In debates around the Middle East, and in particular the Israel/Palestine conflict, Edward Said’s sentiment (that “malicious generalisations about Islam have become the last acceptable form of denigration of foreign culture in the West”) is often invoked to explain the denigration and outright exclusion of the Palestinian peoples. Although I disagree with Said’s sentiment – a cursory examination of comments regarding welfare quarantining and the Northern Territory Intervention providing a wealth of evidence to that effect – it is not without merit. Certainly, Muslims have emerged as prominent pariahs in Australia and Western society more generally. Only a few months ago Alan Jones lost his appeal against being held accountable for inciting the Cronulla Riots (2005) and in the aftermath of a protest in Sydney against the film Innocence of Muslims Andrew Bolt weighed in with a column simply titled “We let them in. Now they threaten“. As an historian of Australian society I would suggest that the general attitude towards Muslims in Australia closely resembles the old hatred and suspicion of Catholics amongst the white, Anglican community with the added stain of racism – anyone who has heard a racist go off on a diatribe would know that all it takes to be classed as a Muslim is to not be white, have an accent and otherwise have offended the sensibilities of someone mired in the values of the 1950s. To this end it is fairly easy to conclude that concerns around the “security threat” of asylum seekers were born from the misconception that all asylum seekers are Muslim.
The campaigns of hatred against Muslims are more prevalent than one might initially suspect and tied up with all manner of other Right-wing or plainly lunatic issues. As someone who lived in Geelong for a number of years it was quite a shock to see a far-Right group had placed stickers around the CBD advocating violence against and deportation of Muslims; Geelong was also the hometown of “Ban the Burqa Day” which, despite national media coverage, only managed to rouse two people: the organiser and his flatmate. In Clayton, a proposal (now approved) to build a new Mosque for students was met with a number of objections but none so outrageous as that lodged by the Monash Uniting Church chairman, Richard Farrell, who said that “a mosque is a training ground for religious moderates at one end of the scale and religious fanatics at the other end …such opinions in extreme cases can promote “jihad” and the destruction of the “infidel” right up to teaching about assassination and bombing of Christian and other establishments.” As well as being reminiscent of anti-Irish sentiments during the 20th century, Farrell’s argument rather ignores the fact that such broadbased criticism could (and was) used against Churches at various points.
At almost the same time, the City of Casey council was caught up in another fight over an application to build a Mosque. One Councillor, Sam Aziz, waged an almost hysterical campaign against the proposed Mosque, threatening to resign as Deputy Mayor and complaining about freedom of speech issues when his calls to invite speakers to address the Council on “the dangers of Islam” were soundly, and repeatedly, rejected. Of the numerous and well known Islamophobes promoted by Cr Aziz was Pastor Danny Nalliah who (incidentally) had a proposal before Council at the same time to build a new Church – next door to the proposed Mosque site. Nalliah’s complaints against the Mosque were varied and wild: as well as saying “I don’t think we can live side by with a mosque next to us based on what’s happening in Europe,” Nalliah claimed that the Mosque would cause local residents to become “fed up” and sell their houses. These houses would then be bought by Muslims, creating a “Sharia zone” in the local area. None of the articles suggested why locals might become fed up – even the possibility of disturbance by the Call to Prayer was mooted by one Mosque supporter who said “We don’t have loudspeakers and we don’t want to have loudspeakers. And would the church have a bell?”
If the name Pastor Danny Nalliah sounds familiar, it may be because he claimed that the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, which killed nearly 180 people, were caused by the passage of abortion laws in the Victorian State Parliament. Or perhaps you may have caught the Australian describing him as a “fanatic” in an article quoting Senator Barnaby Joyce as saying, “This is the lunatic Right, this is crazy, ill-informed stuff… These are not the sort of people you do preference deals with.” Maybe you read the news that he has launched a new, far-Right Party (Rise Up Australia) with the support of “Lord” Christopher Monckton, climate skeptic extraordinaire. It is an uncomfortable position to ever agree withBarnaby Joyce but his description could not have been more apt when considering some of the quotes to come from Nalliah’s speech to launch Rise Up Australia: “I think God created Chinese fried rice, and I love pizza … but please do not come and tell me that sharia law should be introduced in Australia. You go back to where you came from.”
The issue of whether the Left should support Muslims has been debated intensely over many years, but I would recommend reading the Overland’s debate on the issue. In any case where a minority is being oppressed and victimised simply for being part of the “Other”, the Left should come to their support. When a prominent voice of hatred places itself within our reach, we should be prepared to meet them and drown out their hate. When this comes with the threat of violence, Street Medics have an important role to play in mitigating that violence and supporting those who make a stand against hatred.
On February 19th the Dutch politician Geert Wilders will be addressing Melburnian audiences at the invitation of the Q Society. One of the most prominent Islamophobes worldwide, Wilders has enjoyed the support of many conservative and far-Right politicians and activists: Anders Breivik, the English Defence League, Paul Sheehan of the Age, Menzies House (ardent supporters of Andrew Bolt and Corey “Bestiality” Bernardi) and… Pastor Danny Nalliah. Some try to excuse his politics with nuanced discussions on Islam and feminism, terrorism and the like but even if the arguments were not flawed from the start they would remain irrelevant as their conclusion is that Islam should be killed off before it kills the West. The likelihood of groups like the English Defence League engaging with issues like feminism is patently ridiculous and one would expect that Wilders knows his views are an incitement to murder.
When Wilders gives his speech in Melbourne on the 19th of February, we will be there to meet him and drown him out. If Wilders’ supporters carry through with threats of violence, we as Street Medics will be there to support progressive activists.
For more information on the rally, please visit this Facebook event.
There will be two organising meetings: one on Wednesday 13th of February and another on Saturday 16th to finalise all the details and tactics followed by a working bee to make the placards to be used on Tuesday evening.
[This article was written by Zoidberg, a Street Medic with MelbSMC