The Guardian November 27, 2002


Howard's racist divide & rule

by Marcus Browning

The Howard Government's support for a proposal to outlaw the wearing of 
traditional Muslim clothing is an incitement to racial and religious 
hatred. Racism has been a central plank of the Howard Government's 
political platform from the time of its election in 1996, be it racist 
slurs against Indigenous Australians, the demonising and dehumanising of 
asylum seekers or its paternalistic arrogance toward Australia's Asia-
Pacific neighbours.

It was the Reverend Fred Nile, the Christian Democrat NSW MP, who fanned 
the flames of hatred, calling for traditional Islamic dress to be banned by 
law.

Nile, better known for his Christian fundamentalist homophobia, speaking in 
the state Parliament said: "Is it a fact that the Islamic female terrorists 
in Hamburg, Germany, and in the recent Muslim attack in Moscow, Russia, 
wore the black chador body covering of Iran and Saudi Arabia?"

His diatribe  at one and the same instance racist, sexist and full of the 
bile of religious hatred  was intended to make all Australian Muslim 
women subjects of public fear and suspicion and a target for violence. It 
bore its bitter fruit the next day with an assault on two women wearing the 
chador in Sydney.

The objective of vilifying the faith of Islam itself was also clear as Nile 
continued: "Is it a fact that such total body covering completely conceals 
a person's identity, even whether the wearer is male of female  which is 
a perfect disguise for terrorists as it conceals both weapons and 
explosives ."

He concluded with a call to his fellow Christian fundamentalist, John 
Howard: "In view of the new terrorist threat and as part of our new 
Australian security precautions, will the Government consider a prohibition 
on the wearing of the chador?"

Howard was accommodating. In a radio interview his sham ambiguity did not 
veil his obvious support. "I don't have a clear response to what Fred has 
put. I mean, I like Fred and I don't always agree with him, but you know 
Fred speaks for a lot of people." And: "Sometimes you don't have a flat yes 
or no on something like this. Different people of goodwill will have a 
different view."

Clearly, Nile and Howard have their lines of communications open. Nile also 
wants a ban of the wearing of the hijab Muslim scarf by students in state 
schools in the name of "unity and tolerance".

The agenda of the extreme right, including the Christian right, has 
emerged.

Specifically, it is for the imposition of dictatorial rule by the means of 
rabid anti-democratic laws enforced by police, the military and spy 
agencies.

It involves the censorship and the silencing of views that differ to those 
of the Government. This includes an attack on multiculturalism, diversity 
of values and beliefs, and the right to dissent, to organise and to 
protest.

The intent is to maintain an atmosphere heavy with suspicion and fear with 
such tactics as the call for public vigilance and last week's vague warning 
of a terrorist attack; that someone, somewhere in Australia between now and 
next year will use undefined weapons of mass destruction.

Stoking the fires of racial and religious hatred is an essential part of 
divide-and-rule tactics.

But the insistent war propaganda, now coupled with the threat of terrorism 
against Australia, is evidence that not everything is going to plan for 
Howard and his cronies.

There is strong community opposition to war. There have been revelations 
about the essentially conspiratorial and underhand nature of the Howard 
Government, such as the recent exposure of their secret, lethal treatment 
of asylum seekers, and their lax response to the victims of the Bali 
bombing.

Pandering to the US is also putting some off-side.

Voices speak out

Among those speaking out against and condemning the vicious Howard/Nile 
racist double act, were the acting Race Discrimination Commissioner, 
William Jonus, who called Nile's statements "offensive and an abuse of the 
institution of Parliament".

Maha Krayem Abdo, from the United Muslim Women's Association, said she was 
stunned that such comments could come from an Australian parliament. The 
Lebanese Muslim Association's Keysar Trad called Nile's statement racist. 
"Muslim women have been through enough.

"Now we have a Member [of Parliament] attacking modesty and making 
statements that will escalate tensions. It's not the thing you expect to 
hear in a civilised country like Australia."

The Islamic Council of Victoria asked if there was going to be a ban on 
brief cases as weapons can easily be hidden in them.

Greens Senator Bob Brown noted that Howard's refusal to condemn Fred Nile's 
statement shows he is stilling running with the political line of One 
Nation 's Pauline Hanson. "For months he wouldn't take on Pauline Hanson 
when she started her attack on multiculturalism", said Senator Brown.

"Now his first up accommodating comments in relation to Fred Nile's call 
for a ban on the chador shows the Prime Minister is again willing to foster 
anti-Muslim sentiment by default.

"Fred Nile's comments are unacceptable in multicultural Australia. The 
Prime Minister's flirtation with those comments is dangerous."

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