Features Australia

It’s not racism, stupid

24 November 2016

3:00 PM

24 November 2016

3:00 PM

Those who accused Bill Leak of racism over his cartoon and see racism in Pauline Hanson’s policies on migration make the same mistake; they reach for their racism six shooter in its holster by their side (worn on the left) because they don’t recognise what they see. It must, therefore be racism. But in the case of the Leak cartoon, that slur is so silly as to be unworthy of much comment; it doesn’t pass the racism test. Neither did the QUT students case, rightly dismissed but wrongly too late.

Turning to Pauline Hanson and One Nation, regularly labelled racist, even by smart folk like ex-PM Paul Keating who, quoted in the Weekend Australian by Troy Bramston on November 12/13, says John Howard’s government ‘gave Pauline Hanson some space in the public debate and let racism out and run again.’ But Keating is far from alone; everyone critical of Hanson does it. And everyone is wrong, because they can’t find the word they are looking for. It doesn’t exist – yet.

What Hanson is arguing – along with Donald Trump, Hungary’s Viktor Orban and millions around Europe and the UK – is not along racist lines. What these people are expressing are well-grounded concerns that their own culture, not their race, is under threat from culture or cultures that threaten to subsume or overpower or simply disrupt their culture. When was it that Christmas greetings turned into the politically correct Happy Holidays?

More importantly, why?

It is arguable that political correctness turbocharges the cultural conflict. This is just one aspect of political correctness, a willingness to treat Judeo-Christian traditions as disposable in the face of an incoming culture, whether in the UK, US or Australia. This is both territorial and cultural, bound together in the age of mass migration. But it is a visceral fear, not a phobia. A phobia is irrational. That’s why there is no such thing as Islamophobia. The fear of Muslim-inspired terrorism is lived experience, observable data. But there is the other factor: the vast cultural chasm between Islam and our western culture. It is far more than religious, and involves every aspect of life, from dress code to moral code to the code of the law.


In the absence of a better understanding of this culture-clash phenomenon, the easy, lazy or mistaken response is ‘racist’. Or more precisely, ‘RACIST!’ And that is where the debate ends.

This misunderstanding of the antipathy towards (primarily) Muslims also feeds into the migration debate, where compassion is conflated with PC to irrational levels. The open borders argument is never challenged by reality. ‘Let them come’ is never required to take responsibility, to manage, to fund, such an influx and to put a cap on the unregulated inflow. A million? What then about the other 14 or so million? (The regulated inflow of thousands of migrants and refugees is not even considered.) So let them come… until what? Like Angela Merkel, we should just let everyone seeking refuge into the country – if they can get here alive?

As Merkel now recognises, ‘let them come’ is not a policy, it’s a sentiment. And it’s a disaster in cultural, humanitarian and social terms for her country and for the refugees. The sentiment overtook the pragmatism. She could have been Wonder Woman had she corralled Europe and the nations in the region to rapidly establish proximity-located, high quality, Germanly efficient processing centres – at shared cost – and pressed the Arab nations to carry some of the load, both financially and as hosts.

Hungary quickly put up a fence, much to the disgust of the politcally correct, to control its border in the face of hundreds of thousands responding to Merkel’s invitation, by making their way on foot towards Europe and Germany in particular. The fence was an emphasis of the existing border. What is a border if not a notional fence or wall? It is meant to be crossed only by permission, surely? Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall also shocks the PC brigade; it’s so heartless. Heartless. Mexicans should be able to make the illegitimate crossing of the border without having to hit a brick wall – or what?

In the case of Mexicans, they are not a cultural threat, fear of which can be mis-characterised as racist, but economic migrants. Given the high volume of Mexicans – legal and illegal – living in America unmolested for their ethnicity, it can hardly be said that it’s a racist policy. Trump was not suggesting deporting legal Mexican migrants.

On Islam, One Nation states that ‘its religious aspect is fraud: it is rather a totalitarian political system, including legal, economic, social and military components, masquerading as a religion.’ This is clearly wrong. It is a religion as well as a militant ideology and that’s why its extremist followers are hailed as martrys and death does not deter them.

But disparaging One Nation as a racist party is a simplistic (not to mention illogical) response to a complex socio-political issue that must be confronted and discussed: how has and how will Australia’s Muslim population – in all its diverse manifestations from benign to belligerent – integrate? With hate and radicalism alive in some mosques, young Muslims from our suburbs joining Isis (as the security agencies report), how can we simply shout ‘racist’ at anyone pointing this out? Are we complicit in our own destruction?

The result of the loud and consistent claims of racism is deadening debate and damaging democracy. It only divides us. Of course you would have to be naïve to think that a genuine debate is wanted by those who make such accusations. But it is vital that they do not silence the voices of rationality, that they do not frighten those who would defend the Bill Leaks and QUT students against the false claims of racism, because that kind of bullying leads to ever-worsening bullying.

Bill Leak’s cartoon of November 12/13 perfectly captures the hypocrisy and the danger, as a furious crowd clutching banners ‘love’ ‘peace’ ‘respect’ ‘tolerance’ and clubs, screaming ‘KILL THE FASCIST! KILL THE FASCIST!’ chase a frightened man carrying the placard ‘democracy’.

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