Australian politicians have been trying Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric on for size since his election victory. For Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, famous for joking about Pacific Islands drowning in rising seas and calling refugee pregnancy on Nauru “a racket”, it hasn’t been too much of a stretch.
His comments that former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser made a mistake in resettling Lebanese Muslims in Australia in the 1970s were also made at the same time he suggested Australia could ban specific groups, like Sudanese people, from Australia.
Dutton said that descendants of Lebanese Muslim migrants were predominantly responsible for terror offences. Turnbull only praised him as an “outstanding” Immigration Minister.
The Lebanese Muslim Association condemned Dutton in no uncertain terms, releasing a statement that read in part:
“Dutton is just another in a long line of politicians questioning our community. [This is part of a] toxic, assimilationist, nationalist agenda … what he said was racist. What he implied was racist … This should not be about proving ourselves to wider Australia … We refuse to continue doing so at Dutton’s request… Manipulating bigotry for political gain is an insult.”
They also used the opportunity to condemn Manus and Nauru and the “shocking cruelty” of Immigration policy.
In doing so, they put Labor to shame—who, while calling on him to apologise, said such comments were most worrying because they undermined the efforts of security services to work with Lebanese people. Dutton, again channelling Trump, responded by saying Labor was part of the “tricky elite” and he was just being honest.
Dutton’s comments smeared the whole Lebanese Muslim community as responsible for terrorism.
John Howard actually made similar comments in 2007, suggesting that some Lebanese migrants were “hostile to our society” with their “raving about jihad”.
Such racism serves the purpose of casting suspicion over Muslims and promoting fear over a nearly non-existent terror threat. Even Labor’s approach of calling on the Muslim community to co-operate with government “anti-terror” efforts only reinforces the racist idea that this community is to blame.
Even Dutton admitted it was not the migrants that arrived in the country themselves, but tiny numbers of the “second and third generation” who have been accused of terrorism. This points to the experience of racism and marginalisation here that is responsible, if there is any significant problem of terrorism.
As the Coalition’s popularity plummets, they are becoming increasingly reliant on these kinds of political tactics to hold onto power. All the more reason to make sure they cannot get away with it.
By Amy Thomas