Every so often, I have a naïve moment in which I think that an overwhelming disaster will prompt people to lay aside their differences and come together to face of a common tragedy.

But apparently not. Even as the search for bodies continues in the Victorian firezone, some people are searching for the “us and them” angle. Muslims have come to expect that they will be stigamised for any crime commited by any Muslim anywhere. But this week’s speculation by some media and internet “commentators” about “forest jihad” has reached a new low.

This speculation is based on reports last year that an extremist Islamic website had called for “forest jihad”. The fascist British National Party poses the “question” “Australian Death Fire: was it jihad?”. The media finger-pointing has been less direct, more “might-have-done-it, will-be-getting-ideas-from-it, who-knows-but-I-wouldn’t-trust-them-with-a-match”.

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Fox News quoted various “experts” as saying that Islamic extremists would be “watching” the fires carefully, and getting ideas. “Expert” Steve Emerson said that militants “could” light wildfires, just as they “could” poison food supplies

As Islamophobiawatch points out, this is the same Steve Emerson who said that the 1995 Oklahoma bombing showed a “Middle Eastern trait” because it aimed to kill a lot of people — an aim that the hypothetical “Middle Easterners” turned out to share with Timothy McVeigh.

And (as reported in Crikey), Piers Akerman proved yet again that there is no dog-whistle so filthy that he won’t raise it to his lips. His column describing arson as terrorism did not go so far as to blame Muslims for the tragedy in Victoria, but the comments on his blog show that his readers (both admirers and critics) certainly heard the whistle.

On this occasion, Andrew Bolt showed greater civic responsibilty than Akerman (or, in the words of blogger Sheik Yermani, Bolt “chickened out“), telling readers of his blog that he would not post any comments that pointed the finger at Muslims. So maybe the disaster, and the subsequent finger-pointing, is bringing people together after all. It isn’t often that I have a kind word to say about Andrew Bolt.

Police Superintendent Ross McNeill was categorical in dismissing the “forest jihad” theory, telling AFP “None whatsoever, absolutely nothing, zero. We usually rank possibilities on a scale of zero to ten — this would be on a negative scale.”

That would be “no”, then.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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