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‘Islam a Savage Belief’: Mainstreaming Of Extremism In Australia

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Syed Khurram Shazad in this article explores reasons behind revival of extreme right in Western democracies, particularly in Australia, that led to New Zealand mosque attacks and also its impact on mainstream politics. The writer also looks into how marginal and undemocratic groups gained a significant role in decision making process.

Following the New Zealand mosque attacks that claimed lives of 50 people during Friday prayers, a vile ‘manifesto’ written by an Australian citizen started circulating on social media. The manifesto calls Islam a “savage belief” and the “religious equivalent of fascism”. “Worldwide, Muslims are killing people in the name of their faith on an industrial scale,” it reads. “The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century ****** masquerading as a religious leader, which justifies endless war against anyone who opposes it and calls for the murder of unbelievers and apostates.”

This wasn’t written by Australian shooter Brenton Tarrant but by an Australian politician, which goes on to show that the new ultra-right — as opposed to old extreme right who were against communism — regularly ties crimes to their foe i.e. immigrants or radical Islam.

Anning, who wrote the ‘manifesto’, is now an independent senator and is too racist even for the racist party that elected him. Elected in 2017 as a One Nation party replacement candidate (after “free speech” crusader Malcolm Roberts was caught up in the citizenship debacle), Anning chose to sit as an independent, then opted to join another fringe party, until he was kicked out of that one too, for his infamous speech calling for a “final solution” to the Muslim immigration problem. His latest comments have been roundly condemned by everyone in Australian politics — by the prime minister, the recent ex–prime minister, the soon-to-be prime minister. Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted that Anning’s comments were “disgusting” and “have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian Parliament”. Of course, they shouldn’t have a place — but they do.

Also read: 9 Pakistanis Killed In NZ Terror Attacks, Confirms FO

But this excellent tweet thread from Guardian columnist Jason Wilson, who covers the far right, chronicles the horrific racism even mainstream figures have engaged in; “Remember when the Australian Senate almost passed a literal white nationalist meme?” he tweeted; “Remember all the free media Milo and Lauren Southern got? Remember ‘African Gangs’? Remember ‘white farmers’? .Remember the Soros conspiracy theories during the SSM referendum?”.

I don’t speak for all the Aussies when I say I was not surprised to learn the shooter in the mosque attack was an Australian — but I do speak for many.

“Tarrant may have been radicalized online, but he was emboldened by the words surrounding him on national platforms, by right-wing commentators writing in major newspapers that a “tidal wave of immigrants sweeps away our national identity” (this is from a published article entitled “The foreign invasion” and is written by one of the most well-known “journalists” in Australia).  One can easily notice the similarities between “The foreign invasion” and Tarrant’s “The Great Replacement”.

While, as popularly believed, religions may lead to radicalization but membership of social groups and psychological influences of their members are the primary sources of radicalization and the engagement in violent extremism.

Australia witnessed a gradual increase in visibility of groups siding towards far-right extremism. Ideologically these extreme far-right groups are well organised and connected. In addition, they aim at higher purpose, thus trying to demonstrate their strength as equivalent to any mainstream political party. Considering Muslims as soft target, these groups target Islam “under a thinly veiled guise of protecting Australia”.

The president of the Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales once noted, “racial cohesion in Australia is facing its greatest threat in 30 years.”

Since, these extreme far-right groups have gained much space and recognition, they are now known as NRR. Unlike the ‘old’ traditional Right-Wing movement, “the NRR: do not wish to replace liberal democracy by fascist or authoritarian regimes … [Instead, it] is explicitly anti-elite and highly critical of the current functioning of democracy. It defends various sorts of ethnic nationalism, it is populist and stands against immigration, in particular Muslim and non-white immigration”.

Salient features highlighted in NRR’s rhetoric include:

“ … a strong resistance to the existing (political) establishment and a commitment to democratic reform, a dominant anti-immigration narrative … a strong emphasis on protecting western values and the national preference principle [as well as] pronounced views on the issue of integration and the co-existence of different identities and ethnicities within a single nation.”

There are almost eight active far-right extremist groups with substantial follower base in Australia. The number of their membership is on the rise, which subsequently are fracturing the informally agreed social contract of egalitarianism where everyone is given the opportunity to be a citizen with equal rights. This social contract actually forms the bases of the core value embedded deep in the Australian multiculturalism.

These groups trick natives to believe that “Islam is a disease which Australia needs to vaccinate”. They stoke fear with the help of anti-Islam/immigration rhetoric, designed to cloak their new far-right extremism persona in the language of concerned citizens and not racist ideologues, then community fragmentation becomes a real issue.

This actually is the most critical aspect of these emerging far-right groups. Apparently, they build their arguments on defending value system of the West and try re-framing the view of respecting cultural differences and ethnic diversity.

They promote ‘ethnopluralism’ as policy just to present themselves as non-racist rather than anti-racism. But, what is problematic about this approach is that it does not extend beyond Australian borders, this self-conceived version of anti-racism is limited to their country and demonstrates zero-tolerance for dialogue between them and other cultures, as well as against anything which contradict their beliefs.

Far-right groups have managed to logically associate global terror with various Islamic Jihadi movements and painted Islam and Muslims as menace and major threat to Australian value system. These groups have been able to muster support from mainstream politicians and opinion makers in electronic media to create and disseminating propaganda literature about Islam and Muslims. One such attempt was linking halal certification of food to terrorist financing.

Over time, the number of these groups has increased, however, there has been some internal rift that led to formation of more groups headed by white supremacists.

As a result, Muslim communities were targeted in series of incidents such as a firebomb explosion outside Thorn lie mosque in Perth during prayer time in 2016 and then there was also an attempt of arson attacks on Toowoomba mosque in Brisbane.

More recently, the newly-elected Senator for Katter’s Australia Party, Fraser Anning, praised the nation’s White Australia Policy in his maiden speech to the Senate, as well as employed the term ‘final solution’ and implored a plebiscite to end immigration from all Muslim, third world and non-English speaking nations.

Although Anning’s comments in the Senate were widely condemned by MPs, he garnered support for his version of the Trumpian ‘Muslim ban’ from Hanson and others. The fact that mainstream politicians are adopting the language, perspectives and policies of extreme far-right movements (such as UPF or Reclaim Australia) is incredibly dangerous and worrying. The boundaries of what constitutes ‘extreme’ are being shifted, particularly on social policy issues such as immigration, as the line between right-wing populists, right wing extremists and right-of-centre parties appear to be blurring.

Perhaps, Australian mainstream politicians have suffocated the extreme right while borrowing most tenets of their ideology.

These mainstream politicians have themselves implemented policies of ethno-exclusivism, thus removing from the extreme right its most appealing feature. The extreme right itself might have disappeared from the political radar but its rhetoric remains an implicit and overt part of Australian politics.

The world is again in shock, but it’s no surprise that Tarrant was Australian. After all, as he wrote in his manifesto, he was a “regular white man from a regular family”.

Although the influence and threat of far-right extremism in Australia should not be overstated, it remains clear that there exists a real and growing threat.

ASIO’s last annual reports confirm “a distinct rise in the activity of far-right extremist groups”, stating that the far right is likely to have a tangible effect on Australia’s security environment.

The trajectory of far-right motivated violence in Australia suggests that recent Christchurch, New Zealand terror Attack carried by an Australian citizen may not be an isolated incident, and security personnel need to be prepared for the possibility of further violence in the future.

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