Australia’s politicians have a history of ‘othering’ Muslims and normalising right wing bigotry
Following the New Zealand terror attack, there has been a plethora of statements from politicians worldwide, ranging from perfunctory condolences to victim blaming. Australian Senator Fraser Anning’s tweet, “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” is not a solitary sentiment. Indeed, the only factor distinguishing Anning from the right-wing elements in any society is his political office, which gives him leverage to influence and incite the masses against minorities.
Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?
— Senator Fraser Anning (@fraser_anning) March 15, 2019
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned Anning’s statements, yet his intervention does not reflect a consistent approach. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Morrison had, as opposition spokesman for immigration in 2011, urged “to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about Muslim immigration, Muslims in Australia and the inability of Muslim migrants to integrate.”
This month, Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, spoke out against refugees and asylum seekers stranded on Nauru accessing medical treatment in Australia. Morrison backed the arguments, stating, “If we’ve got to treat more people in Australia then obviously they’re going to take the place of people who were getting that treatment anyway. It’s just simple math.” The government’s claims were contradicted by medical directors, who said that asylum seekers and refugees could be accommodated to seek treatment.
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s national security address in 2015 also focused on the purported terror threat from Muslims. People, he said, are angry, “because all too often the threat comes from someone who has enjoyed the hospitality and generosity of the Australian people.”
But right-wing terrorists in Western countries, not just Australia, are part of the social fabric of which politicians regularly seek to exclude Muslims, whether they are refugees or not. The politics of exclusion advocated by governments and politicians has created extremist views on who deserves to belong and who doesn’t, thus altering the political and social fabric of society. When the tactic backfires, or rather, reveals its true colours, as Australian right-wing terrorist did in New Zealand, political reactions veer towards either denying right-wing incitement and actuation of violence, or else taking a temporary step back from right-wing incitement until media hype turns its attention elsewhere.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) states that “Sunni Islamist extremism is the primary terrorist threat facing Australia.”
Michelle Grossman from Deakin University stated that terror attacks such as Brenton Tarrant’s are difficult to predict “because they tended to be lone actors or work in very small cells.”
While this might be true, there is also a political process behind such isolation. Western governments have consistently played upon white privilege and purported democracy to promote their intervention politics. The mainstream acceptance of such violence also contains the ability to conceal violence through normalisation, hence the absence of action when it comes to tackling far-right hatred and incitement to violence. If politicians have endorsed this philosophy through their rhetoric, the next step would be to uphold its support base within society.
Incitement to terrorism by governments, therefore, must be regarded as one of the main influences.
No matter the postulating on values in the aftermath of bloodshed such as occurred in New Zealand, the truth is that government incitement against Muslims and refugees has created the space within society for the right-wing to be perceived as a movement, as well as an isolated phenomenon, depending on what suits political interests at the given moment. The terms “invasion” and “defending our country” – typical of the right-wing – are not without precedents in political rhetoric, as governments pits society against each other to ensure an accumulation of votes.
Amid this intentionally orchestrated hatred, which governments disguise under diplomacy, it is worth remembering the origins of invasion and how, in recent years, the same discourse was mellowed for public acceptance under the pretext of foreign intervention and “bringing democracy” to the Middle East.
How is it possible to justify right-wing terrorism as a lone act when one needs only to look at incitement from the highest political echelons?