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Issue #1759      November 30, 2016


Racism and the fear factor

A few years ago American left-wing satirist and political commentator Michael Moore conducted a revealing social experiment in New York City. He had an actor put on a police uniform, stand on the footpath near a busy street and approach passing citizens, ordering them to “step to one side” and put their hands against a wall while he conducted a search of their person and belongings. And people complied, mostly without question.

Moore’s purpose was to ask: how had a state of affairs come about where people accept violations of their privacy and civil liberties as a routine part of daily life? The answer was fear: fear of terrorist attacks through constant fear mongering from government of danger from without and within; fear of other countries, other cultures, other nationalities, other religions than their own.

It is a form of social conditioning now being practiced by the Turnbull government and others before it, in the more recent past to the attacks on the US in 2001, and the 2003 war on Iraq involving the then Howard government here in Australia.

The creation of non-existent, threatening demons in the public mind is not a new tactic. In the 19th century it was the “Asian hoards” who were about to swamp Australia, a racist beat up that still resonates to this day. There was the “Red scare” during the Cold War; following World War II it was migrants who were “taking Australian jobs”. And now, after more than 200 years the racist demonising of Indigenous Australians is proceeding at a frenetic pace under the racist Abbott/Turnbull government policies.

Of course, all the scenarios these campaigns were based on have been shown over and over again to have no basis in reality, but they achieved their goals to one degree or another, creating divisions in society, establishing racist stereotypes and perpetuating deeply engrained prejudices based on fear.

Internationally, since launching the war on terror, the US and its allies have attacked and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq; bombed Libya and assassinated its president; killed thousands in drone attacks in Pakistan, Yeman and Somalia, imposed various devastating sanctions; backed Israel’s occupation and dispossession of the Palestinians; carried out large scale torture, kidnapping and internment without trial.

Imperialist war in the Muslim world has fed a toxic tide of Islamophobia in Europe, the US and Australia.

Fairfax journalist Ruby Hamad, in a recent column in The Age newspaper, stated that as a Lebanese Australian, “I have never experienced such uncertainty and despair”. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s racist slur against the children of Lebanese migrants who came here escaping conflict more than 40 years ago drew a rapier response from Hamad.

“In a political climate where populist parties are gaining favour on the back of a vehemently anti-Muslim platform, these words don’t come as a shock. But they should. They should because no one should be demonised and dehumanised in this way.”

Further, “I was going to implore you to consider the many tens of thousands of Lebanese Australians who have enriched this society we live in. But I am through trying to convince people of my humanity.” She notes also that this retrospective demonising of Lebanese refugees from 40 years ago is being used to justify the treatment of refugees today.

“And while a petition is seeking Dutton’s censure from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the truth is we have long passed the point of mere apologies and denunciations. If we are ever to claw our way out of this hole it has to start now.”

Because the premise of this current promotion of fear and loathing is so patently false – emphasised by the lies that were used as pretext for the war on Iraq – all stops are out to intensify the perception that we are under constant threat of a terrorist attack.

The attempt to use the fear factor to impose absolute control through police state powers is also not new: its ultimate manifestation is called fascism. Our civil and democratic rights are not figments of the imagination but real freedoms won over many years of struggle by the Australian people. Their violation and destruction are unacceptable and must be defeated.

Next article – Viva Fidel! – Message of condolence on the passing of Fidel Castro

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