Solidarity Sydney has produced this position paper to contribute to debates and discussion in the lead up to the mobilisations against Reclaim Australia in July.
On July 18-19, Reclaim Australia will mobilise for hate-filled demonstrations around the country for the second time. It’s very important that they be challenged. That is why Solidarity has helped initiate the counter-rallies.
Yet if we want to deal a blow to racism, we have to understand what we are dealing with. The Reclaim Australia demonstrations so far have been small, with the largest of those held over Easter numbering only 500. Over recent years the tiny groups of neo-Nazis here have organised only miniscule demonstrations that have represented no serious threat. Now they are attempting to hide their Nazi face and present themselves as simply anti-Muslim.
What is giving them oxygen is the context of extreme Islamophobia peddled by Abbott and the Coalition.
Abbott has used the growth of ISIS to promote the threat of terrorism and Islamic extremism. On an almost daily basis, the government has attempted to bolster Islamophobia—trying to establish the idea that the Lindt café siege was an act of terrorism, drumming up fear about foreign fighters and ‘radicalisation’, passing newer and even harsher anti-terror legislation, commenting excessively on a series of brutal, trumped-up anti-terror raids, and most recently, proposing legislation to strip the citizenship of anyone even suspected of sympathising with a terrorist organisation. Abbott even claimed recently that the IS ‘death cult’ is a threat to ‘every government and every person’! Now he says that Q&A is a ‘lefty lynch mob’. Labor’s response has been to quietly agree or criticise the government for not being savvy enough on national security.
The even harder racist right-wing underbelly of the Liberals have been given a new lease on life, with Cory Bernardi winning an inquiry into halal food certification and George Christensen denouncing multiculturalism.
It is clearly a very concerted and very desperate attempt to use Islamophobia to bolster the government’s legitimacy in the face of a backlash against their cuts and attacks. Allowing these ideas to spread is poison for the working class.
Importantly, racism at the top has a ‘trickle down’ effect. The Islamophobia Register has received 460 submissions documenting racist attacks on Muslims since September last year. The Muslim Women’s Association has said the community feels “under siege”. Recent research at the ANU shows those with Muslim-sounding names applying for jobs are the least likely to be asked for an interview.
Any cursory examination of Reclaim Australia’s propaganda reveals that they are building almost exclusively out of nonsense myths about Islam and Muslims.
Yet some on the left, in particular Socialist Alternative, have been happy to ignore the context of Islamophobia and Abbott’s scaremongering. They are acting as if there is a major threat of fascism and large growth of the far right.
This has gone along with arguing to physically confront Reclaim Australia and shut down their rallies.
Confronting racists directly has an important role to play in making sure Reclaim Australia’s racism does not go unchallenged, and in helping demoralise their supporters.
Solidarity has argued that the most effective way to confront Reclaim Australia will be mobilising as large a number as possible in the counter-demonstrations. Only small numbers are currently willing to be a part of physical confrontation, and a focus on this will limit the numbers. Perhaps in some recognition of this, Socialist Alternative has argued for confrontational demonstrations but have refused to honestly build them as such. But not explaining the situation to people does not help win an argument for those tactics. There may be confusion on the day, with people who attend not convinced about the need for confrontation or unaware of the plan to take over the space of the Reclaim Australia rallies.
Everyone should be building the anti-Reclaim demonstrations and encouraging others to do so. But we need a broad-based movement against Islamophobia. Almost every single initiative by the government has gone un-responded to, except by Muslim and Arab organisations and individuals. This has to be turned around.
Not surprisingly, the communities affected as well as the broader left are less willing to be involved in confrontational counter-demonstrations of any variety. The insistence on physical confrontation makes this much harder. It is essential to work with these organisations to give anti-Islamophobia a wider reach.
Some on the far left appear to have put responding to Islamophobia in the too-hard basket, after initial meetings and rallies didn’t mobilise in the hundreds or thousands. This is self-serving and mistaken.
Even when Pauline Hanson was on the rise in the 1990s—mobilising thousands for her demonstrations and meetings—the left beat her with a united front approach, working with unions, Labor members, The Greens and migrant communities to organise mass demonstrations and meetings. Importantly, it involved campaigning to respond to the basic racist myths that fuelled the hard racism against migrants. As with any movement, much of it started with small grafting work and building trust and connections through joint activity. This laid the basis for convincing larger numbers of people to demonstrate against and shut down her meetings.
Already, Reclaim Australia has split with more hardline neo-Nazis breaking away from the simply Islamophobic and racist elements among the organisers. Encouragingly, the neo-Nazis failed in their effort to mobilise people in their rally at the Richmond Town Hall around a harder platform of taking on “left wing violence”. It remains to be seen if they will continue to have success mobilising—another reason why simply waiting to respond to their protests cannot be the sum total of the left’s response to Islamophobia.