AUSTRALIA

Australian anti-Islam protests use ‘Paris’ as rallying cry

Anti-Islam protesters flew French flags alongside Australian ones at their nationwide protests Sunday. This screen grab is from a video of a rally in Melton, a suburb of Melbourne.
Anti-Islam protesters flew French flags alongside Australian ones at their nationwide protests Sunday. This screen grab is from a video of a rally in Melton, a suburb of Melbourne.

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Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Canberra… On Sunday, all these Australian cities were hit by anti-Islam rallies, each of which was countered by anti-racism protests. During these tense standoffs, the anti-Islam side used the recent terrorist attacks in Paris as a rallying cry for their cause.

Reclaim Australia” is a campaign that has already organised several rallies throughout Australia to protest what they call the ‘encroachment’ of Islam. According to their website, they want the “freedom to be ‘Australian’” and notably ask that the country get rid of halal food certifications. Their earlier protests were marred by violence, and the latest batch was no exception: in Melbourne, where the Reclaim Australia protesters were also demonstrating against the building of a mosque, three men were arrested for possessing a weapon, and two others for riotous behaviour. Earlier during the week, a Melbourne man who claimed to have links with the movement was charged with illegally possessing tasers and a bomb-making manual.

Anti-Islam protesters on Sunday in Melton, a suburb of Melbourne. Some are carrying French flags.

“They’re exploiting the tragedy to advance their Islamophobic views and spread fear about Muslims”

Maya Jee is a student who went to the counter-protest in Perth. She asked to go by a pseudonym, fearing harassment from anti-Islam campaigners.

There was a very heavy police presence keeping the two rallies apart. They were about equal in size. From what I could see, their attendees were all white and mostly-middle aged, while the anti-racist rally had a very diverse attendance, including Muslims and indigenous people. The Reclaim Australia protesters had placards with anti-Muslim slogans, such as “Ban Islam” and “Ban Halal”. They seem convinced that halal food funds terrorism, which has been found to be completely false. There were also plenty of signs about banning immigration. Some signs even linked Islam to pedophilia! [Editor’s Note: On their site, Reclaim Australia claims “child brides” is one of the “ways of Islam”, though it is of course banned in Australia]. They had a sea of Australian flags, and French ones, too. They made references to the Paris attacks throughout their rallies, not just in Perth but all over the country, exploiting the tragedy to advance their Islamophobic views and spread fear about Muslims.

Anti-Islam protesters yell "commie scum" at counter-protesters, while police hold them back. Video filmed at a rally in Melton, Melbourne. 

“Islamophobia is at its height at the moment”

Reclaim Australia have attempted to construct an innocent “mums and dads” cover for themselves [Editors’ Note: In past rallies, attendees were seen sporting Nazi symbols; the movement’s leaders have since sought to distance themselves from these individuals]. However, their movement is at its core aggressively racist and hateful. The group scapegoats Muslims for all their problems.

Counter-protesters chanting in Melton. 

Australia has long-standing issues with structural racism, particularly against Aboriginal people, and Muslims have become targets recently. Islamophobia is certainly at its height at the moment. I am not religious, but I come from a Muslim family, and I’ve experience racial abuse directed at me in public. I’ve also seen incidents of people racially abusing non-white people on the street and on public transport. These are examples of overt racism, but there is also more subtle discrimination, for example in the workplace – most Muslims find it very hard to find work in the current climate.

According to a 2014 survey, Australians believe that about 16 percent of the population is Muslim. In reality, however, the figure is nine times smaller – it’s 2 percent.

Australia has a high percentage of immigrants, notably from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and numerous Asian countries. Foreign-born persons account for about a fifth of the population. However, it also has one of the harshest border policies in the world. In the past years, conservative governments have clamped down on illegal immigration. Authorities now turn back boats of asylum seekers at sea, and force asylum seekers to live in detention centres located on the islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, which have been plagued by sanitary and safety scandals. They are refused any resettlement in Australia.