YOU KNOW something is seriously wrong with the world when white supremacists and neo-Nazis claim they are the guardians of women’s rights. But, as we approach the first anniversary of the Cronulla race riot, this is exactly what is occurring.
Encouraged by dog-whistling from the media and the Howard government, far right groups are apparently planning to celebrate that shameful day with a “Great Australian Bikini March”. Organisers had planned to march on Brunswick’s Islamic Information and Support Centre this weekend. Officially they have postponed the march to January 26, but white supremacist groups are apparently encouraging the march to go ahead regardless.
In response, the Islamic Information and Support Centre have called a community BBQ and mosque open day. The open day gets underway from 1pm on Saturday December 9 at 19 Michael St, Brunswick. Socialist Worker encourages our readers in Victoria to attend the open day and show solidarity with the local Muslim community.
Unfortunately there are similar developments in Sydney as well. The far right Australia First Party is running a candidate in the Sutherland shire for next year’s NSW state election.
Australia First is no ordinary rightwing party. Its leader, Jim Saleam, was arrested in 1974 for firebombing a leftwing Brisbane bookshop. Saleam moved to Sydney soon after and in 1977 established a group that campaigned for the “permanent and unapologetic reintroduction of the White Australia Policy”. In the early 1980s he led a group called National Action whose members were responsible for physically assaulting leftwing activists. Saleam was imprisoned for three and a half years in May 1991 for supplying a firearm to two National Action members who used it in an attempt to shoot the Australian representative of the African National Congress.
Australia First is a tiny anti-immigrant sect—but its members were at the heart of last year’s Cronulla race riot. Today it claims it is a defender of “Australian values” against Islam and multiculturalism.
Interestingly, this rhetoric is remarkably similar to the Howard government’s, which has consistently attacked multiculturalism and singled-out Muslims for supposedly not “integrating” with the wider community.
These government and media attacks on Muslims are based on lies and distortions. In fact, Australia’s 300,000 Muslims are an ethnically and socially diverse group of people who work and socialise alongside other people throughout the community. The “threat” of radical Islam is a convenient distraction for government. The real problem—one it seems incapable of admitting—is that the war it joined in Iraq against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of people has created a social and economic disaster in the Middle East.
Bush’s thumping at the recent midterm elections in the US is an important sign that people have had enough of the war and want the troops brought home. The pressure to change course is building in Australia too. It’s in this context that governments right across the western world are whipping up race hatred towards Arabs and Muslims. The Middle East is crumbling and they need a scapegoat. What’s more, many Western governments, including Australia’s, have taken democracy and women’s right – traditional concerns of the left – and used them as an attempt to morally justify their attack on Muslims. They tell us that Muslims do not believe in democratic values or women’s rights.
This is racist nonsense. Muslims are like anyone else—they want democracy and the right to influence the society around them. Social and economic changes in countries as diverse as Iran, Lebanon, Indonesia, France, Britain and Australia are bringing more and more Muslim women into the workforce and into new social roles.
It’s also hypocrisy. The Australian government is a supporter of anti-democratic dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In terms of women’s rights, it has also massively de-funded sexual assault services and education programs. In terms of “integration”, it has slashed the Adult Migrant English Service.
There was an outcry against Islam when Sheik Hilaly made those sexist comments in October. This is out of proportion with the response to non-Muslims who hold very similar views. For example, rightwing journalist Miranda Devine wrote in the <> on December 3: “It is no coincidence that the rise in misogyny seems to coincide with some women’s rejection of any self-respect or modesty…
“Why would a man respect a woman who doesn’t respect herself, when most of society’s traditional protections for women have been torn down, often by women themselves, in the name of freedom? “Freedom to flash your genitalia to the world is not liberating. It’s just sad and ugly, reducing womanly allure to the level of a baboon and giving men no reason to behave well.”
Three years ago, Peter Hollingworth was forced to resign as Governor-General after being confronted with allegations that he covered up sexual abuse during his time as Archbishop of Brisbane. Commenting on the case of a 14 year old victim of sexual assault, he said: “My belief is that this was not sex abuse. There was no suggestion of rape or anything like that. Quite the contrary, my information is that it was, rather, the other way around.”
While Hollingworth lost his job, there was no ideological attack on Christians as there is against Muslims today.
The hypocrisy and racism from media and the government is encouraging hardcore racists like the Australia First Party to campaign in the open.
Let’s be clear—Australia First is a fascist organization that does not have the right to campaign and intimidate Muslims, Arabs, or any other oppressed group. They must be driven from the streets, back into the shadows they emerged from. This also means campaigning against the racist lies propagated by Howard and co.