Letter from Australia

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Tory prime minister Scott Morrison. Pic: Flickr/g20argentina

Our government’s Islamophobic onslaught led to the Christchurch attack, writes James Supple

The murder of 50 Muslims at Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March was an act of far right terror. It was also the direct result of the Islamophobia and racism promoted by Australia’s Tory government and the political mainstream. Brenton Tarrant, who carried out the attack, is an Australian who left the country in 2011 before settling in New Zealand.

Current Tory prime minister Scott Morrison has made a career out of racist fearmongering. In 2010, while in opposition, he urged his party to exploit fears about Muslim immigration in order to win votes. As recently as November, following the death of one man in a knife attack in Melbourne, Morrison blamed the Muslim community as a whole. He declared they were not doing enough to weed out extremists and dismissed evidence that the attacker had mental health problems as “excuses”. This echoed his predecessor Tony Abbott, who told Muslim leaders to condemn terrorism more often and to make sure they “mean it”.

The mainstream media, and the Murdoch press in particular, vilifies Muslims on a daily basis. In 2017 there were more than eight articles a day attacking Muslims across Murdoch’s five main newspapers.

This has gone on for almost two decades as part of justifying Australia’s role in the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11.

Asylum seekers, often fleeing Muslim majority countries in the Middle East, have been demonised as potential terrorists. The conservatives came to office promising to “stop the boats” of refugees. They set up a naval blockade to turn them back, and continued the previous Labor government’s policy of torturing refugees in offshore prison camps on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Soon after it was first elected, the Tory government launched a vicious austerity budget that threatened savage cuts to welfare payments and health spending along with higher university fees. The backlash forced it to retreat, as its electoral support slumped. It has used racism against Muslims and refugees in a desperate bid to win back support.

This has helped legitimise far right politicians like One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, who was re-elected to federal parliament after almost two decades in the wilderness in 2016. Fraser Anning, who entered parliament on her election ticket, was egged by a protester after he released a vicious racist statement saying Muslims had brought the Christchurch massacre on themselves. Last year he called for a “final solution” on Muslim immigration, and in January he spoke at an anti-migrant rally organised by Nazis.

The far right street movement in Australia is still small, but the racism from the mainstream against Sudanese migrants, Muslims and refugees is providing openings for them.

The killer in Christchurch identified as part of the online swamp of neo-Nazi and alt-right ideas, openly describing himself as a fascist in a 74-page manifesto. He cited the fascist Anders Breivik, responsible for the massacre of 77 people in Norway in 2011, as his “true inspiration”. But he also drew encouragement from the rise of the far right across the world, saying experiences in France were key to developing his hatred of Muslim migrants.

And he endorsed Donald Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”.

Since the attack Morrison has been forced to condemn “hatred and intolerance”. His party has been widely blamed for creating the racist climate that led to the killings.

New Zealand’s Labour prime minister Jacinda Ardern has been heaped with praise for her response, as she declared that the racist hatred behind the attack “is not us”. Yet racism is also widespread in New Zealand, against the country’s indigenous Maori population, Muslims and migrants.

Ardern’s foreign minister, Winston Peters, has a long track record of equating Muslims with terrorists. And Ardern herself banned foreigners from buying houses in the country, after a racist scare accusing Chinese investors of driving up prices.

Following the attacks both Australia and New Zealand have seen large vigils and protests against racism and Islamophobia. The horror in Christchurch shows why such a movement is needed.

James Supple is a member of Solidarity in Sydney