By Dr George Venturini
Racial harmony is more than anything else an aspiration, given the present condition of minorities in Australia.
Ghali Hassan has frequently written about the difficulty encountered by Australian of the Muslim faith, often demonised despite or perhaps because they form a small community: 2.6 per cent. Muslim identity, of course, is not only the expression of a religious faith, but it carries along a specific way of life.
A recent Essential Research poll had found 49 per cent of Australians support a ban on Muslim immigration, including 60 per cent of Liberal-National Coalition voters, 40 per cent of Labor voters and 34 per cent of Greens voters agreed with the proposition that Muslim Australians were not integrating (assimilating) into ‘Australian culture’ and pose a threat to Australia. It is the result of a steady diet of fear, and xenophobia fed to Australians by openly racist politicians and the mass media.
Australian politicians and the media are demonising an already marginalised small Muslim Community (2.6 per cent of the total Australian population) to score point and win votes. It is true that Muslims have a strong Muslim identity, because Islam is not just a religion, Islam is a way of life. However, when compared with other minorities, Muslim Australians are the most integrated Australians in every field of life. They have succumbed to a repressive society that imposed its beliefs and values on them. It is nothing more than force assimilation justify by exaggerated fears of a fabricated threat.
According to a study by the already mentioned Professor Kevin Dunn, of Western Sydney University, which revealed ‘the ordinariness of the Muslims in Australia’, despite the daily racism and extreme hostility they face, nearly 86 per cent of Muslim Australians felt that relations between them and non-Muslims were friendly and were not strained as some politicians and the media allege.
Contrary to baseless claims otherwise, Muslims are not demanding that Australia become an Islamic state, or that sharia be enforced. They are not demanding to be outside the law or judged by another set of laws.
They are simply asking to be left alone to practice their faith; that their beliefs and values not be interfered with by the state; that if some Muslim does the wrong thing he be dealt like any other person, without the entire community being tainted and Islam demonised; that they be able to participate in debates about the law, morality and government policy without being considered a fifth column.
How can a small minority of ordinary Australian Muslims pose a threat to ‘Australian culture’?
They do not even question the real meaning of ‘Australian culture’, although like many others, of different or no faith at all, they may wonder what is the ‘Australia culture’.
Some of them seem to ask what is ‘Australian culture’? And they may not be alone in wondering what is such a unique white Australian culture.
Australia is not known for a vibrant culture. Others could very well say that Australia is a pretentious society, addicted to punching far above its weight. In Australia there is an old Indigenous culture with unique languages and cultural adaptations about which most non-Indigenous Australians know close to nothing. Many know how brutally Indigenous People are treated, how they are despised by non-Indigenous Australians. Most non-Indigenous Australians choose the privilege of turning a blind eye. Outside Indigenous culture, much of everything else is imported – largely from Hollywood – and repackaged. Australia has remained a colonial outpost, dominated by white Anglo-American culture. Much of what passes for ‘multiculturalism’ is quite often no more than a convenient source of support for the governing party, rather cleverly but not always successfully manipulated by the governing party to cultivate the ‘ethnic vote’. It is a racially-promoted ghettoisation designed to support that party, its mostly white privilege and white supremacy.
Altogether, it rather resembles a type of popular Japanese drama, evolved from the older Noh theatre, in which elaborately costumed performers – and nowadays those who matter are exclusively men – act. They use stylised movements, dances, and songs in order to enact tragedies and comedies. More than instances of the ‘value’ of parliamentary democracy, those Australian performances are acts of a theatre which is called Kabuki.
Most people like to bring back an anti-Muslim attitude, and active behaviour, to the work of a profoundly ignorant woman who was once elected to the House of Representatives and now sits on the Senate.
In fact Australian racism and violence on minorities go way far back to the invasion of the place. In a perverted sense it is selective racism – camouflaged with the language of ‘tolerance’ which assists the pretence at ‘multiculturalism’ and is solidly controlled by the white dominant class. All levers of society, beginning with the early ‘education’, and followed by the poverty of the media, the careful selection of sport, the use of the police to protect ‘the Queen’s peace’, the structure of the justice system and organisation of political representation, are structurally discriminatory, and in some cases patently racist. It is a structural form of racism which has a far large impact on people’s lives: where religious, cultural or ethnic minorities are made to feel they do not belong in Australia unless they subscribe to some broad and undefined ‘value’ of ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation’ which is supposed to be at the foundation of the entire society.
One wonders what would happen if an Andalusian-born, conscious of her/his native ‘allegiance’, were to be asked to renounce it in order to become a ‘real Australian’. Would s/he be allowed successfully to object to ‘renouncing any previous allegiance’ – as one was asked as a condition to becoming a ‘naturalised’ Australian no more than thirty years ago?
