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Issue #1681      April 22, 2015

Lessons from Reclaim Australia protests

The first lesson provided by the demonstrations organised by anti-Muslim group Reclaim Australia last week is that we should not underestimate the threat posed by organisations committed to racism and extreme bigotry.

The demonstrations took place in most capital cities. However, the one that grabbed the headlines was in Melbourne, where a counter-demonstration resulted in violence that was only curbed by police intervention.

In Brisbane Scott Moerland, one of Reclaim Australia’s organisers, gave a vitriolic speech, calling counter-demonstrators “traitors” and declaring “we’re going to give radical Islam the biggest bitch slap it’s ever had”.

The demonstrations followed incidents involving persecution of Muslims in several cities. A Sydney woman is on trial for having subjected another woman to a brutal verbal assault in public for wearing a hijab headdress, and last week the Rockhampton mosque was set on fire for the second time.

Background

Reclaim Australia makes a series of phoney and often contradictory assertions. Moerland claims, for example, that he hates Nazis and they form a small minority of the group’s supporters, yet Reclaim Australia was formed by Jim Saleam, former leader of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Party.

Moerland even makes the astounding claim that the “comms” are organising the infiltration of Reclaim Australia by neo Nazis!

He maintains that Islam is intent on taking over Australia, and Reclaim Australia’s title implies this has happened already – although it also declares it wants to “reclaim Australia from the UN”.

Moerland also identifies white Anglo-Saxons along with Aboriginal people as the only authentic Australians. Moreover, he wants to “keep our Australian values, i.e. Christmas, Easter, Australia Day, Anzac Day and other beliefs a large number of Australians have grown up with”, even though these aren’t beliefs or values, but public holidays cheerfully enjoyed by everyone regardless of religions convictions.

Reclaim Australia claims certification of Halal meat is a means of laundering terrorist funding, and implies that Sharia Law (a set of rules of behaviour for Muslims, as the Ten Commandments are for Christians) is already overriding Australian civil law.

They also claim to be defending Australia against terrorist attacks by “muslims”. But terrorists and racist groups feed off each other’s extreme activity and both use religion as a justification for their activities.

Moreover, successive Australian governments have involved the nation in every major US military adventure since WW2, including invasions of several Muslim countries within the last three decades.

This has helped foster not only the rise of terrorist activities but also the persecution of Australian Muslims.

The situation has been exacerbated by ruthless government policies towards asylum seekers. Many of them are Muslims, and the present government describes them as “illegal immigrants” who should driven from our shores by “border protection” forces.

The Prime Minister called on Muslim leaders to condemn terrorism and “mean it”, implying that they actually sympathised with terrorists. His government has been almost totally silent about the rise of Reclaim Australia.

Right and wrong tactics

The second lesson emanating from the demonstrations by Reclaim Australia is that there are right and wrong ways of dealing with its presence and activities.

It’s true that people demonstrating for human rights must defend themselves from physical attack. But the Reclaim Australia tactic, exemplified by Moerland’s Brisbane denunciation of counter-demonstators as “traitors”, is to provoke a violent reaction so that its opponents are seen as the aggressors, or at least equally at fault for the violence.

In the 1960s US civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King, marchers trained themselves to respond to provocation with non-violent action.

Unfortunately, similar tactics were not adopted by some participants during the recent “Reclaim Australia” counter-demonstration in Melbourne. The likelihood of an eruption of violence was boosted by one group’s declaration that the Reclaim Australia rally provided a golden opportunity to shut it down, that “the neo-Nazis … must be swept off the Streets” and its recommendation to “drive the violent white supremacists out of stolen aboriginal land!”.

As a result during the Melbourne confrontation Reclaim Australia’s chant of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi. Oi” was met with shouts of “Fuck off racists” by some of the counter demonstrators, accompanied by spitting, punches and bloodshed on both sides.

Some counter-demonstrators also burnt an Australian flag, immediately lending weight to Reclaim Australia’s phoney claim to be the nation’s defenders.

Not all the counter-demonstrators took the bait, but those who did provided the abiding public image of the day’s events in Melbourne.

According to journalist Martin Mackenzie-Murray, “The anti-reclaim protestors organised themselves with guerrilla tactics and spoke in similarly militaristic terms as their opponents. For them, Federation Square was not a place to be symbolically reclaimed, but physically so. Their stated intention was to ‘disrupt’ the Reclaim march. There were no niceties here.”

Adelaide pastor Brad Chilcott observed with regard to the public’s impression of events: “Your audience is not the racists you’re shouting at, but the people watching at home. … [But] those watching at home … couldn’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad. Then politicians have to condemn the violence on both sides, rather than [giving] an undiluted message condemning bigotry.”

Federal Labor MP Tim Watts commented: “…the way to convince people at home is not by burning flags, screaming or spitting. It’s about minimising and isolating”. It’s also about persuasion. It would be a grave mistake to assume that Reclaim supporters are incapable of changing their minds.

Events in Adelaide were very different from those in Melbourne. Brad Chilcott had worked out non-violent “subtle and symbolic” strategies in conjunction with local Muslim leaders, and even though they had to abandon some events (including a mass communal picnic) because of public safety concerns, nevertheless the counter-demonstration there was peaceful.

Demonstrations last weekend in Sydney and elsewhere in support of asylum seekers were also successful, despite Reclaim Australia’s attempts at disruption.

We must adopt appropriate tactics to restrict the growth and influence of Reclaim Australia, and we should not underestimate its influence. We should remember that the rise of fascism in Europe was facilitated by economic depression, by its appeals to sections of the working class and by the failure of governments to take action against it.

Next article – 50 truths: Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution

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