Pauline Hanson, among Islam, Racism and Reclaim Australia

Australian public was rather shocked of a rally by a group of people with a theme of Reclaim Australia on Saturday, 04/04/2015. It was conducted simultaneously in all states of Australia, including Victoria. The movement is strongly supported by a liberal party politician Pauline Hanson. Messages delivered in the rally filled with nuances of hatred against Islam as one of important religions in Australia. Among the themes presented by the protesters were a rejection of the tax for halal certification, the refusal of practice of Islamic law, and a reminder for the phenomenon of Islamization in Australia. The demonstrators even specifically chanted with "no more mosques', or 'no more burqa'.

According to the 2006 census, there are at least five million (24%) of Australians are immigrants with different cultural and religious backgrounds. Approximately 450,000 of them are Muslims from various countries, including Indonesia. So far, all communities can live in harmony. They live with mutual respect for each other's culture under the principle of multiculturalism that becomes an important value of the Australian community.

As a politician, Pauline Hanson seemed to be trying to propitiate the Australian community through this movement. Islam and terrorism is indeed currently becoming a hot topic across the globe. Massive coverage of Islamic state movement (ISIS) has got a special attention from international community. Therefore, the issue on terrorism can be a good commodity for sales in the political market. Pauline's statement that also attacked Abbott’s administrative for not doing any necessary action regarding the potential dominance of the Muslim community in Australia is an indication that what she did is a clear political movement.

Having looked at the track record of this politician, the Reclaim Australia is not the first controversial action undertaken and supported by Pauline Hanson. In a political statement during a campaign season to become a member of the Federal Parliament in 1996, for example, she has been harshly criticized the Australian government's immigration policy. She mentioned that the idea of multiculturalism is risky for the future of Australia. Therefore, the multiculturalism policy should be resisted. She argued that why Australia is filled by many immigrants from Asia was because the idea of the multiculturalism. In the eyes of Pauline, many immigrants cannot be assimilated well with Australian culture. In short, in her stance, these immigrants are only a source of problems.
In 2006, Pauline returned outspoken about the dangers of these immigrants. At that time she was specifically concerned about immigrants from Africa who could be carrying the disease from the country of origin, including the possibility of suffering from AIDS. Pauline mentioned that African immigrants had absolutely no benefit to Australia.

Pauline herself refused to call herself as a racist. She said that what she did was only a way she expressed her criticism for the sake of Australia in the future. However, for those who think sane, Pauline's criticism is very clear that the substance contains racism. This is because she spreads hatred and discrimination against certain groups of people. For this reason, quite a lot of Australians themselves oppose the idea of the Reclaim Australia movement. Some of those who oppose the idea even involved in physical fights with demonstrators last Saturday.

Although Pauline Hanson's racism does not get a proper place in the mainstream of Australian politic, it does not necessarily mean that the idea is without support. Hundreds of people demonstrating simultaneously at a rally last Saturday proved that this racism is not completely dead. They continue to multiply and consolidate themselves.

The idea of 'Reclaim Australia' movement itself does sound strange and was impressed to be silly. There are many loop holes within the idea of this movement. First, the theme has been biased from the beginning. The selection of the word 'reclaim' (retake) does not only mislead as if Australia had been taken over by a particular group politically, culturally, and economically (which is certainly not true), it also spread a wrong message saying that Islam and the Muslims have occupied Australia in many aspects of life. The selection of this word has indirectly put Islam and the Australian Muslims on more powerful and more hegemonic than the actual facts. This is indeed an exaggeration.

Secondly, the theme is also against common sense. Paulin's statement mentioning that the halal food certification in Australia as a way to finance international terrorist is full of ignorance. The halal certification itself is not a dark business because they are easily monitored by the Australian government. Halal certification is growing in Australia along with the increasing demand for halal food because of the increasing number of Muslim communities in Australia (mostly immigrants). Among their main motivation is a purely from a business drive. Therefore do not be surprised if many non-Muslim owned companies also provide halal certificate. Again, the process is transparent. Therefore, the explanation from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) one day after the rally regarding the transparency and certification process could clarify that the allegations by Paulin Hanson is like a fairy tale story in broad daylight.

Third, the attacks and discrimination against Muslims in Australia can be easily understood as an action which is contrary to the principles of multiculturalism as important values of Australians, as discussed above. Australia is a country which was built on the basis of respect for this diversity. Thus, the racism movement by Paulin, if left unchecked, will not only spoil the harmony of life of the plurality of the Australian society, it can also tarnish the Australian culture in the eyes of the international community. Although the number of supporters today is not significant, the core message is very dangerous.

Considering the potential serious side effects, I think the Australian government and the community need to perform special measures in dealing with the issue of racism. Sentiment towards Islam could develop into sentiment against other immigrants. Today they are targeting Muslim community; it is highly likely that they are also targeting the existence of other groups in the near future. Therefore, it is reasonable if the vice president of the African Community Association of Australia, Edward Solo, said that the yesterday's rally as something painful. "It is really a fearful message," he said as quoted by The Guardian (06/04/2015).

Politically, the Abbott’s government needs to make an official statement that the government cannot allow the attitude and behaviour of racism to happen. Abbott needs to make clear that the government is committed to respecting all forms of cultural uniqueness of its citizens, including by providing a protection to the Australian Muslim community. Otherwise, what is feared by the secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Ghaith Krayem, who called Abbott government's silence on the racial acts as a form of injustice shown by Abbott’s administrative in dealing with racial attacks and extremism is true (The Age, 04/07/2015).

At the same time, the Muslim community and all immigrant groups have to think of better ways that promote a more intensive and effective activities to build mutual understanding among all groups who live in Australia. This is because the racism is likely happen due to lack of communication and interaction between these diverse groups. Pauline Hanson's statement saying that Muslims do not need the halal certification, because whole foods can be permissible only by reciting a prayer (bismillah) is a crystal clear example that Pauline does not really understand what Islam and Muslims are.

* The writer is a scholar at Monash University, former president of Monash Indonesian Islamic Society - MIIS.
(This article was first written for The Australian)

I teach (and learn) for the same reason I breathe. Jatuh cinta dengan kegiatan belajar dan mengajar, karena dua aktifitas inilah yang menjadikan peradaban terus tumbuh dan berkembang ^_^ I have been teaching in various institutions in Indonesia, ranging from primary school to university level. I am currently an associate professor in the English education department of Universitas Riau, Indonesia. My research interests are in the areas of (English) teacher training and education, English Language Teaching, and educational policy in the Indonesian context. I am happy to share my knowledge with all interested teachers worldwide. Feel free to contact me through my email as seen in my blog :-). Many thanks!

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