Last weekend’s Reclaim Australia rallies were superbly successful, but only in raising international awareness of the Islamophobia in Australia — something the organisers adamantly assert doesn't exist, writes Junaid Cheema.
THE EASTER weekend's Reclaim Australia rallies had more colours than an over stuffed easter basket — colours of irony that is. From highly confident misspelt signs protesting no "Hala", to grown men veiling their faces with Aussie flags, opposing the right of women to wear face veils, to cooked up links between Halal food and terrorism, the protest had it all.
The First Australians watched in disbelief, wondering what was being reclaimed besides all the flags in the country? Anti-racism activists tried countering the hate but the reclaimers asserted they were not racists, just bigots. Parroting the line "Islam is not a race", but missing the common sense point that racial and religious hatred stem from the same bigotry and have the same consequence. Sadly common sense was not common amongst the reclaimers.
The main attraction however was stopping "Sharia Law" in Australia.
When asked what Sharia law was, Australia's most prominent Sharia opponent Senator Jaqui Lambie had said to ABC:
"Well, I think... umm ... when it comes to ... umm ... Sharia, Sharia law ... umm ... you know, to me it's umm ... its ... ah ... it ... obviously involves terrorism..."
Post protest interviews with the Reclaimer's were equally insightful, but they remained very scared — and that's the important part.
To quell unfounded fears, the peak Islamic body of Australia, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) had publicly emphasised earlier that Sharia explicitly encourages Muslims to follow the law of the land.
Though this official statement should have been enough to settle fears of a Constitutional takeover, it wasn't. Perhaps because, over the years, we have seen too many images of beatings, beheading and burqas repeatedly intertwined with the word Sharia (a path to the life-giving water). Perhaps like Pavlov's dogs we are now conditioned and have an extreme negative reaction to this word. A word which invokes the most darkest fears, regardless of how irrational and unlikely the possibility. But isn't that... what a phobia is?
In reality, last weekend’s Reclaim Australia rallies were superbly successful in achieving a most unintended consequence. It unintentionally raised international awareness of the Islamophobia in Australia, something the organisers adamantly assert doesn't exist.
The reality is that Australia's 2 per cent Muslim population is unorganised, uninfluential and ineffectual, a soft target that doesn't carry much clout, kicking them raises poll ratings and accusing them of "playing the victim" shuts up the debate. That's probably why some leaders turned a blind eye to the rallies, however the globe was watching. News reports spread across the world asking: "Is Australia a racist country?" and "Are Muslims welcome in Australia"? Aussie Muslim bashing may connect some in domestic politics, but it disconnects Australia in international politics — and this is where the comedy stops.
Economically and militarily, we are mutually reliant and connected with the Muslim world. Malaysia is not only one of our top trading partners, but an ally with which we share a defence pact. Indonesia is not only our near neighbour and oldest trading partner – dating back to 1640 with the first Australians – but is also a key trading partner. Mutual trade totalled over $14.9 billion in 11/12, an increasing trend given Indonesia's economic rise. South Australian businesses alone exported $839 million worth of products to the Middle East in 12/13 and meat exports to the region have grown by 255% over the past decade. The Halal sector is projected to be worth $1.6 trillion by 2050 with Australian food exporters racing to get into the market, only to be held back by religious hatred.
These global realities and our national interests are beyond the comprehension of the bigots who are reclaiming Australia from the modern age. They proudly profess the "right to be bigots" but the rest of us know we can't afford to be bigots for the very economic and national security of our nation. The prime minister's national security statement promised a clamp down on those "who incite religious or racial hatred" and those who participate in "blatantly spreading discord and division".
As Australians, we trust our values which promise a commitment to the rule of law. Does that mean we can anticipate a crackdown on the abhorrent and un-Australian behaviour of the reclaim protestors? Or should we stop holding our breaths? Only time will tell...