Would s/he be allowed to present an objection to such a demand on the ground that s/he was coming from a land at the gateway to the Mediterranean and the vast sea across – the Atlantic, and a bridge between Africa and Europe. Would the celebrant in charge know that Andalusia is a land rich in history, going back thousands of years?
Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Celts, Moors, Jews and Gypsies all settled in Andalusia at different times – producing a uniquely diverse melting pot of lineages and cultures.
The resulting Andalusian character is therefore difficult to pin down, with such a mix of features coming from so many peoples over the centuries. A certain pride may be expressed on remembering its orators, philosophers and poets (such as Seneca, Maimónides and Lorca); the artistic brilliance of its Arab and Moorish taifa (an independent Muslim-ruled principality) kingdoms; the colours of its landscape or the rhythms of Flamenco.
Would the officer in charge, under the supreme supervision of the Honourable Peter Dutton, M.P., former Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, and only recently Minister for Home Affairs, seek from a newcomer a profession of loyalty to the ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation’ as understood by the Minister? Would either one of those two ‘real Australians’ know the difference between ‘flamenco’ and ‘flamingo’ and when appropriately to use those words?
Racism reveals itself in its crudest form when one comes to asylum seeking people – and no matter how; and no matter whether the supplicant has obtained the United Nations High Commission for Refugees recognition of the relevant status.
Most Australians are aware that the Government’s refugee policy is cruel and they might even have more than a suspicion that it is in flagrant violation of international law, but the majority of them support the Government policy of harsh treatment of refugees and urge the Government to ‘increase the severity’ of the policy. As Professor Henry Giroux, who holds the chair of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, put it: “Shallow consumerisms coupled with an indifference to the needs and suffering of others has produce a politics of disengagement and a culture of moral irresponsibility” in the Australian society. Any society in which politicians and the media appeal to bigotry, promoting hatred and promising to terrorise refugees to win elections is a sick society. (Ghali Hassan, ‘What It’s Like To Be A Muslim Australian’, countercurrents.org, 30 September 2016).
Speaking for the first time in the Senate on 14 August 2018, Senator Fraser Anning called for a return to a “European Christian” immigration system and a ban on Muslims migrating to Australia.
Key points of the speech were:
- that migrants should embrace the English language and Australian ‘values’, because cultural diversity undermines social cohesion. “Ethnocultural diversity … has been allowed to rise to dangerous levels in many suburbs.” he said. “In direct response, self-segregation, including white flight from poorer inner-urban areas, has become the norm.” and “Those who come here need to assimilate and integrate.”
- that the “final solution” to the immigration issue was a popular vote. He probably had not thought, perhaps because too ignorant to know, that the term “final solution” was used in Nazi Germany to describe the mass killing of Jewish people and other ‘undesirable.’
“We as a nation are entitled to insist that those who are allowed to come here predominantly reflect the historic European-Christian composition of Australian society,” he told the Senate.
He said that the Muslim community had “consistently shown itself to be the least able to assimilate and integrate.” “I believe that the reasons for ending all further Muslim immigration are both compelling and self-evident,” Sen. Anning said.
“The record of Muslims who have already come to this country in terms of rates of crime, welfare dependency, and terrorism are the worst of any migrant [group] and vastly exceed any other immigrant group.”
“[56 per cent, he said] The majority of Muslims in Australia of working age do not work and live on welfare.” (Senator Anning is wrong. Fact Check analysed data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that economics Professor John Quiggin, of the University of Queensland, then verified. The analysis showed that 43 per cent of working-age Muslims were not in the labour force – significantly less than the figure of 56 per cent cited by Senator Anning. It also revealed that the high Muslim non-participation rate is almost entirely due to the large number of Muslim women who are not working. (‘Fact check: Are more than half of Australia’s working-age Muslims not in the workfprce?, abc.net.au, 4 June 2018, up-dated 6 September 2018).
“While all Muslims are not terrorists, certainly all terrorists these days are Muslims, so why would anyone want to bring more of them here?”
Senator Anning said that “the final solution to the immigration problem of course is a popular vote.” “We need a plebiscite to allow the Australian people to decide whether they want wholesale non-English speaking immigrants from the third world, and particularly whether they want any Muslims. Or whether they want to return to the predominantly European immigration policy of the pre-Whitlam [Government] consensus.”
Later Senator Anning dismissed the criticism of his use of the expression “final solution.” The Katter’s Australian Party senator’s praise for the ‘White Australia policy’ was swiftly condemned by government, opposition and crossbench members.
Senator Anning’s speech was reminiscent of Ms. Pauline Hanson’s first speech as a member of Parliament in 1996. Then the One Nation founder called for multiculturalism “to be abolished”, saying Australia was in “danger of being swamped by Asians.” (D. Conifer, ‘Senator Fraser Anning gives controversial maiden speech calling for Muslim immigration ban,’ abc.net.au, 14 August 2018).
