With another counter rally planned against them, Travis Blake looks at Reclaim Australia’s often ironic and hypocritical appeal.
Watching Sunday Night’s recent coverage of Reclaim Australia is an experience in prolonged torture and hysterical outbursts of manic schadenfreude. On one hand, they might actually make a convincing case for the societal dangers that Islamofascism and the broader veins of radical jihadism pose to the fabric of Australian democracy and law. On the other hand, they also make a convincing case that some people shouldn’t be let out into the street unsupervised, that sometimes “freedom of speech” isn’t quite what they imagine.
I’ve never pretended to hide my petulant loathing of everything that Reclaim stands for, from its fascist origins on the fringes of neo-Nazi organisations, to its short-sighted views on religion and issues of free speech. If the last cultural tumour were shaved off from the fantasies of American Tea Party fanatics, it would be Reclaim Australia; shipped Down Under and left to fester in the collective void of Australian exceptionalism, then picked up and disseminated by the masses.
If you don’t believe me, look at how Sunday Night attempts to portray Reclaim Australia’s founders, Wanda Marsh, John Oliver and Catherine Brennan. It’s a breathtaking attempt to try and humanise the faces behind the movement, portraying them as everyday parents who live in the suburbs and play with their kids and pay taxes like everyone else – the only difference to you and I is that they’ve answered “the call” to rise up and “protect their values and way of life.” (Hilariously ironic, given that this is the signature calling of jihadists.)
The collective strains of fascism in the movement are amusing enough, but are made even more hilarious with the group’s attempts to hide them. The famous photo of two protesters staring each other down – one evidently baring a swastika tattoo – has become emblematic of the kinds of people it attracts. Then you have the calls of organisers to “hide all swastika and related tattoos and go undercover.” Attempts to ban them have been laughable, given that almost every rally from March to now attracts splinter fascist groups like flies, resulting in games of “Spot the Fascist” by counter protestors.
Watching the so-called “Great Aussie Patriot” Shermon Burgess struggle to articulate words more than two syllables long is something of never-ending joy, especially in light of the recent tantrum with his own support group. It seems ironic enough that a group already swimming in negative coverage would choose a spokesperson that would mount even more criticism on them, knowing Burgess’ own admissions of homophobia and misogyny through his online accounts. Knowing that he’s left the organisation in the hands of Blair Cottrell, who has himself admitted to a criminal conviction for arson and is a professed fan of Hitler, somehow just makes them look more ridiculous.
Then we have the disquieting mention of freedom of speech. John Oliver says with no irony whatsoever that “Reclaim Australia has never been about hate speech.” One look at the propaganda used for the rallies, comparing Muslims to terrorists, denouncing asylum seekers as “invaders” and calling for Muslims to assimilate into Australian life would suggest otherwise.
Freedom of speech is a remarkably fickle thing in Australia. It’s nothing like the American version of freedom of speech; it’s never explicitly stated as to what we can or can’t say in the context of public opinion. This works to our advantage, since people can prosecute others should their language unfairly target, demean, harass or outright offend them.
After all, we watched Andrew Bolt print weird racist columns in the Herald Sun, and then get sued by Aboriginal activists for breaching 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. So Reclaim’s claim to freedom of speech is a bit vague, given that they’ve basically called for an outright ban on Islam and the installation of mandatory patriotism in schools and curriculum.
Just to clarify, I’m no apologist for Islamofascism or jihadism either. Seeing children with signs like “Behead those who insult the prophet” reinforce the default case for child protection from the parents who raise them. Serious cases about the social risks that radical Islamofascism poses have been raised and addressed by people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Sam Harris. They have not, however, been addressed by the simpleton crowd that continue to show up for the Reclaim rallies. The key difference between people like Sam Harris and Reclaim supporters is that Sam Harris considers fascism just as much as a disease as radical jihadism (13.30).
Let’s close on that lovely mention of racism, or going by its collective noun, “Islam is not a race.” Maybe the genius who pointed this out deserves credit for stating the blatantly obvious, but it’s left to wonder who exactly are Reclaim Australia targeting? Is it the local Muslim woman who wears the hijab out of choice? Is it the local MP in Chifley, who takes an oath on the Qur’an based on his choice of religion? The answer is most likely that slightly brown-coloured person wearing the burqa down the road, or that person on the television screen aligned with a fringe-dwelling terrorist group in the Middle East. Even if the weak obfuscation of the “Islam isn’t a race” cop-out boiled down to religion, it indicates the supporters would be basing their criticisms off blatant stereotypes of Islam.
Or better yet, it goes something like this:
“Joe/Joanna Bloggs likes to remind people that religion is not a race, because Joe/Joanna Bloggs thinks being a xenophobic bigot who found a way to hate on people without mentioning their skin colour is better than being a racist.”
“You tell ‘em Joe/Joanna Bloggs.”