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."