I toyed with the idea of wearing a Pakistani shalwar kameez to last night’s lecture by visiting Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders before deciding to go ethnic-lite — trousers and a short-sleeved shirt covered by a long translucent Malaysian blouse and a scarf draped over my shoulders.
It wasn’t easy to get into the venue, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, even though I’d arranged to attend as a journalist for Crikey. Every few metres, a Q Society volunteer would stop me to ask for my photo ID and media registration form — always an interesting facial expression as they took in the name “Hussein”.
One last obstacle to pass before I could get into the main hall — a 60-something door-bitch armed with a ferocious glare. “You don’t have a wristband. And your name isn’t on the list. You need to understand, we have to have security procedures,” she told me.
“Please, can’t I just go in? I have multiple sclerosis, it’s difficult for me with all these people milling around. If I get bumped, I’ll fall right over. I’ve been through the metal detectors. I don’t have a gun.”
“Mouths can be more dangerous than guns,” she responded.
When I finally got the all-clear, an older white-haired man with a fatherly manner helped me down the steps to my chair in the media zone.
“What’s your outlook, coming here tonight?” he asked. “I’m here to listen and learn.” He persisted: “But your outlook?” “Well, I’m Muslim …”
“That’s OK. We don’t hate Muslims. But,” he said, sitting me down “we have very heavy security. If you interrupt, or interject, you will be immediately ejected.” He gestured towards my walking stick, my overall physical frailty. “That might injure your back. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“I’m not here to interrupt,” I protested. “Believe me …”
“I’m just telling you. You will be evicted and you might get hurt.” He patted my shoulder. “But I love Muslims.”
I sat back in shock, absorbing the fact this mild-mannered man had just threatened me with assault if I stepped out of line. News Limited papers describe the atmosphere inside the convention centre as “serene”. It felt menacing to me.
There were several young men “of Middle Eastern appearance” — most of them Coptic Christians, to judge by the silver crosses on their collars. There was a bearded and robed Egyptian bishop who would have fit the average Cronulla rioter’s visual preconception of a dangerous Islamic extremist. A man wearing a Jewish kippah.
But of course, it was mostly white people, ranging in age from a teenage girl in school uniform to elderly men with walking sticks. Running the gauntlet past the hostile protesters had generated an esprit de corp among them.
“They laughed at his jokes, applauded his denunciations of Islam, of ‘elites’, of cultural relativism.”
“Welcome. We are glad you are here,” read the Powerpoint above the lectern. And the vibe was hyped-up glad — glad and excited with flashes of terrifying.
The Q Society spokesman finally came on stage to open the formal part of the evening. He began with a preamble which he said was read out at the opening of all their meetings, in recognition of Victoria’s “abhorrent” racial and religious vilification laws. The Q Society wanted to undertake a conversation about Islam, but they respected the rule of law and they did not hate Muslims. If anyone in the audience felt “incited” by the reading out of certain Islamic texts, please leave the venue immediately.
Then Geert Wilders took to the stage to a standing ovation and rock-star reception. The familiar face, the hate-speech, the trademark hair. The audience loved him. They laughed at his jokes, applauded his denunciations of Islam, of “elites”, of cultural relativism.
A woman sitting nearby leapt to her feet with her arms outflung and an expression of almost s-xual rapture across her face when Wilders told the crowd to draw upon the Anzac spirit in the defence of their country against “Islamisation”.
Wilders introduced himself as a visitor from the Old Holland to the New Holland; he said he came to warn us of the danger that had befallen Europe and might befall us too, if we were not vigilant. He said flattering things about the brave members of the Q Society who had hosted him — “the Q society embodies the courage for which Australians are known in Europe” — in defiance of the political elites who had fallen victim to cultural relativism (“even worse than multiculturalism”) and were afraid to stand up against Islam.
The audience loved the denunciation of elites even more than they loved the denunciation of Islam.
He said there were high rates of crime among young Muslims and Moroccan men and “the victims are almost never Muslim”. At talk of the s-xual harassment of young girls, there was a low hiss from the audience.
Referring to the news Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett had said he was not welcome, Wilders said he had Googled the words “not welcome in Western Australia”, which brought up two names: Geert Wilders and US nuclear bases. There was a ripple of laughter from the audience at that.
Wilders closed with what he told us was a message of hope. It was not too late to turn back the tide of Islamisation if we took a few simple steps: halt all immigration from Islamic societies, and find and elect politicians who are not afraid to tell the truth about Islam.
I wondered what was generating the elation in the crowd. Not a sense of victory, surely. Five hundred people or so is a sizeable crowd, but it’s not enough to take over the country. Vanguardism, perhaps. The belief that you were ahead of the pack, that you were part of an advanced cohort who had were combatting a danger that others were yet to recognise.
As a member of the sinister conspiracy in question, it was a relief to go home.