The person who carried out the mass murder in New Zealand two days ago is an Australian who had picked Christchurch because it had plenty of soft targets and the country allowed the easy purchase of semi-automatic weapons. Jason Wilson writes that this episode should make people aware of how Islamophobia has become pretty much enshrined as public policy in Australia. In reading his account of the roots of racist thinking in that country, I was struck by the similarities with US history.
There has been extensive, international discussion about the role of the online subculture of the far right in these events – the codes, memes and signals of internet-mediated white supremacy.
There’s been less reflection on the fact that any 28-year-old in Australia has grown up in a period when racism, xenophobia and a hostility to Muslims in particular, were quickly ratcheting up in the country’s public culture.
In the period of the country’s enthusiastic participation in the War on Terror, Islam and Muslims have frequently been treated as public enemies, and hate speech against them has inexorably been normalised.
Australian racism did not of course begin in 2001. The country was settled by means of a genocidal frontier war, and commenced its independent existence with the exclusion of non-white migrants. White nationalism was practically Australia’s founding doctrine.
That historical racism was revived in this century, as the negative repercussions of the US ‘war on terror’ spread far and wide across the globe.
[T]he 9/11 attacks drew Australia into the War on Terror in support of its closest ally, and geopolitical sponsor, the United States.
Australian troops spent long periods in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting and killing Muslims in their own countries. The consequences of this endless war have included the targeting of Australians in Jihadi terror attacks and plots, both at home and abroad.
The wars began with a deluge of propaganda. Later, the terror threat was leveraged to massively enhance surveillance by Australia’s national security state. Muslim Australians have frequently been defined by arms of their own government as a source of danger.
Two years after the war in Iraq commenced, the campaign of Islamophobia culminated in the country’s most serious modern race riots, on Cronulla Beach in December 2005, when young white men spent a summer afternoon beating and throwing bottles at whichever brown people they could find.
Wilson also points to the pernicious influence of the Rupert Murdoch media empire News Corp in Australia, the same Murdoch who owns Fox News in the US.
Every step of the way, this process has not been hindered by outlets owned by News Corp, which dominates Australia’s media market in a way which citizens of other Anglophone democracies can find difficult to comprehend.
News Corp has the biggest-selling newspapers in the majority of metropolitan media markets, monopolies in many regional markets, the only general-readership national daily, and the only cable news channel. Its influence on the national news agenda remains decisive. And too often it has used this influence to demonise Muslims.
More significantly still, News Corp has itself recently run campaigns based on white nationalist talking points.
Australia now has a public collection of open white nationalists – from antisemitic podcasters to would-be infiltrators of mainstream conservative parties.
They need to be understood in their proper context: the decades-long drumbeat of xenophobia and Muslim-hate, which has issued from some of the most powerful institutions in the country.
This is the environment in which Muslims, refugees and immigrants have come to be understood as enemies of Australia. It may be an environment that has nurtured white supremacist terror.
I am not sure how the Australian government is going to respond to this event, whether they will see it as a wake up call to look in the mirror or, like many in the US, simply dismiss it as an aberration using the cliché “this is not who we are”.