I have a particular contempt for those who seek to demonise vulnerable minorities for their own gain. It must take a singular level of conceit and lack of empathy.
With characters like Hanson, Palmer, Dutton and Katter already inhabiting the Australian political … this particular niche is getting pretty crowded, but the rising (or perhaps sinking) frontrunner in this moral race to the bottom could be Fraser Anning.
I’ve been reluctant to write much about his deliberately provocative exploits in the past because I didn’t want to give him any kind of publicity, but after his illogical and appalling response to the Christchurch attack, we are past that. Anyone still supporting him is not going to be swayed by anything I say- even if I stick to mono-syllabic words.
So how do we judge his supporters?
You would think for any person willing to consider the situation without bias, that Anning’s response to the Christchurch mosque attack- in which he blamed the Muslim victims for the actions of a professed white nationalist- would be reprehensible. Even for many with their own anti-Muslim bias, this should have been a step too far and I would find it pretty hard to defend anyone still supporting Anning and what he stands for today.
But up until now, let’s not insist that everyone that supported people like Fraser Anning are Nazi-sympathisers or rabid white nationalists. In fact a majority probably weren’t. Some might not have even been racist (but don’t quote me on that last thought). And it wouldn’t surprise me if a number of people were quietly feeling a little ashamed of having previously shared some of his inflammatory propaganda. Before we rush to vilify them, perhaps we could give them the benefit of the doubt.
I’m not just talking about the 18 people that voted for him at the last election. In the wake of his taxpayer-funded publicity tours of right-wing extremist rallies, Anning no doubt enjoys considerably greater name recognition than when he was elected and with his outspoken fear-mongering around immigration he has no doubt appealed to a particular segment of the electorate. You can see the evidence doing the rounds of social media in the form of deceptive and poorly-spelt memes being shared by people “because they’re proud Australians,” or something similar.
If we’re honest, most of us have one or two embarrassing friends or relatives who fall for this kind of opportunistic rhetoric and won’t change their minds regardless of what actual information they are presented with. I have said before that we should be able to look past differing opinions and see people as more than just their opinions, but I have to admit sometimes this gets hard. But the worst I can say about the people in my life like this is that they have an overly simplistic outlook. None of them are neo-Nazis.
Much like Hanson and other disingenuous populists, up until now a lot of Anning’s support came from people I would describe as misinformed and/or easily frightened. But that doesn’t necessarily make them actively racist or neo-Nazi. They just clearly view the political landscape very differently to me.
But let’s be honest, Anning is a talisman for racism at the moment and there would be few neo-Nazis in the country who wouldn’t have approved of his ‘final solution’ speech, his attempts to legitimise the St Kilda hate rallies (which were convened by a self-described neo-Nazi and convicted criminal), or his twisted response to Christchurch.
But let’s take a breath and remember that not all of Anning’s supporters necessarily share the overt racism and violent ideation of his worst ones. Perhaps some agree with parts of his message, even if they can’t condone all of his actions. We shouldn’t treat a whole group of people badly just because of the actions of some of their members.
Does that argument sound kind of familiar? It should. Vilified minorities have been saying the same thing for years.
So maybe you really are worried about African gangs and you haven’t noticed the similarities to historical rhetoric about Italian gangs, Slavic gangs, Asian gangs and Lebanese gangs in Australia. Perhaps you believe reforming our immigration policy would be more effective than infrastructure spending and better domestic planning and policies would be more effective in reducing unemployment or congestion.
If Anning’s outspoken stance on issues like these appeals to you I can certainly disagree with you, but I can’t necessarily call you a racist, let alone a neo-nazi, no matter how his other supporters behave.
But you have to acknowledge that just as we can’t assume all of Anning’s supporters as neo-nazis just because some of them are, neither can we assume that all Muslims are terrorists or that all Africans are gangsters and treat them as such, just because some of them are. You can’t have it both ways.