For more than a decade anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise in Australia. It has been actively fostered by both major parties and echoed in the mainstream media following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Racist propaganda dehumanizing and belittling Muslim populations has been used to justify horrific torture tactics, the use of chemical weapons and the installation of US puppet regimes across the Middle East. It also serves to minimize the horror of an estimated 500,000 civilians killed from war-related causes in Iraq since the invasion began in 2003.
The social and economic catastrophe created by the US-led, Australian backed invasion of Iraq has led to a serious backlash. Inflamed further by the civil war in Syria, these conditions have led to the rise of the right-wing Islamist movement known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Feeding upon the anger, death and destruction left by Western invading armies, and a hatred of the US installed sectarian Shia Muslim government blatant in its crimes against the Sunni Muslim population, ISIS has taken advantage of the chaos and made huge territorial gains.
With an estimated 50,000 or more fighters ISIS now controls large territories in Iraq, Syria, the Sinai Peninsula, and eastern Libya. The success of ISIS, and its flashy online presence, has attracted admiration from a small but significant section of disaffected young people across North Africa and the Middle East, as well as smaller numbers in Europe, the Americas and Australia.
Many of these young people are motivated by a desire to rid the region of Western imperialist intrusion, despite close ties between US regional allies and forces on the side of ISIS.
Across the world the rise of ISIS is looked upon with fear and horror. This is very much warranted, though most mainstream narratives exclude the role Western powers played in setting the scene that ISIS is now succeeding in.
Rather than acknowledge the blame they share in destroying the lives of millions and stoking the flames of right-wing movements like ISIS, Western governments have been busy using the rise of ISIS to their own benefit. People have been distracted momentarily from the pillaging of public accounts to bail out private debts by Islamophobic finger pointing and misleading and racist rhetoric about immigrants and immigration.
The Abbott government no doubt breathed a sigh of relief at the rise of a political movement more reviled than its own anti-worker, anti-poor, anti-women policies. Referring to ISIS as a “death cult” at every available opportunity, Abbott has reignited the obsession with so-called Islamic terrorism.
In the wake of the tragic Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, and the bizarre and awful Sydney Siege, spreading fear of ‘Islamic extremism’ in Australia has renewed pertinence for unpopular politicians and media outlets churning out ‘click bait’.
There has reportedly already been a rise in incidents of racist attacks on Muslims and Sikhs, particularly those wearing head scarves. In this climate Australia’s small far-right organisations have seen an opportunity to espouse their white supremacist message.
They hope to use the anti-Muslim sentiment propagated by years of fear mongering about ‘Islamic terrorism’ and bipartisan refugee bashing to build a racist anti-Muslim movement on the streets. To this end these groups organized anti-Muslim ‘Reclaim Australia’ rallies across a number of Australian cities in April.
‘Reclaim Australia’ looks towards far-right movements like Pegida in Germany and the English Defense League in England for their inspiration. These movements thrive on exploiting the legitimate worries of workers and small business owners in deteriorating economies.
Rather than point to the role of exploitative bosses and neo-liberal governments in creating the growing gap between rich and poor, these movements point the blame at people from Middle Eastern backgrounds, considering them easy targets. This serves the interests of big business elites in keeping ordinary people fighting amongst ourselves for crumbs, rather than demanding democratic control of the economy in pursuit of a fairer, more equal society.
It is possible for socialists to be critical of the role of religion while at the same time defending people’s right to practice their faith free from fear or harm. It is imperative for socialists to organise against far-right movements spreading racist hatred that only serves to divide working class people and divert blame from where it belongs – with the ultra-rich who plunder the earth leaving death and destruction in their wake.
By Mel Gregson