The last refuge of scoundrel Abbott
Bellicose and racist jingoism is the last refuge of scoundrel Prime Minister Tony Abbott. His February 23 “National Security Statement” was blatant incitement of hatred, bigotry and suspicion against Australia's Muslim minority. Muslims were branded as the hostile “other” in this speech, as Randa Abdel-Fattah, an award-winning author, former lawyer and Australian of Muslim background, demonstrated in her recent opinion piece on the Al-Jazeera news site. “The message was unequivocal and unapologetic,” she wrote. “The rhetoric, totalising and dehumanising. Australian Muslims were invested with meanings that positioned them as the antagonists of 'Australian values', as exploitative, duplicitous and problematic 'guests'. “Muslim community leaders were exhorted, yet again, to 'speak up clearly' against terror, the clear implication being that they had either been silent or ambiguous in their response to terrorist attacks committed by Muslims. The statement was bewildering given the countless fatwas and statements and press releases and sermons and community projects that have clearly and unequivocally denounced terror in the name of Islam ...” Abbott declared: "I've often heard western leaders describe Islam as a religion of peace. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it." His purpose, explained Abdel-Fattah, was to “firmly entrench in the national psyche not only that Australian Muslims are not to be trusted, but that Islam and Muslims are complicit in the 'death-cult' ISIL. “That Abbott rebukes Muslim leaders for not describing Islam thus makes his meaning clear: Western leaders are foolish and misinformed to view Islam in this way given even Muslims don't go so far as to describe Islam as a religion of peace.” Islamophobia is already rife in Australia. Muslims and people rightly or wrongly perceived to be of Muslim background face daily abuse and violence. Women have been thrown off trains, abused and spat on, mosques and proposals to build mosques have been attacked. Abbott demands that the last remaining tranche of his government's new “security laws” –to give authorities access to metadata from all our smartphones and computers – be promptly passed by federal parliament. Laws giving spook agencies more powers and creating broad and arbitrary powers to criminalise people simply for visiting certain designated global hotspots (the so-called “foreign fighters” law) were passed last year with the support of the ALP. Abbott said that his government was working on measures to strengthen Australia's already draconian and inhumane immigration laws and make amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act to give government the power to revoke or suspend Australian citizenship in the case of dual nationals and suspend some of the privileges of citizenship for Australian nationals “involved in terrorism”. Civil rights organisations, lawyers and even the former national security legislation monitor Bret Walker have expressed their concerns at Abbott's argument that civil and democratic rights need to be traded for “protection” from terrorists. If the Abbott government succeeds in terrorising the opposition into trading off more of our rights and freedoms in the name of “anti-terrorism” it won't be addressing the real problems, which are rooted in Western imperial war and plunder in the oil-rich Middle East, not in religious fanaticism. The latter is a product of the former and no amount of bellicose ranting by Western politicians is going to change that reality. The public is expected to ignore the political context of war and terror today and accept a simplistic myth that it is all the fault of dishonest Muslims who have supposedly abused “the hospitality and generosity of the Australian people”. But what the bigoted rants of Abbott and his like can do is distract some people from the real issues of the growing systemic inequality on global and national levels. In Australia, the Abbott government has demonstrably failed to persuade the great majority of people of their campaign to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Abbott's 2014 budget remains largely dead in the water because it is seen as doing just this. All the usual political buttons are not working as they once did for the Abbott government. Even the populist scapegoating of refugees has been shaken by a backlash against Abbott's latest furious attack on the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, for daring to tell the truth about the systematic abuse of children in Australia's immigration detention camps. This abuse of children, of course, is but a part of Australia's scandalous treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. And so the scoundrel Abbott has turned to whipping up anti-Muslim bigotry. Ironically, one of Abbott's foreshadowed new tough measures is a “clampdown on organisations that incite religious or racial hatred”. Will that clampdown apply to his Liberal party?