On November 22, anti-Muslim racists Reclaim Australia held their third day of national rallies. This time Reclaim focused on two anti-mosque campaigns, in Melton, in outer Melbourne, and in Buchanan, near Cessnock in New South Wales, while the neo-fascist group United Patriots Front mobilised in Perth.
Counter-rallies are needed against Reclaim. However, the focus on physical confrontation with the racists and police that has been a feature of most of the counter-rallies is not the strategy the movement needs.
In Melton, a mosque has recently been approved and an Islamic School will soon be opened. More hardcore racists and fascists are involved in such anti-mosque campaigns to build themselves. Some racists, including Pauline Hanson, who spoke at the Reclaim rally in Townsville, Queensland, have tried to use the Paris attacks to boost anti-Muslim sentiment.
It is the anti-Muslim fear campaign coming from the politicians and the media that is creating the space for this.
Around 300 demonstrated in Sydney against a 50-strong Reclaim rally, one of their smallest turnouts. But the focus on confrontation led the Socialist Alternative chair of the rally to try to lead a march away from the Reclaim rally and into police lines, outraging and alienating many of those present.
Speakers and organisers drafted an open letter in response, calling for a broad, united, political campaign. This means responding to anti-Islam myths in the media and mobilising against government policies that fuel racism.
In a climate where Muslims who dare to speak out over terror laws, war and racism are vilified (such as the Grand Mufti) building trust and solidarity with the Muslim community is a crucial task.
Large demonstrations are key to building confidence and showing the Muslim community that they have wider support. This means winning the support of groups like trade unions and refugee supporters to explicitly oppose Islamophobia.
The fascination of Socialist Alternative and some others with faux militancy—small numbers aiming to physically confront Reclaim—will not work. The police mobilise in their hundreds to protect the Reclaim rallies. Outnumbering the racists is the key to demoralising them, showing their views are isolated, and that they will be actively opposed.
The communities in Melton, Bendigo and Cessnock need support against the racists who are trying to use mosques to whip up anti-Muslim feelings in these depressed communities. This means a focus on grassroots organising.
To counter Reclaim Australia, we need to build a broader movement. And we need a focus on the Islamophobia from the top of society that is feeding the far right fringe.
By Amy Thomas