It is all terrifying stuff, as Ms. Ruby Hamad, writing in The Saturday Paper of 18-24 August 2018, quipped.
“Except… we were already primed for this. Cast your mind back to just two weeks ago, when a certain syndicated columnist, lamenting the “colonisation” of Australia, by which he meant plain old immigration, decided one of the problem invaders was Melbourne’s Jewish community. So much for Australia’s ‘Judaeo–Christian values.’
Openly seducing the burgeoning neo-Nazi movement seemed a bold move even for Andrew Bolt, but his column provided the first gentle nudge towards this new public discourse, a discourse that uncritically catapulted a neo-Nazi – whose hitherto greatest achievement was a remarkable skill for self-owns on Twitter – onto television screens and that created the space for Anning’s carefully selected words to unravel one of the most sacred social contracts of the modern world: Never again.
There were other hints, of course. Television host Sonia Kruger defending her call in 2016 for an end to Muslim immigration. The letter to the editor of The Australian, suggesting that perhaps – and the writer was only asking a question mind you, just putting it out there – the answer (to what, exactly?) was to round up all Muslims and put them in internment camps.
You could argue those last examples are not quite the same thing; that a television personality and a letter to the editor, though published in the national broadsheet, is not the same as a member of parliament channelling his inner Adolf Eichmann.
But hold on, was it only a year ago that Hanson bravely announced her intention to never let a burqa be worn on the floor of parliament … by being the first person to wear a burqa into parliament? Was it only 22 years ago she made her own explosive and roundly condemned maiden speech, shortly after being bundled out of the Liberal Party, before being bundled out of politics altogether, only to cha-cha-cha and foxtrot her way onto our television screens and back into our national consciousness like a grotesque parody of a national sweetheart.
We discuss Anning as if he emerged suddenly, a fully formed aberration, untouched by the society that produced him.
Or perhaps it was John Howard who set us on this course, with his infamously false provocation, “I don’t want in Australia people who would throw their own children into the sea.” Or it could be his protégé Peter Dutton, and his infamous speech in late 2016, proclaiming Lebanese immigration to be a mistake. That could have been a teachable moment, if only we could have found the gumption to decide, “No, this is not who we are.”
Except, of course, this is who we are.
And this is the underlying issue Australia refuses to address. We claim to reject racism even as we reject any notion of Indigenous sovereignty. The only settler-colonial nation in the world to refuse Treaty with the land’s Indigenous population, we incarcerate Indigenous children at the world’s highest rates. While we jealously debate our own freedom of speech, in the background, hidden from view, are those other children – detained and bloodstained in indefinite detention, so traumatised they are refusing food and water, preparing themselves to die before they have even begun to fully live.
This, Australia, is exactly who we are.
We discuss Anning as if he emerged suddenly, a fully formed aberration, untouched by the society that produced him. But these moments are no surprise to Indigenous and PoC writers, artists and activists.
If anything, there is a palpable deja vu with each one of these racist eruptions, which have a knack for exploding every time it seems we are getting somewhere in our advocacy. How often we may be poised on the precipice of a breakthrough – where Australia seems capable of finally acknowledging the deeply embedded racial structures that ensure the Indigenous wealth and health gap, that discriminate against Arab and Chinese jobseekers, relegating their résumé to the pile of instant rejection, and that allow columnists and politicians to fearmonger about non-existent African criminal gangs terrorising Melbourne diners – and then along comes a political speech or a column or a cartoon, and before you know it we are, once again, debating the merits of being nice to Nazis.
Of all the debates we had thought to be settled, you’d think it would be that one.
Of all the conceits afforded to that portion of the population that qualifies as white in a Western society, perhaps the most peculiar and most dangerous is the one that lets them believe that the concept of race can be separated from the rest of everyday life. That racism is just another inconvenient event or unpleasant obstacle, like a late-running bus or a swooping magpie, that once caught or swatted can be forgotten and life resumed as normal. If we, as a country, are ever to get somewhere, this is a nonsense of which we must divest ourselves.
There is no separating racism from the rest of Australian society. Exasperated as white people may be to hear about race, again, your frustration pales next to those forced to live it and fight it. As Labor MP Anne Aly tearfully admitted this week, “We are tired of fighting. Tired of claiming our humanity. Tired of waiting for white people to change. Tired of reminding you of our worth. Tired of wondering what is wrong with you and why you still make excuses for this on your watch.”
What more can people of colour do? More than unionist and writer Celeste Liddle, who drew 50,000 Melburnians to an Invasion Day rally two years ago, attracting a bigger turnout than the official ‘Australia Day’ celebrations? More than journalists such as Amy McQuire? More than Louise Taylor, who has just been appointed the ACT’s first Indigenous judicial officer?
Continued Saturday – Comedy without art (part 6)
Previous instalment – Comedy without art (part 4)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.email@example.com.
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