Why we stand with Muslim protesters
If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
– Malcolm X
Socialist Alternative’s article Police brutalise peaceful Muslim protest in Sydney has provoked an outpouring of responses on social media, write the editors of Socialist Alternative. Many were predictable right wing rants that find echo in today’s op ed pages – scrap multiculturalism, stop Muslim immigration etc. But many other critical comments came from people whose usual instinct, so they claim, is not to side with cops. The sentiment of many who might otherwise take decent positions – such as support for trade unions and opposition to imperialist war – was captured by one of our readers’ comments: “No support for Islamists or the police!”
Equating the armed might of the state with Muslim protesters bearing placards is ridiculous. Yet furore has engulfed the country over the fact that some of the placards at Saturday’s protest contained clearly reactionary slogans. Some are asking why Socialist Alternative has not at least criticised the demonstration on this basis.
Saturday’s rally was called in response to anti-Muslim bigotry. That there were people present who had objectionable placards and slogans doesn’t change this fact. If the left refused to support protests by oppressed people unless we agreed with every political view expressed, we would have had to denounce almost every protest movement in history – including the South African struggle against apartheid and the civil rights movement in the US.
Our starting point is to offer solidarity when the oppressed fight back. Muslims are one of the most demonised, repressed and over-policed communities in Australia. Socialist Alternative members in Sydney joined the protest on Saturday as a sign of that elementary solidarity. To say “We oppose attacks on Muslims, but we won’t support their struggle against racism unless they behave themselves and/or conform to our beliefs”, is in our opinion profoundly mistaken and a capitulation to the oppressors. Today, in Australia, we think it vitally important that anti-racists ask themselves one question: “Is my opposition to racism and oppression conditional?” The answer should be uncompromising: “Never.”
On Saturday, 500 Muslims demonstrators including children were attacked by hundreds of heavily armed police. The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that “riot police, mounted officers and the dog squad were sent to Hyde Park, and later a staging post in Stanley Street in east Sydney, before protesters arrived.” So the police came looking for a fight. Protesters were tasered, capsicum-sprayed, batoned and set upon by dogs and horses. This incident is part of the broader tide of racism against Muslims. As protester Sarah Jacob said, “They call us the terrorists. But everyone is terrorising our people.”
We ask people who consider themselves anti-racist, but who have equivocated on the question of Saturday’s rally to reconsider their position. In particular consider the context: The people demonstrating have seen hundreds of thousands of their brothers and sisters across the Middle East slaughtered by US imperialism and its allies – Israel routinely and loudly celebrates every time it assassinates Palestinian activists. Muslims have endured the war on terror – an ideological offensive that has sought to denigrate their beliefs, belittle their culture, and demonise them as a people. Many have been subject to day-to-day harassment, intimidation and extra surveillance at the hands of the state – including having their homes raided as occurred in Melbourne last week, and being locked up for thought crimes. Others have been locked up for years in desert camps simply for seeking asylum in this country.
Yet when some of them find the courage to protest against racism in the face of all the intimidation they daily endure, there are front page denunciations across the country.
The people and the institutions that have waged war on Muslims over the last decade claim to stand for freedom and democratic values. They have denounced Saturday’s rally as intolerant, and “not the Australian way”. But just last month CFMEU members at Grocon’s building sites in Melbourne protested for such basic rights as being able to have union-appointed workplace health and safety reps. The establishment that is today denouncing Muslims was then denouncing the unionists. “Reign of Fear and Intimidation Grows… Bikies, Thugs Hijack Work Sites” screamed the Herald Sun front page. Politicians of every colour lined up to back multi-millionaire Daniel Grollo in his quest to crush the union. That’s the “Australian way” they want to defend – one where everyone is expected to lie down and cop a kicking at the hands of the rich and powerful.
The reality is that the more the media gets away with demonising Muslim protests the more they get away with demonising picket lines and unions. We have to stand with whoever is under attack, even if we don’t agree with every last one of their tactics or slogans. This is how solidarity is built between all those standing up to the same enemy.
In Socialist Alternative’s opinion, it is either delusional or disingenuous to think that reactionary slogans at an anti-racist demonstration are in any way comparable to the brutality of the Australian ruling class and its state apparatus.
It was the cops, not Muslim protesters, who came in their hundreds – with batons, dogs and pepper spray – to smash the CFMEU picket in Melbourne last month. It is the cops, not Muslim protesters, who are responsible for so many Aboriginal deaths in custody. It is the secular ALP, not Muslim groups, that continues to implement genocidal assimilationist policies against Aboriginal people and which continues vulgar state-based discrimination towards gays and lesbians.
Both major parties, but not Muslims protesters, have locked up thousands of asylum seekers in what are effectively prisons. The political mainstream, not a tiny Islamist fringe, have collaborated to deport several thousand more to Nauru and Manus Island, where they will languish in tents in detention camps. It is conservative newspaper columnists like Andrew Bolt, not radical Islamists, whose reactionary ideas are distributed via newsagents and supermarkets across the country every day. And while the Australian political and military establishment doesn’t call for beheadings, it participates in the actual slaughter of civilians in the region and around the world.
That all this has been missed in the cacophony of denunciations of Saturday’s rally is an indication of how deep anti-Muslim prejudice actually runs in Australia.
Some have been moved by the fact that mainstream Muslim organisations have distanced themselves from the protest. An array of what are regarded as “acceptable” Muslims have been interviewed for a bout of necessary hand-wringing over the protest. Mariam Veiszadeh’s response was typical of many over the last two days, and reinforced the idea that racism against Muslims is somehow the result of the behaviour of Muslims: “Each time individuals in the community engage in violent behaviour or criminal behaviour, the rest of the community is dragged through the mud and essentially put on trial”.
Such sentiments are always voiced from the more conservative elements of oppressed groups. The Zionists in the 20th century blamed European anti-Semitism on outspoken activist Jews, and today some Australian Aboriginal leaders blame the lack of a work ethic for Aboriginal disadvantage. Their ideas are totally misplaced. The reality is that no matter what Muslims do, the establishment promotes racism against them. The only way to beat it is to fight it, not apologise for it.
Greens leader Christine Milne has issued a press release condemning “violent protest” and praising the “clear statements from leaders and members of the Islamic community…condemning the violence and noting that this protest is not representative of them”. This is hand-wringing of a much worse kind than that by the various Muslim spokespeople. Not only does it regurgitate all the media hysteria about violence, it gives voice to a supposedly left wing moral outrage at protests that aren’t passive. Socialist Alternative’s position here is again clear: You don’t really support the oppressed if your support evaporates as soon as they can no longer be seen as just helpless victims.
In short, leftists who support strikes only if there are no picket lines to fight off the cops and keep out the scabs, who support Indigenous people only if they don’t offend, who support Muslims only if they have acceptable signs and let the police attack them, are not worthy of the name. To those who ask why we haven’t criticised the demonstration, we in turn ask: “Why have you lined up with the cops and the ruling class against an oppressed minority?”
Here is a link to a Socialist Alternative video of eyewitness shots of the police violence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh8AG5tOEEA&feature=player_embedded