News and Comment: Racism Still Rife In Australian Politics And Society

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم


Recent racist comments by particular Australian politicians have raised debates in certain media regarding the level of racism still present within Australian society. Senator Jacqui Lambie from a far-right nationalist party grabbed the media spotlight when as part of her campaign to ban the face veil in Australia, she posted an inflammatory picture on facebook of an Afghan woman in a burqa about to fire a gun.

The photo caption read, “Terror attack level: severe – an attack is highly likely. For security reasons it’s now time to ban the burqa”. She also stated, “Anyone who supports Shariah law in Australia should not have the right to vote, should not be given government handouts, and should probably pack up their bags and get out of here.” Her parliamentary colleague and member of Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s ruling Liberal party, Senator Cory Bernardi also expressed racist, provocative comments regarding the face veil by linking the recent terror-raids in Sydney with his campaign to ban the burqa. He tweeted, “Note burqa wearers in some of the houses raided this morning? This shroud of oppression and flag of fundamentalism is not right in Australia.” Although Abbot stated that he disagreed with Bernardi’s views, he came short of criticising or rebuking him for them. Indeed, Attorney-General George Brandis responded to Bernardi’s comments by saying, “Senator Bernardi is a Member of Parliament, he has views and like all members of Parliament he’s entitled to express his views…”.

Such racist comments, alongside Australia’s continuing poor treatment of the Aboriginal people as well as its appalling controversial policy of locking up asylum seekers, including children, has led to some writers and academics making comparisons of the country’s current state to its dark past. Melbourne-based journalist Jarni Blakkarly in an article published by Al Jazeera suggested that these recent comments towards Muslims by Australian politicians as well as other actions by the state highlight a ‘lasting legacy of “White Australia” policy’. This was the term used to describe the ‘Immigration Restriction Act’ which was a piece of legislation passed in 1901 in Australia that placed broad blocks to ethnic migration into the country. It ended officially only in 1973. Indeed, the indigenous Australians – the Aborigines – were only considered citizens in 1967. Blakkarly’s piece, included a comment from Gwenda Tavan, a researcher of Australia’s immigration history who stated that racism is still part of Australian society. She said, “…we’re meant to be this multicultural society while on the other it’s very clear Australia maintains a very Anglo core”.

It is not just Australia that is struggling with racism or that allows those in the media and political establishment to express racist views under the deceptive label of political discourse. Other Western secular states also allow politicians with unsavoury racist beliefs against Muslims and Islam to convey them openly, and give license to far-right fascist parties to exist – such as the British National Party and English Defence Force in the UK, the National Front in France, and the Golden Dawn Party in Greece. Marie Le Pen for example, leader of France’s National Front party was able to compare Islamic prayers to Nazi occupation, without any political or judicial consequences. In fact the support of such far-right organisations and xenophobic views are on the rise across European and other Western secular states. This is the result of the relentless demonization of Islam and Muslims by media and politicians in such countries, as well as the rolling out of countless, discriminatory anti-terror policies and laws by governments that unfairly target and vilify their Muslim communities, creating fear and suspicion towards their beliefs amongst the public. A 2011 survey conducted by a group of Australian universities found that half of the population in Australia have anti-Muslim views.

Additionally, the rise of general racist, anti-immigrant attitudes is the consequence of the hailing of nationalistic identities and engagement in divisive nationalistic politics. This fuels dislike or contempt of those from other nations or those viewed as foreign due to their race, religion or skin colour, which is exacerbated at times of austerity or economic hardships, as they are perceived as taking opportunities from the native majority. A 2013 survey by the Scanlon Foundation revealed that racism is at its highest level in Australia since the Foundation began its survey on social cohesion in the country in 2007.

Hence, despite self-appointing itself as the best means to govern states and create civilized, harmonious societies, the secular system has proved time and again that it has failed to deal with the most basic problem of racism amongst its rulers or those it rules. Indeed, its liberal view on freedom of expression as well as its ideal of pluralism have sanctioned the entertaining of the views of bigots and racist parties, providing them an open platform to express their xenophobic venom without repercussion. It is utterly absurd to have laws against inciting racial hatred but then to give politicians and media alike a free hand to promote such repugnant views under the misleading label of free speech. However, such contradictions are a defining trait of the secular system.

Islam however utterly condemns racism in any of its forms and prohibited its expression within society 1400 years ago. It adopted a zero-tolerance approach to its existence or promotion and sought to eradicate it from the people. Indeed, Bilal (ra), a freed black slave was given the great honour of being the first Muezzin of Madinah. The Prophet(saw) said regarding ‘Assabiya’ (tribalism or nationalism or racism), «دعوها فإنها منتنة» “Leave it. It is Rotten.”

Islam also utterly rejects the vilification of minorities and their religious beliefs. But alongside this, the Prophet (saw) demonstrated the correct domestic policy by which to create harmony and social cohesion between those of different faiths when establishing in Madinah the first state ruled by Islam.

Between Muslims, he defined the Islamic Aqeedah as the only basis upon which they should be bonded, rejecting the divisive bond of race or nationality. And between Muslims and non-Muslims of the state, he established citizenship as the basis of their bond, defining the rights of all citizens the same regardless of race or religion, including the protection of religious beliefs. So while many Western secular states grapple with rising levels of racism, perhaps it’s time for them to consider whether the ideology they are so quick to label backwards, in actuality holds solutions to modern-day problems.

Written for The Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz
Member of the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir