Julia Gillard’s latest stance on boatpeople has put Australia on a slippery path toward racist and religious hatreds that could see Australia heading toward an abyss from which there may be no return.
Ever since 9/11 when the US declared war on Islam – and make no mistake, the US, together with its Western allies, have effectively declared war on Islam – the Australian people, despite the best efforts of Pauline Hanson and John Howard, managed to keep a reasonably clear head in differentiating between terrorists that claimed to represent Islam and Muslims that were fleeing war-torn Islamic nations that sought refuge in Australia. During Howard’s final term in office it became clear that Australians had rejected the kind of racism that Howard was advocating. Australia became a place where refugees seeking asylum were made welcome by all but the most right-wing of Australia’s rednecked racists.
But something has happened between then and now.
Right-wing bloggers within the mainstream media, particularly within the Murdoch stable of newspapers, have of late made headway in influencing public opinion. The extreme right-wing Andrew Bolt, for example of Melbourne’s ‘Herald Sun’ newspaper, is well known for his anti-Islamic stance and his blatantly racist views. But, while his racist Islamophobic blog attracts only a very small but nonetheless vocal and relentless group of followers, Bolt’s standing is enhanced by his other media appearances on both radio (Bolt comments almost daily on MTR 1377 in Melbourne) and TV where he has appeared on the ABC’s current affairs programs, The Insiders and Q and A and occasional appearances on Channel 9's Today show. It is this radio and TV exposure that enhances Bolt’s image to his band of loyal supporters at his blog and widens his audience base to those susceptible to his brand of rhetoric.
While Bolt caters for the more extreme of Australia’s truly racist xenophobes, other journalists in Murdoch’s group of on-line newspapers, including his flagship newspaper The Australian, tend to be a little more subtle about their racist views. Greg Sheridan, The Australian’s foreign editor for example, writes that boatpeople are illegal immigrants saying:
“If we can solve the illegal immigration problem, it will only be through Indonesia's good offices.”
Right-wing columnists also write in Murdoch’s papers. Melanie Phillips, a well known extreme right-wing Islamophobe, appears regularly in Murdoch’s Australian press. Today she writes an outrageously fearmongering piece on the Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir claiming without any evidence whatsoever that it is:
“It is one of the most manipulative and effective recruitment fronts for the Islamic jihad, particularly among the educated Muslim young.”
The common denominator in these articles is always the fear of radical Islam.
It is this kind of blatant right-wing propaganda and deceit that is misleading many Australians and causing racial tensions in Australia to increase. The problem is compounded when Gillard tells the Australian people that it’s OK to be anxious about boatpeople and that they are not being racist by expressing those concerns. The fact is; people who do not accept boatpeople in Australia are very much racist. Why else would they object to them? And, to make matters even worse and in a transparent attempt to get ‘Howard’s racist battlers’ on side, Gillard has even reinforced the ‘it’s not racist to object to boatpeople’ notion by saying that John Howard was not a racist. This is playing racist politics at its very worst.
Australia is fast sliding into the same kind of extremist anti-Islam racism that is being witnessed today in the UK and Europe.
Extreme right-wing anti-Islamic groups are springing up everywhere. In Britain the English Defence League (EDL) has grown from being just a loose-knit football hooligan skinhead neo-Nazi group into a highly structured countrywide organisation that uses the internet to call its members to rallies in areas where there are large Islamic immigrant communities throughout Britain. EDL rallies are becoming increasingly violent as they deliberately seek to provoke Muslim youths in predominately Islamic areas.
In Europe, anti-Islamic groups have been organised to the point that they now co-ordinate their activities across Europe and around the world. Anti-Islamic politicians and political pressure groups have sprung up in many countries. Geert Wilders is the leader of the Netherlands third most popular political party, the staunchly racist and anti-Islam Party for Freedom, which has enjoyed strong success in recent Dutch elections.
In Europe and Britain anti-Islam racism has almost reached the point of no return. The next very short step is to the kind of violence that can quickly escalate into the sort of ethnic cleansing that was seen in the 1990s in the Balkans.
Australia is rapidly heading down that very same road. Julia Gillard has made a very naïve but incredibly massive blunder in caving in to the right-wing Islamophobic racists of Australia over the boatpeople issue. A series of myth-busting facts about boatpeople could easily have combated the lies and perpetuated myths that the extreme right-wing racists and Islamophobes rely on to spread their hatred.
Instead, she has played into their hands and has set Australia on the same path to potential ethnic disaster as Europe seems to be heading.