The racist, anti-Islam “Reclaim Australia” rallies managed to attract a few hundred people each on Easter Saturday—but they are a dangerous sign that months of Abbott’s official racism and dog-whistling is giving encouragement to the far right.
The far right organisers of the rallies went to considerable lengths to show a softer face—saying they were not racist and they were not against all Muslims—only the extremists. But it was their extremism that was on display at the rallies.
The racist protests openly targeted Islam, with official demands including banning the burqa, halal food and sharia law.
Sherman Burgess, who calls himself “the Great Aussie Patriot” was a speaker in Sydney, and his racist videos have been posted by the “Reclaim Australia” Facebook pages nationwide. Burgess is a member of the Australia Defence League and has links to a range of neo-Nazi groups.
Despite the desperate appeals from the organisers to leave neo-Nazi regalia at home there were banners from the street-fighting English Defence League in Sydney, skinheads sporting Nazi tattoos in Melbourne, and a man with a Greek Golden Dawn t-shirt in Brisbane. Well-know Nazi Jim Saleam, self-styled leader of the Australia First Party, attended the Sydney protest.
In Brisbane, Pauline Hanson addressed the rally.
The “Reclaim Australia” rallies were met by counter-demonstrations across the country—although it was only in Melbourne that they were clearly outnumbered, 800 to 500. In Canberra, there were 25 of them and 30 anti-racists, while in Sydney around 120 anti-racists to their 250, with similar figures in Brisbane. In Perth, 120 anti-racists confronted a protest of 400.
The anti-racist counter-rallies were important to confront and expose the far right that is behind Reclaim Australia. But we will need to organise larger numbers if they mobilise again.
Like its counter-parts overseas in the UK or Pegida in Germany, the far right in Australia is now attempting to use Islamophobia to build its support. Mainstream Islamophobia, fuelled by Tony Abbott’s contempt for Aboriginal people, his notion of “Team Australia”, scare-mongering about national security and efforts to blame and scapegoat the Muslim community, has laid the basis for racist ideas to become more acceptable. Abbott’s racism has already led to increased violent attacks on Muslims and mosques.
The nationally co-ordinated rallies are the first time in recent years that the far right has drawn any substantial numbers to their demonstrations. Most of those present were not hard core Nazis. The far right is attempting to draw a slightly bigger crowd of bigoted Islamophobes with the aim of turning them into racist thugs.
The anti-racist counter-rallies were important in sending a signal that their attempts to mobilise on the streets will be resisted. Pauline Hanson and One Nation were beaten last time both by mobilising against their public meetings as well as pointing to the racism from John Howard and his policies that created divisions and fuelled it.
In Germany counter-demonstrations that have outnumbered the Pegida anti-Muslim protests have thrown the racists into crisis.
In Melbourne, where anti-racists outnumbered them and heckled everyone trying to get to their rally, the Reclaim Australia organisers have taken to Facebook to complain about their treatment.
The far right have called a protest against halal food in Sydney next weekend. We need to confront them wherever we can. If Reclaim Australia tries to call rallies again, we need bigger anti-racist protests supported by unions, Greens and Labor Party members. Shamefully, while ALP leader Bill Shorten said fears of sharia law were “exaggerated”, he didn’t condemn the racism of Reclaim Australia.
Most importantly, to keep the right on the run, we have to keep up the fight against Abbott—to fight his budget cuts, stop the Islamophobia, end the terror scare-mongering, free the refugees, and stop his attacks on Aboriginal rights.
By James Supple