One Nation leader Pauline Hanson seized on an Essential Media poll in September that claimed 49% of Australians would support banning Muslim immigration. Declaring she stood for the “silent majority”, Hanson called for a national vote on imposing a ban.
While there are questions about the credibility of the poll, the results do indicate that the long running campaign to demonise Muslim people waged by media outlets and politicians has had some effect. Right-wing forces have attempted to link Muslim people to the threat of terrorism. Socialists condemn terrorism in all its forms, but combatting it requires understanding its social roots.
The idea that Islam is especially prone to terrorism is completely false – the vast majority of Muslims are against terror, in fact the majority of modern victims of terrorism are Muslim. Terrorism is most often a product of alienation and anger towards the establishment. Outrage at the profit-driven wars in the Middle East can sometimes be taken advantage of by recruiters for right-wing terror groups like Islamic State. The same sort of alienation has produced terrorist movements among Christians, Buddhists and atheists alike.
Material conditions can push a minority of any population toward terrorism. Most Muslims are ordinary working people who would be victimised if the type of measures Hanson is proposing were actually introduced.
The truth is that right-wing Islamophobic hate groups like the ‘United Patriots Front’, largely white and Christian or atheist, are themselves a terrorist threat. Their behaviour is designed to terrorise others, and police have already confiscated weapons from such people heading to attend hate rallies. The racism they promote, which is encouraged by the major parties, can catch on among some layers of people due to alienation and disenfranchisement.
Nearly 3 million people in Australia now live below the poverty line. Schools, hospitals and public transport increasingly cannot cope with demand and are suffering from overcrowding. For every job vacancy, there are 19 unemployed or underemployed people looking for work.
In these circumstances, suggestions that Australia is “too full”, and needs to cut immigration, can resonate with people, especially those struggling to make ends meet. But the crisis of jobs and public services cannot be solved by merely halting immigration.
The prime reason for Australia’s inadequate healthcare, education and public infrastructure is years of underfunding by both Liberal and Labor governments. These facilities can only be improved by massive public investment.
Neither of the major parties have an interest in this. They have spent the last three decades dismantling and privatising the social safety net while allowing big business to evade tax on an obscene scale.
In a similar way, unemployment is not due to overpopulation but cost-cutting by large firms seeking to maximise profit in tougher economic times. In actual fact increased migration creates jobs, as new arrivals need goods and services. More workers are required to satisfy the increased demand.
Capitalists and their representatives in parliament use racism and slander immigrants to distract from the real causes of our problems. If we are divided amongst ourselves, we are less able to fight back against this system.
Fifteen years ago, a wave of anti-Muslim fear-mongering was unleashed by the Howard government to justify the war for oil in Iraq. Tony Abbott attempted to use the Islamic State’s advances in Syria to shift focus away from his government’s assault on the welfare system.
With no strong left voice of opposition, this divisive scare campaign has inevitably affected much of the population’s views towards Muslims and immigration.
We cannot allow right-wing forces to take the spotlight off the real causes of our problems. The problem is not Muslim people or the level of immigration but rather those who profiteer at our expense, those who attack our wages and conditions, those who destroy our environment and privatise our public services.
In the context of more difficult economic times, moral appeals will not be sufficient to win people away from anti-immigrant sentiments. Instead, we have to offer people a real political and economic alternative.
There is a desperate need to rebuild a strong left voice in Australia that can articulate an alternative to the fear mongering major parties. It is the total absence of any kind of mass left wing alternative that has produced the political vacuum allowing Hanson to find a support base.
A new working class party fighting for socialist solutions, against racism and against all cuts, would inevitably have a powerful appeal to ordinary people from all backgrounds. A party like this is urgently needed to resist further attacks on our living conditions and build solidarity with Muslims and others that the right wing try to demonise.
By Jeremy Trott