In a couple of weeks, I’ll head to Christchurch to be with the Muslim community as we mark the first anniversary of the massacre that took so many of our own.
I’ll go knowing that nothing has been done to address the environment of hate in Australia that fostered the extremism of one of our citizens who now stands accused of the murder of 51 innocent Muslims in New Zealand.
Amid the sadness for those lost and the grief of those left behind, I had moments of hope this might be a wake-up call for our government. Hope this tragedy might spur it to act on the racism that permeates our society and breeds violence.
Peter Dutton’s response to the threat of far-right extremism this week confirmed for me that my hope was misplaced. After the head of Asio warned “the extreme right-wing threat is real and it is growing” and spoke of neo-Nazi cells gathering to train, inspect weapons and salute swastikas, Dutton seemed to dismiss that the motivating ideology was relevant to violence.
If the minister responsible for our safety doesn’t get that racism and hatred drives violent attacks on Muslims around the world, we cannot hope to stop it.
By consistently minimising the racism of the extreme right, Dutton’s dismissive attitude gives a free pass to those in the media and parliament who stoke the fires of hatred. So does the false equivalence he likes to draw between fascist and anti-racist politics. Last year he claimed I was “just as bad” as Fraser Anning for calling out white supremacy after the Christchurch massacre.
We know all too well the intense scrutiny and immense resources dedicated to forms of extremism that suit the government’s narrative. Because rightwing threats against Muslims seem not to suit their agenda, many Australian Muslims, myself included, feel the sustained abuse and threats of violence we’ve received over the years aren’t taken seriously.
The Christchurch anniversary is a painful reminder of the personal toll those threats take. When we raise our voices we are told we have a victim mentality or we are being too politically correct. But Muslims know the real danger of hatred. We live in fear of what it will unleash on our community.
It’s undeniable the rise of the far-right has been accompanied by a rise in Islamophobia, with girls and women the most likely targets. Charles Sturt University’s 2019 Islamophobia in Australia report found harassment of Muslims in public spaces had jumped by 30% and racist attacks requiring hospitalisation had doubled.
It is this hatred that killed people in Christchurch. It happened again in Hanau, Germany last week when nine people were shot dead by a killer with deeply racist views. It will keep happening unless we make halting the spread of the extreme right and their manifestos of hate a priority.
But it seems Scott Morrison’s priority right now is crafting a religious discrimination bill likely to see more bigotry against marginalised communities. Where is a well-funded national campaign against Islamophobia? Where are laws against hate speech? What are they doing to keep us safe from the far-right extremism identified by Asio? Where is the crackdown on white supremacists?
These measures are the bare minimum needed to start combatting the racism that fuels violence. Australia must also commit to the hard work of disrupting the narrative of division and build a country committed to antiracism at its very core.
I hoped to return to Christchurch with news that Australia has changed. My heart is heavy that I cannot. But I will stand shoulder to shoulder with a community in grief, remember those we lost and commit to doing everything I can to fight racism.
• Dr Mehreen Faruqi is a federal senator for New South Wales