By Durkhanai Ayubi
17 April, 2015
The undisguised hatefulness demonstrated by Reclaim Australia is only a symptom of deeper social issues. We shouldn't respond with anger, but we should hold our national leaders accountable, writes Durkhanai Ayubi.
Lots of commentary on the Reclaim Australia movement has implied that we should dismiss the ugly and hateful demonstrations as the doings of an isolated pocket of society.
It is true that the numbers of people in the Reclaim Australia camp were not particularly huge at the nationwide rallies that took place earlier in the month, but it would be unwise to ignore the fact that many mass movements, however irrational, have germinated from initially fringe movements.
The next reason we should pay full attention to the sentiments of Reclaim Australia is because such thoughts stem from more ubiquitous general attitudes, even if they are an extreme interpretation of that attitude. When we have had a concerted political campaign, however opportunistic, which fails to dissociate the atrocities of extreme Islam from the behaviour and ideologies of 'moderate' Muslims living in Australia, we are bound to create pockets of society which feel it is not only their right, but their duty, to stamp out that threat.
And lastly, our 'patriotic' shift is likely to have material implications - beyond what some may dismiss as the 'hurt feelings' of the Muslim community - for our leverage as a nation in a time where powers are shifting.
The sentiment fuelling the existence of Reclaim Australia is one of nationalistic heroism. A quick look at the Reclaim Australia Facebook page, or a listen to speeches made at the nationwide rallies, makes it clear that the group feels it is the only one brave enough to take the hardline stance against the 'Islamisation' of our country that our leaders are too politically correct to take. The lack of intellect and the endless contradictions that form the bravado at the basis of such groups can make it tempting to dismiss Reclaim Australia as a noisy but unrepresentative group, but I would be loathe to leave it at that. History and human nature should teach us that the only thing separating such 'fringe' beliefs from influencing the mainstream in a material way is economic hardship and instability.
It is not unreasonable to conclude that groups like Reclaim Australia gather momentum in times of fear. I believe that targeting the fear and irrationality that lies at the heart of Reclaim Australia can shake its existence, and that it is therefore important to identify the source of this fear.
One of the big myths at the heart of this group is that the Government is being gagged by political correctness to counteract Islamic extremism. I would suggest that this is not only untrue, but that the Government has sent the correct signals for ultra-nationalism to have its place in Australia by exploiting fear. This fear has been created mainly by a massive failure to separate the identity of Muslims from that of Islamic extremists - either for politically opportunistic reasons, or because of legitimate political incompetency, or both.
Abbott and his senior ministers have used many issues to stoke collective passions. If the Government is to be believed, we are staving off the "Green Peril" on almost every front, and Reclaim Australia's extreme response even seems warranted.
Before it even took office, the Liberal Party's election platform was based on its race to the bottom approach to the asylum seeker issue. Once voted in, it debased the issue even further than the Labor Party had managed, and for the first time, introduced a rhetoric of war, forging a connection in the public mind between border protection and national security. The loosely veiled insinuation in this rhetoric was the possibility of refugees from Muslim countries being terrorists, trying to slip into Australia unnoticed.
In fact, the threat of terrorism is so widespread and immediate that Abbott and our nation's Attorney General, George Brandis, have managed to pass through the Senate a suite of counter-terrorism measures which ultimately impinge on the civil liberties of all Australians - giving intelligence agencies almost unaccountable power, while diminishing the power of journalists and whistleblowers. All the while, we have been actively involved in wars with little reflection or accountability in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East, which, ironically, create both of the things we have been whipped into a frenzy to fear the most - refugees and terrorists.
So while the Government has been vocal in creating the fear that makes Reclaim Australia feel legitimate, it has been deathly silent in the condemnation of the extremist sentiment which took place in the April rallies around the country. This silence sends the same signal as xenophobic policies. Both do our nation a great and lasting disservice.
Apart from the fractures this is creating in our social cohesion, we have a vested interest as a nation to ensure that our elected leaders take a firm stand on the hatefulness that is bound to give us a reputation as a backward nation not properly equipped to take our place in the rapidly changing Asia century. We would be wise to demand that our elected leaders, responsible for our prosperity as a nation, position us well to have good relationships with our trading partners, particularly as power shifts in our region.
Muslim countries, like Indonesia and Malaysia, are in our top 15 two-way trading nations and constitute a significant portion of our trade. The Abbott Government, with its opportunistic border policy, has already ensured that our relations with Indonesia are strained. But it is not too far into the foreseeable future that Indonesia will be more of a powerhouse than Australia. According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study, Indonesia will have the ninth largest economy in the world in 2030, and the fourth largest by 2050. It is critical that as a nation, we invest in such relationships, and maintain mutual respect to seize on future opportunities.
The undisguised hatefulness demonstrated by Reclaim Australia is only a symptom of the deeper social issues which we face. We should not respond with anger, or engage in hateful exchanges, but we should realise the importance of its message in pointing out our social failures and we should look deeper to realise the implications it may have for our future. The first thing we should recognise, and loudly object to as a people, is the exploitation by our Government of the natural fears many people have for their security in a rapidly changing world.
Though it is hard to now imagine, we should remember that there is another way - a way forward which is based on nuanced and informed policy, which credits people with the capacity to be guided by intelligence and not hatred, and which is held together by a strong spirit of cohesion, not torn apart by fear, to overcome the multitude of challenges we will undoubtedly face in the future.
This is the Australia we should all strive to claim.
Durkhanai Ayubi is an Afghan-Australian social commentator and a small business owner. She has served on the boards for Writers Victoria and for the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre in Victoria. She currently serves as an Advisory Board member for Melbourne University's Social Equity Institute.