As about 100 protesters gathered outside Geert Wilders’ speech in Melbourne last night, it was not so much a violent clash with police as a clash of political ideologies.
There were plenty of angry profanities being shouted through megaphones as people arrived to listen to the Dutch anti-Islam crusader speak at the Lebanese-owned La Mirage Convention Centre.
The location of the speech was kept secret to try to stop protesters gathering, but word got out through the magic of social media. Lifts were on offer from Roxburgh Park station to shuttle activists to the gig, which was in the treeless working-class suburb of Somerton, an industrial estate about 40 minutes’ drive north of the city.
A collection of self-righteous slogan-shouters from various left-wing activist groups like the Socialist Alternative, the United Struggle Project and Students For Palestine rallied out front.
“Here comes Nazi scum!” they chanted. “Racism! No way! We’re gonna fight it all the way!”
Signs included “F-ck off we’re full — of wankers already”. Or “Fascism is not to be tolerated — It’s to be smashed.”
I attended the protest, talking to people — and I never felt threatened. In fact, I felt a jovial spirit of solidarity emanating from the left-wing comrades.
Ten mounted police guarded the venue’s high wrought-iron gates. The horses looked relaxed and stood sedately on loose reins. I gave one of them a pat.
About 60 cops formed a line to allow speech attendees to safely enter the venue by car. There was a police car to guide them into the turning lane.
One attendee — young, with a shaved head — entered the venue on foot. He gave the protesters the one-fingered salute. “Racist scum!” they yelled back.
A man from the Australian Defence League — an anti-Muslim group with 57 “likers” on Facebook — tried to infiltrate the protest and hold up a sign. His presence was not tolerated by the indignant crowd. “You’re just a crazy loon who talks bullshit about Islam,” one shouted in his face.
“That’s racism. You’re a racist. You don’t want Muslims coming to this country,” shouted another. The bloke just stood there quietly.
Ben Coggins, a 31-year-old from Coburg, from Students For Palestine, was protesting against Wilders’ support of Israel, “which is committing acts of genocide against Palestinians and using a kind of Islamophobia to justify it”.
Another perspective was provided by protester Hillel Freedman, aged 41 from East Bentleigh: “I’m here as a Jewish person. This kind of thing compares to the same kind of thing Adolf Hitler said before he rose to power,” he told Crikey. “Hitler’s original intention was to [expatriate] Jews from Europe. I draw parallels to Geert Wilders, who wants to expat Muslims to back where they come from.”
The irony of some Arabic writing on the convention centre’s entry sign was not lost on Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance councillor for Moreland City Council. “It’s no accident that the right-wing organise their meetings here in a working-class suburb with a high population of Muslims,” she said.
The crowd cheered when it was announced via megaphone that Wilders’ Perth speech (he‘s touring the country) was cancelled and money would be refunded to ticket-holders.
After a couple hours of rallying, one of the organisers announced that everyone needed to leave in an organised manner so that “we don’t have to be here all night waiting for these f-ckers to come out”. Banners were rolled up, the activists left and the police horses moved elegantly away.