Trip Report: Racist rally in Sydney.

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There are no politicians pushing for Sharia Law in Australia. There aren’t even any Muslims in parliament. There aren’t many Muslims in general in fact, they make up less than 2% of the population. There are more Buddhists. Representationally, this would mean you’d expect there to be at least 2 or 3 at either a state or federal level in government. But there are none. Well, in 2002 Adem Somyurek, a non-practising Muslim of Turkish descent, was elected to the upper house of the Victorian parliament, and Ed Husic had a shot as the ALP candidate for the federal seat of Greenway in 2004, but he lost. He was running against a member of Hillsong Church. Someone knew that his religion was political poison, and used it against him, distributing a fraudulent pamphlet claiming that he was running on a muslim platform.

So it is at least in part due to efforts such as those that people are convinced we are actually experiencing a dangerous wave of Islamification. In spite of the fact that Sharia simply doesn’t exist in the political agenda, groups such as the ADL (Australian Defense League) see it as a very real threat, and on a sunny saturday in July they took to Martin Place to hold a protest rally.

It began at midday with a handful of people, perhaps a couple of dozen, and easily twice as many police. They were out in force, with the riot squad, horses, patrols the whole lot. Clearly they were taking no chances with such a hot button non-issue. After about 15 minutes, another handful of lads, dressed in Tapout hoodies and high vis vests, holding an Australian flag banner chanting “A, A, A D L”, stormed across the intersection to join their buddies. There were jubilant handslaps; in spite of the small turn out their spirits seemed high. They shouted a bit more, some ‘Aussie Aussie Aussies’ and ‘No Sharias’, and our curiosity was piqued. How much of a threat is Sharia really? Should people be able to practice their own religion? What if it inhibits integration? Does it make it harder for other Muslims? How do they feel about multiculturalism, or Muslims in general?

Ultimately it was storm in a tea cup stuff. They were expecting a turn out of over 500 people, on the day there would have been between 50 and 100. This has prompted the leader of the ADL to denounce them all from his cell down in Melbourne, saying on facebook ‘“i’ll fucking going home back to the EDL if numbers don’t get there, this is pathetic” [sic].

Yes, his cell. Martin Brennan, the head of an organisation largely based around complaining about illegal immigrants, has turned out to be an illegal immigrant himself, and has been arrested for overstaying his visa. He is now locked up at Maribyrnong Detention Centre. The irony is of course staggering, and fortunately enough, not lost on everyone present. One of the organsiers of the protest at least had the consistency to agree that with the facts as they are Brennan should indeed be deported, and he acknowledged the absurdity of the situation with a wry smile.

The whole thing really was a more reasonable than I was expecting. Having seen the stark raving lunacy of far-right demonstrations in America, I was expecting a bit more of a show from the day, but it seemed largely lack lustre.

They can produce quite a lot of energetic venom online, but it doesn’t seem to translate to an offline setting. Kylie Mariee, for example, posted on the event’s facebook page “For those that did not show support today — Im greatly disappointed in you … You should start some inner dialogue with yourself about whether you consider yourself Australian, whether the future of all other Australians, your children, grandchildren and this (once was) beautiful country is worth fighting for. Your lack of support today reflects that you are not, and they are not.”

There can be no doubting their sincerity. It is something they feel passionately about, and so good on them for standing up for what they believe in. But are they actually doing something worthwhile? Or are they merely exacerbating the problem by adding more fuel to the fire? This was the main thing I wanted to find out, weather they were helping the situation by highlighting a serious problem, or harming it by contributing to a divide full of ignorant spite and animosity.

The fact that we have seen Islam used as a political weapon against candidates is indicative of its public perception within certain sections of society. Many Australians associate Islam with something undesirable. It’s foreign, they have big beards, they dress different, pray at odd times, and their extremists are arguably some of the most extreme around. But the fact remains, the vast majority of Muslims want nothing to do with Sharia or its hardline advocates.

