Reclaim Australia: Was it Really Worth It?
Words By: Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Image Credit: Sky News
On Saturday, the 4th of April, 2015, Reclaim Australia took the country by a proverbial drizzle. Nationwide rallies that had been organized in the weeks leading up to the day now took off in the streets of every capital city in Australia. What they were protesting against was the apparent onslaught of Islamic extremism.
I say apparent, but I have a vague feeling that the supporters of Reclaim Australia would prefer the word ‘evident’. Semantics comes into play a lot in this issue. Let’s start with the name the group chose for themselves: “Reclaim Australia”. To begin with, it’s terribly vague. What, has Australia been invaded? If so, I’ve missed the headlines. Why is there a need to reclaim Australia? It might have made more sense if the demographic of the protesting group was Aboriginal Australian. But as it is—these are Australians protesting against minority groups who they believe want to change the Australian cultural identity. Oh, they also said it was a public response to Islamic extremism.
Islamic extremism in terms of sharia law and halal certification apparently has certain Australians either running for cover, or joining a group and participating in nationwide rallies, screaming ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!’ in people’s faces. Frankly, this all harks right back to the White Australia Policy, when the fear of the unknown was far greater than it is now.
Let’s explore the nature of sharia law: what is it? Sharia, in Arabic, means ‘the clear, well-trodden path to water’, and it is based on the teachings of the Koran, the life of the Prophet Mohammed, and the knowledge of Islamic scholars. Sharia law is a way of life; it pertains to how a Muslim goes about his day-to-day life, how he interacts with others, prayers and fasting times and giving to charity, with the overarching principle being justice. This harmonious way of living practiced by almost every Muslim has been thrust wrongly into the public eye by extremist groups like the Islamic State who insist on putting into practice the uncompromising aspects of sharia law.
Halal means ‘permitted’ or ‘allowed’. Any food considered halal simply means that it complies with the religious ritual and observances of the sharia law. Halal certification, in turn, is more than anything assurance that the food does not contain any forbidden components (haram), such as alcohol, blood, and/or meat from a forbidden animal, or one that hasn’t been slaughtered in the correct manner. This certification can be issued by a certifying body for a fee. The misconception that Reclaim Australia based its protests on portrayed a direct correlation between sharia law and halal certification to terrorism. I sincerely doubt that sharia law and halal certification, each in their purest and everyday form, classify under Islamic extremism.
Every cloud has a silver lining. Almost every Reclaim Australia rally had an opposing rally, from anti-racist groups who felt the need to denounce Reclaim Australia supporters as racists and bigots. One of the organizers of the anti-racist rally in Perth, Mark Suter, stated that Reclaim Australia would divide Australia.
“We now have to go back to out communities and say that whenever they organize we have to organize a counter-demonstration to explain that they are the racists. Otherwise they will develop violence against community after community,” he said.
Is this then a clash between racism and multiculturalism? Australia has had its fair share of both; each ideal representing a head of a two-headed monster which takes turns in rearing each one. Multiculturalism is perhaps what one sees on the surface; but it doesn’t take much to delve a little deeper and find racism lurking in the hidden corners—sometimes blatantly staring and shouting in broad daylight. Supporters of the anti-racist rallies claim that the Reclaim Australia rallies would have raised concerns among new migrants.
Despite Reclaim Australia’s assertions that they were not rallying against Muslims in general, but only against Islamic extremism, Welcome to Australia’s pastor Brad Chilcott said that several of the slogans and remarks at the rallies were upsetting.
“It’s very easy to protest against a concept, but when you know the individuals that are impacted by this and recognise that they are just everyday people like you and I trying to make their way in Australia, you see the real damage that images like these do to people,” he said.
At several of the rallies, heated tensions led to violence. In Melbourne, police were forced to form barricades to separate the opposing groups. Paramedics were called onto the scene to treat people who had sustained injuries from the scuffles that had broken out. Similarly, in Sydney and Brisbane, riot police were at hand to contain and quell any clashes. These outbreaks of violence drew comments from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who said that free speech did not justify the protests resorting to aggression.
“There’s no place for violence in any protests or any expressions of freedom of speech,” he said. “You see rival groups saying that they’ve got a right to speak. People have got a right to state their view at a rally, but no-one has a right to violence.”
He also stated: “This idea somehow that there’s a big conspiracy amongst the Muslim minority to bring in sharia law is just completely exaggerated. I think it is really wrong to tar everyone in a minority with the view.”
In the end it boils down to what people respond best—or worst—to. Reclaim Australia responded to the fear that Islam would eventually override the Australian cultural values. The anti-racist groups protesting against Reclaim Australia responded to the fear that the rest of Australia, especially immigrants, would find Reclaim Australia representative of the entire country.
Australia prides itself on its multiculturalism. My advice is to forget Reclaim Australia. Heaven knows what it believes it has achieved.