As the month of Ramadan came to a close last month for Australian Muslims, so too did the implications of this year’s election: that yet another anti-Muslim extremist, and then some, had been voted into public office. This is hardly surprising, however.
The Senate was already filled with hate preachers spreading fear and promoting prejudice and hatred against their fellow Australians, from the self-endorsing Jacqui Lambie, Liberal loudmouth Cory Bernardi (already plotting to form his own party) to the sneering senator George Brandis. Pauline Hanson is nothing new to politics, much as she doth protest, as racism has become mainstream vote-currency for loose cannon senators. Hers is but the uncouth and indiscriminatory face of racial/religious discrimination.
Unlike Cory Bernardi, she is no connoisseur of conspiracy theories, sampling only the finest and most hateful of xenophobic fantasies, but instead bulk buys from the American chain stores of racism. What follows is a prepared buffet for the media to snap up, snigger and publicise without explanation, refutation or thought to the consequences of mass circulating already-debunked xenophobic fears.
Pauline Hanson, after years of media appearances and public speaking tours, has returned to the political mainstream, with public funding and power and access to media of all forums, to once again purvey hatred against minority groups across Australia. And yet she has the nerve to say she feels concerned for her safety.
Two mosques have been firebombed this year in Australia, one in Geelong, Victoria, and another in Perth, WA, at opposite ends of the country but in the same atmosphere of hatred and violence perpetrated against Muslims.
Harassment and abuse of Muslims has become so commonplace and persistent that two separate websites have been released to collect data on and keep track of Islamophobia in Australia.
And returning to mentioning this Ramadan, the world watched as more Muslims were being targeted and killed by Daesh across the Middle East than ever before, even striking at the heart of the Muslim faith, in the Holy City of Medinah.
On top of all this, Australian Muslims are watching as xenophobic politicians, old and new, are returned to power on the false basis that they are under attack and being persecuted for their views.
Even this weekend, counter-terrorism raids were carried out across Melbourne against anti-Muslim extremists linked with Reclaim Australia and the UPF, accused of preparing terrorist attacks almost certainly against Muslims.
And yet Pauline Hanson and Andrew Bolt have the nerve to suggest they are the ones who fear for their safety?!
Never in 500 years of history in Australia have Muslims had more reason to fear for their lives, freedoms and safety. Many who come here for the promise of freedom of speech and religion are now watching the public debate question their right to that very freedom and their place as Australians.
Where do they get the gall to rant such hypocrisy? Those who purvey conspiracy and fear and contribute to an atmosphere that promotes fear and danger against a minority should have no right to then protest that they live in fear and danger. It shouldn’t be a surprise, however. The current conservative media strategy has been to dominate media by broadcasting a single, unified narrative about Australia, society and the world, and silence or dismiss any disagreement, yet also consider itself a persecuted victim of an invisible, leftist machine.
Conventional social commentators consider any sign of dissent from the Guardian or The Drum as representing a totalitarian censorship of their views. By living in this fantasy as brave martyrs of truth and justice against an Orwellian media regime, they are always in danger, and everything is in hyperbole. A Black Lives Matter activist protests against police brutality: it’s a war against white people. A schools initiative calls for empathy and tolerance for transgender students: the government is grooming our children for abuse. A column in the Sydney Morning Herald said not all Muslims are evil? Fairfax is part of a global conspiracy to assist terrorists in their stealth jihad by whitewashing their religion. Someone of Middle Eastern appearance sent me a threatening tweet? All Muslims are out to kill me, I was right all along.
This spiral of inane fears has become a well-padded, self-imposed bubble to protect conservatives from the reality most Australians live in, only noticing elements that might inform their own prejudice.
Case in point: despite numerous attacks against Muslims, in holy places sacred to both Sunni and Shia, nowhere on Andrew Bolt’s extensive blog has he ever questioned or condemned these attacks and their intentions, but was at great liberty to name all migrants a ‘threatening new underclass’. Nor does he consider his apologia for anti-Muslim pogroms and attacks as hypocritical.
Also case in point: In our modern reality of information technology, everyone who puts themselves out there on the internet at some stage receives threats, and not always by trolls, but faceless bullies hiding behind anonymity. The price we pay for perpetual access to anyone means anyone with any opinion can receive threats for it. And that doesn’t make everyone who is threatened for their opinions right. It doesn’t automatically make them a righteous martyr.
When I was lobbying for a controversial new mosque project in southeast Melbourne, I received threats of harm and death and so did fellow campaigners. Did we go public using threats as ideological ammunition to declare ourselves the righteous defenders of truth and justice? No.
In this day and age of immediacy, every opinion you make can be read instantly and criticized just as quickly. Public figures, including columnists and commentators, no longer have to wait to receive thought-out and postage-paid letters of reply. Instead, you have to learn to grow a thick skin if you want your beliefs and opinions known, especially if they are controversial. Muslims have had to learn this, and so can conservatives. This means not crying foul as soon as someone calls you bigot or racist, as quickly as you call someone else a terrorist, or an apologist for one.
Freedom of speech goes both ways in a free society. If you want to dish it, you have to learn to take it. Conservative voices have grown comfortable dishing it over the last two decades, and too insecure to take it. Now that new and alternative media provide voices outside conservative outlets, those voices will have to learn that people are going to “say it like it is”, but at their expense.
Bolt and Hanson have a lot of nerve to claim feeling persecuted. Now it’s time to grow some nerve and show they’re mature enough to take it as they dish it.
© James “Abdulmalik” Randall, 2016.