George Christensen’s frivolous Islamophobia

Untitled-11A desire to isolate Australian muslims is at the heart of George Christensen’s support for the Islamophobic anti-Halal certification movement, writes Idris Martin.

For a really long time, it seemed like the anti-Halal certification crowd, with their rabid cries about Sharia law and swift condemnation from fake, anonymous social media accounts, were largely keyboard warriors who have never spoken to a Muslim in their life.

The fantasy that this racism was isolated to a small number of ignorant Australians had to come crashing down eventually and George Christensen, the Federal Member for Dawson, decided to do the deed for us.

Just to remind everyone of the context in which this is happening, let’s look at what life has been like for Muslims in Australia for the last six weeks: Australians have been attacked in the streets for looking Muslim, mosques have been vandalised, Sikh temples have been vandalised with anti-Muslim graffiti (because if they’re brown, they must be Muslim and therefore terrorists), Muslim women are being attacked and harassed constantly and our own government is pursuing an anti-terror agenda that has vilified the entire Muslim community.

In short, it’s been pretty shit.

That’s not to say that anti-Halal certification sentiments haven’t existed, but it’s pretty obvious that the recent political climate and the fear mongering around Australian Muslims and ISIL has re-invigorated the Islamophobia movement.

Race politics and activism in Australia is incredibly complex and, in some ways, is still really underdeveloped – particularly in how it’s understood by mainstream progressive activists. Fighting against Islamophobia in the first place is incredibly difficult because even those on the Left struggle with the connection between Islamophobia and racism. After all, Islam is a religion not a race, right?

So really, whenever I hear that the anti-Halal certification brigade has reared its head and been successful in spreading lies, misinformation and hate my first reaction isn’t so much anger at their bigotry but rather extreme frustration at the incredibly slow progress in fighting racism in Australia – and the fact that we are, once again, back to this.

There to champion the cause of bigots and Islamophobes in our Federal Parliament is the Gang of Three: Senator Cory Bernadi, Senator Jacqui Lambie and George Christensen MP. Whenever an opportunity presents itself to vilify Muslims, and often when the opportunity doesn’t present itself, it’s a safe bet that at least one of those three will have come up with something spectacularly awful to say.

In this case Christensen, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, had quite a bit to say. None of it holds much water.

For instance, he complains that a religious tax is not something he would support – presumably he will be introducing a Private Members Bill banning the distribution of state funds to religious organisations in the next sitting of Parliament considering both the Federal Government and every State and Territory Government provides funding to religious schools and religious community organisations.

Setting aside he uses The Pickering Post as a legitimate source (this is about as academic rigorous as me referencing Chifley’s Hill), he makes the significant accusation that allegations that Australian Halal Certifiers are funding terrorism is somehow justified because the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) was named by the US Department of Justice as a co-conspirator in funding terrorism.

Of course what he neglects to mention is that the US Court of Appeals found that the government had wronged ISNA and ISNA was removed from the list of unindicted co-conspirators.

Or maybe we should turn to the Australian Institute of Criminology Report he references, which quite firmly states, “there is little to suggest that there is substantial misuse of [non-profit organisations] for [money laundering or terrorist financing]” – indeed the report’s recommendations are centred around reforming reporting guidelines for all non-profit organisations.

George Christensen personifies the typical activist within the Islamophobia movement. He uses echoes of truth and misinformation to try to guide readers to the conclusion that buying halal certified goods means they support terrorism, extremism and fundamentalism. You’re either on Team Australia or you’re a Muslim on Team Terrorism.

He insists that consumers have a right to know where their money goes.

I actually don’t disagree with him on this – however one wonders why it is so important for consumers to know this specifically, while he fails to take up the broader cause of corporate transparency and accountability.

If halal certifiers are to be expected to open up their books for the world to see, surely the same must be expected of every religious organisation and corporate body. No? Oh, right. Terrorists.

And really that’s what is the most disturbing about the Islamophobia movement: not the name calling, the absurd lies or even the bullying and intimidation of Australian companies but the isolation.

To me it appears that the heart of the Islamophobia movement and specifically anti-halal hysteria lies the desire to isolate Australian Muslims.

It isn’t enough that the physical safety of Australian Muslims is in question every time we step out in public (or even in our own homes). Nor is the social isolation through rhetoric which has managed to come up with a modern replacement for ‘savages’ – ‘terrorists’ – enough.

The economic isolation must follow. Australian bigots are deliberately attempting to push products that Australian Muslims use (alongside most other Australians) out of the market. We’ve seen time and time again how this story ends.

The good news is that the overwhelming majority of Australians reject the bigotry of the vocal minority. That isn’t to say racism in Australia isn’t a problem – just that we’ve managed to make being openly racist taboo. Now we can hopefully make some progress on people actually understanding what racism is.

The Gang of Three will inevitably continue to propagate absurdities – if only because, let’s be honest, George Christensen is hardly going to get any significant media coverage otherwise.

And while he may have been reported in the Guardian, you’ve really got to wonder if it was worth it.

By the end of his piece I had drawn two possible conclusions: either the Member for Dawson is deliberately spreading misinformation and falsehoods to incite fear and hatred, which is disgraceful behaviour for anyone let alone someone who fancies themselves a community leader, OR he has other evidence (since none of the evidence he presented actually holds any water) that links halal certification to terrorist funding, in which case he is being incredibly negligent by not giving this to law enforcement agencies.

Your move George.