Feb 16, 2013

The forthcoming adventures of Geert Wilders Down Under

“Join us for an evening with an exceptional politician, author, and very brave man.” That’s the message on the Q society flyer, although another way of putting it would be “Pay

Shakira Hussein

Writer and academic in multiculturalism

“Join us for an evening with an exceptional politician, author, and very brave man.” That’s the message on the Q society flyer, although another way of putting it would be “Pay $66 to a shadowy fringe organisation for the dubious privilege of listening to a visiting racist hate-monger”. Next week, Dutch MP and far-right figurehead Geert Wilders will commence the Australian speaking tour which was postponed last year after delays in processing his visa.

Wilders’ Australian tour will presumably help fulfil his New Year’s resolution for 2013, which as he told the Dutch TV channel NOS is that “Next to all things about Europe and the economic situation, the people will hear from our resistance against the Islamization of the Netherlands. I will intensify this battle, both in the Netherlands, but also internationally from Australia to America to Switzerland, or anywhere else.”

As outlined in an op-ed by Paul Sheehan, the Q society is highlighting the controversial nature of their event – the elaborate security measures, the cancelled venue bookings, the failure of most politicians to accept their invitation to meet their guest. Even Cory Bernardi, who met with Wilders last year during a visit to the Netherlands and promised him a warm welcome Down Under, has found himself otherwise engaged. This, Sheehan claims, underlines Wilders point by “illustrat[ing] the double-speak, double-standards and fear that exists when it comes to the subject for which Wilders is notorious – confronting Muslim extremism.”

However, the consensus response from Muslim community leaders in Australia has been muted by a reluctance to grant the attention-seeking Wilders the kinds of alarmist publicity on which he so clearly thrives. The Australian reports that while Muslim community leaders expect a some “hotheads” to speak out against Wilders’ visit, no formal protests are planned. The report quotes prominent educator and community leader Silma Ihram as saying “The general line from our community is ‘no response’…the guy’s a nutcase, he’s losing popularity, so why give him something to respond to?” Non-Muslim politicians and commentators have also attempted to calm apprehension with reassuring remarks about how Wilders’s racism is unlikely to generate a receptive response in Australia. Australian multiculturalism has been far more successful than its European counterparts, enjoying support across the social and political spectrum. All Australians (well, most of them) loves multiculturalism – even if some of them (yes, I’m looking at you, Scott Morrison) add “but”.

I agree both with the tactics of the major Muslim community groups and with the assessments stating that the Australian far-right holds far less support than its European counterpart – yet I find myself adding some “buts” of my own. The centre of Australian politics has shifted so far to the right that the tiniest step further has you rubbing shoulders with Genghis Khan. With a rising death-toll of asylum-seekers en route to Australia, the stop-the-boats slogan has been reconfigured as a humanitarian rather than a security issue. However, reports emerging from Manus Island and Nauru are making it more and more difficult to see the Pacific Solution #2 as a compassionate policy. And while the anguish of some of those who now advocate the removal of the incentive to make such a dangerous voyage is undoubted, for many others the concern for the safety of asylum-seekers provides only a thin veneer for the type of invasion-fear mongering on which Wilders has built his career. “Beastly Bernardi” may have been shifted to the backbench in the wake of one too many embarrassing remarks, but it serves his party’s interests to keep him on board to mop up the demographic that might otherwise find itself another Pauline Hanson as an outlet for their disaffection.

As for the current sentiment among Muslims in Australia, it’s difficult to assess whether we are really experiencing a lower level of discrimination and harassment or whether we’ve become so inured to it that it’s just become background noise. Anti-Muslim racism has become the acceptable form of racism because (as we are endlessly informed) Islam is a religion, not a race. According to Geert Wilders, it isn’t even a religion – it’s a dangerous political ideology whose holy book is on par with Mein Kampf.

The resilience to withstand sensationalist media coverage and opportunist political vilification is a necessary survival skill, but there is a price to be paid. The level-headed response from community leaders is the type of advice given to children in the face of schoolyard bullying. “They’re only doing it for attention. Just ignore them until they get bored and go away.”

It’s often sound advice. Certainly, physical threats and attacks on Wilders and his ilk have only added to their credibility. But Muslims are caught between a rock and a hard place. It is difficult to urge restraint without contributing to the marginalisation of “hotheads” who for the most part are only exercising the free speech that Wilders proclaims to be a prime virtue. There are limits to the benefits of quietude. The challenge lies in challenging Wilders’ toxic views without providing him with further ammunition.


