Picking Hatreds in Oz
The play Hate, written with sparkling venom by Stephen Sewell, is a bitter, corrosive account of a wealthy Australian rural family. The family is political, the scheming father John Gleason, a believer of hate – for it is hate that built the country, hate that oiled its system of plunder, its cavernous mines and finally, hate that that led to patricide. That, the audience is assured, is the raison d’être of Australian existence – to have built hospices of misery upon massacres and worship the material, to have no oratory, only vicious demagoguery. To be, all in all, conquistadors without even poetic sense. (No, there is no Cortez awed by an Indian civilization comparable, if not superior to his own.)
What then, of the suspicions, dare we say hatreds, being paraded in Australia by the Dutch right-wing politician Kurt Wilders, who is doing what all politicians wish for in their careers: speaking on a lecture circuit. Wilders is strumming the tunes many Australians, at least of a certain demographic, wish to hear. This, after all, was Gleason’s country – at least after it was viciously appropriated.
At his Wednesday address to the conservative Q Society of Australia group at the La Mirage reception centre in Somerton in Melbourne’s North, the Prophet Muhammad was singled out for special treatment. For Wilders, he was a savage leader of robbers who cut and plundered their way through Medina. Islam remains less a religion than “a dangerous and totalitarian ideology”. Australia’s soldiers were praised for showing mettle against such fanatics. A person called Inez, attending the address by Wilders, feared the introduction of Sharia law policed by bearded fanatics.
The reaction from various politicians and activists in Australia appeared on cue. West Australian Premier Colin Barnett barred the intrepid Dutchman from government buildings. “I don’t want him here.” Protestors such as Nadia Shamsuddin see Wilders as a still target, regarding his “promotion of oppression and racism” as “appalling in a civilized world” (Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 19). Raj Rao, Shamsuddin’s husband, suggested that the Koran praised one message: “peace and submission to God.”
But Wilders’ brazen rhetoric is an echo of Australian suspicions. There is even a sense that the Dutch populist has misread the climate, coming to a country with one of the most inventively paranoid border control mechanisms in the world. Here, the poets do not legislate.
Wilders is a magnet for hypocrisy, the mad man who provides ample distraction for those who actually implement the spirit of his recommendations. The figure himself is barely to blame. He feels he has struck gold, finding quarries that will keep him in Dutch politics for a long time to come. A bigot is simply a person who doesn’t change the question. He is unimaginative but consistent. His opponents are, however, unimaginative and inconsistent. They ignore the fact that Australian governments have, since the 1990s, adopted a brutal policy that certainly targets cultures and religions by suggestion, incarcerating boat arrivals without charge while they are quarantined and “processed”, preferably offshore. The excision legislation never states religion or culture as sources of discrimination, merely the means of arrival as improper. Arrive by plane with the papers, or don’t arrive at all.
Wilders simply gives voice to a pre-existing sentiment. And he has fans who, unlike those functionaries in the Labor government, say what they believe. The Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, a fine confection of homophobic and racial fears, has come out in full support of Wilders, beating the tom toms for a man he feels is being unjustly treated. The bug bear here is Islamic fundamentalism. “These fundamentalists are the same people who want to kill Wilders and establish Sharia law under a global Caliphate because Muhammad commanded them to back in the 7th century. And yet, it is Widlers who is characterised as an extremist” (Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 21).
The point an otherwise insensible Bernardi is making is that people are picking and choosing their hatreds from the carousel of goodies. Some are deemed better than others. The Saudi Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, a man on record as calling Jews “apes and pigs” will speak at the Australian Islamic Peace Conference in March without fanfare. He, no doubt, will find himself most welcome in Australian government buildings.
Australian society has always had its shallow roots in some form of populism, with a tincture of agrarian socialism thrown in. The image of the wealthy land, verdant even in a hostile environment, was always suggestive – an island mentality was just as easily transformed into a fortress one. Plunderers have their pecking order, first in best dressed. It might have been the fears of Japanese encroachments – those of Alfred Deakin in the early 20th century, the discussion about “improper” east European Jews arriving after World War II, or the “Asian immigration” debate of the 1980s. In the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium, the potential thieves and fellow plunderers, assumed different forms, wearing hijabs, and bashing another religious text. The currency of hatred never depreciates in a remorseless environment of plunder and acquisition.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: email@example.com