When we look closely at the hardcore elements, we find it is in fact largely down to one single guy — Ibrahim Saddiq Colon. He has a group, Sharia4Australia, who’s alphanumeric title is pretty self explanatory. He acts like he is the leader of a serious band of hard line Islamists, but he has accomplished absolutely nothing in terms of the advancement of his cause, except for consistently winding the ADL up into a froth. Like we’ve said, there are exactly zero politicians even talking about implementing Sharia law. There aren’t even any Muslims in parliament. It is a non-issue. But you have people like Colon running around talking about it, and that is enough to get the ADL down to Martin Place to scream and shout. They are worried that even absent any political representation, it is the fringe social groups that are the cause for concern. Even though you could fit them all in a small shed.

Ultimately I can’t help but feel that it’s counter productive, from both sides. Colon makes himself look like a clown, tarnishing the image of Islam in the process, and the ADL only give far more exposure to the issue of Sharia law than it would otherwise get. At the end of it, we have news stories fostering an atmosphere of difference, and the cycle continues, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,

So if there’s no actual danger, then why are they there? The obvious answer is racism, and it is one which is understandably aimed at them often. When asked, they take the time to painstakingly elucidate that they aren’t racist. They’re not against Muslims or any other cultures, they’re just against Sharia. Their placards and facebook walls, however, suggest otherwise. The language they use is at best careless, and at worse deliberately inflammatory. They stigamatise Muslims, and make the ADL look like racists in the process. Their sound bite rhetoric simply comes across as ‘We don’t like Muslims’.

Muslims of course, like anyone else, are generally decent people. And, like anyone else, there are unsavoury characters amongst the crowd. The main example of this is Christian Martinez case, who was allegedly lashed 40 times with an electric cable as a religious punishment under Sharia for drinking alcohol.

There is no doubt, someone getting whipped with electrical wire is horrible, and should not be tolerated by anyone. But the fact is, people of all cultures torment each other all the time, in all sorts of ways. When the Trinity boys built the Anaconda — a thick wooden dildo — and raped each other with it, we didn’t try to pin it as a white Anglo Saxon issue. It was just notched up ‘people being violent and mean to each other’.

Same with the riots in Vancouver after the Stanley Cup Finals — people fighting innocent women, destroying property, burning things — did anyone try to ban hockey? Did the ADL take to the streets the next day to protest Canadian immigration? Of course not. Even though hockey was the direct cause and the motivation for this behaviour, in reality it was just stupid people doing stupid things.

At the rally there was a woman with pictures of ladies’ faces who had been abused by Sharia Law, and I asked if she was suggesting that domestic abuse was an exclusively Islamic phenomenon. She conceded that it wasn’t, but maintained this was different because these attacks were motivated by Sharia. But if violence so obviously exists independently of Islamic inspiration, how could Islam really be the problem?

This is not to say that we should just ignore it. Those men must be arrested, and any attempts to spread this kind of behaviour, through Sharia Law or otherwise, must be stopped. Australia is a free and secular Democracy, and there is no place for theocratic law of any kind.

What must be acknowledged, however, is that the rest of the Muslim community vehemently condemn these kinds of attacks, and want nothing to do with Sharia in any form. They have a lot more at stake in the issue than the non muslim community. For us it’s an ugly headline once in a while, for them it is a blight on their harmonious existence in Australian society. They are wedged in between Colon and his croonies trying to foist their nonsense on to them, and in turn have to face the reprisals of groups like the ADL. They’re stuck with the worst of both worlds.

So we need to mindful of this. To their credit, some of the protesters at the rally were. They made at least a token effort to distinguish between the extremists like Conlon and the rest of the faith.

Colon shouldn’t be allowed to get away with the rot he spouts, but it must be dealt with in the proper fashion, one which singles him out as a crazy loner, and welcomes a free and accepting multicultural society. We can work this out yet.

Just trying to figure it out

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