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6 thoughts on “The forthcoming adventures of Geert Wilders Down Under

  1. james tom

    You stand on the wrong side of history.
    Time and time again, it’s Muslim against Muslim and then Muslim against all others.
    You accuse us of racial vilification, why don’t you do the same for all the fruity clerics out there…
    It wouldn’t be an issue if you guys wouldn’t be an issue……simple
    Every other culture has settled in Australia with no problems, except muzzies.
    Stupid and uninformed news column.
    You also forget islam is not a race, so the racial vilification is not an argument. Get your facts right, or is this another form of Islamic truth?

  2. dexter bland

    “Australian multiculturalism has been far more successful than its European counterparts”

    You can’t ignore the possibility that this because there are far fewer immigrants from Muslim countries. Australia has successfully absorbed immigrants of various races (notably East Asian) and the interaction has had benefits for everyone. The European experience is quite different. Muslim communities in Europe set themselves part, become ghettoized. This can’t be blamed solely on ostracism or intolerance, it is in keeping with Islam.

    The professed desire to adopt and live by their own laws is of particular concern to the broader community. Dual legal systems are already openly operating in some European countries with limited, though expanding, scope. It is this creeping Islamization that Wilders is warning of. We should be encouraging immigrants to adopt our own standards with regards to religious tolerance, women’s rights, gay rights, even if they conflict with Islam (and they do). This does not preclude people from enjoying their own culture, or sharing it with us.

  3. JamesK

    I have to say that this staggeringly ignorant commentary but not unexpected given the source.

    although another way of putting it would be “Pay $66 to a shadowy fringe organisation for the dubious privilege of listening to a visiting racist hate-monger”

    Is Hussein so blithely and breathtakingly ignorant that the reason the Q Society is “shadowy” is for the same reason Geert Wilders is brave?

    It’s also salient to point out that some 7 years ago, Theo Van Gogh, a filmmaker, had made a film about Islam which was about the oppression of the women under Islam in certain countries — an Islamist in Holland caught him in the middle of the street in broad daylight, slit his throat and impaled a knife on his chest with a letter on the knife which threatened the life of a Dutch woman Muslim MP, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had helped him on that script.

    She is now in the United States more or less as asylum-seeker.

    Is she too an extreme right-wing racist hate-monger, Shakira?

    Wilders concerns aren’t racist as his op-ed in the Australian makes clear they are theological. His contention is that Islam, as set forth in the teachings of the Koran, “commands Muslims to exercise jihad…to establish shariah law [and]…to impose Islam on the entire world.”

    Some, euphemistically termed Islamists, are overt and active about this but many many so-called moderate Muslims rarely decry it and look the other way.

    Turkey’s current Prime Minister Erdogan, commenting in August 2007 on the term “moderate Islam” (frequently used in the West to describe his ruling political party, the AKP) stated, “These descriptions are very ugly. It is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.”

  4. david

    Shakira, what we have become so inured to is the constant massacring, murdering, maiming and mistreatment of Muslims by fellow Muslims, who happen to belong to a different sect, and of Muslims toward non-Muslims. We ignore the facts of history at our peril. The stormtrooper-like tactics that have been used to try to stop Geert Wilders from speaking in Australia emphasise the true seriousness of the situation.

  5. Iain Hall

    why do you argue that Islam is a race?
    its a religion/ideology that sadly has a rather strong tendency towards totalitarian thinking.

  6. Sholto Douglas

    You neglect to mention that many Muslims in Holland, as here, have worked extremely hard to acquire their bad reputation. Merely attributing it to that convenient lefty bete noir, white racism, is just a lazy copout.
    Wilders does not campaign against, say, Chinese or Korean migrants, and he would get no traction if he did. That traction is based on the fact that the Dutch, like most societies playing host to a Muslim minority, have been given good reason to hold that minority in fear and suspicion. Sure, most Muslims are benign and peaceful, but then so are most British soccer fans. It does not require everyone to be bad, or even a majority, just a large enough minority. It’s a fact of life, not of racism.
    You would be better employed directing your anger at the hotheads in your own community rather than spraying the ‘R’ word at everyone else.
    I agree that if Muslims and their leftist bedfellows let Wilders’ tour go ahead without the anticipated thuggery, then Wilders’ arguemnts will fall rather flat. It’s a big if, though.

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