in numerous countries, on a bigger scale. If he used the right words, he could applaud the policies responsible for the mass murder of Muslims in Yemen, Egypt, Palestine, and more. Then he wouldn’t be considered an extremist. He could fit into the mainstream Australian political spectrum. If he had developed a political career where he fought to boost our military exports to Saudi Arabia, he might be able to retire and be considered a “moderate”.

Being complicit in the threatened murder of millions of Muslims is just business as usual in Australia. It is part of the normal political spectrum. As our record makes clear, a basic premise of our political mainstream is that Muslim lives do not have any value.

When the slaughter of Muslims in New Zealand exits the front pages, Australian foreign policy will continue on as it has. We will continue to be complicit in the murder of Muslims. It just won’t be news anymore.

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Michael Brull

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).

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