Sep 22, 2016

Now we know, racists may well represent the ‘silent majority’

Commentators are expressing shock that 49% of Australians want to ban Muslim immigration, but it shouldn't be surprising.

Shakira Hussein — Writer and academic in multiculturalism

Shakira Hussein

Writer and academic in multiculturalism

Anti-Muslim protest in Melton

Melton residents protest Muslim immigration in August

Essential’s Peter Lewis described himself as “floored” by the result of the poll finding that 49% of respondents supported One Nation’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration. He says he had regarded Pauline Hanson as representing only a “marginalised rump, out of step with the views of mainstream, cosmopolitan Australia”. But just as I was unsurprised by the return of One Nation to federal Parliament, I am unsurprised by the finding that Hanson’s call to ban Muslim immigration strikes a chord with a significant proportion of self-identified Coalition, ALP and Greens voters (I would also be unsurprised to find a broadly similar trend among Crikey readers). Anti-Muslim racism has long been the respectable dinner party racism -- because (as we are tediously and endlessly told), it is not racism at all because Islam is a religion and not a race. In attending far-right events over the past few years, I’ve been struck by how little distance there was between the racist rhetoric spouted from their platforms and the everyday vilification of Muslims undertaken by mainstream media and politicians. The so-called patriots are not entirely wrong in their belief that they represent the "silent majority". This level of support may not show up in the form of votes for One Nation (as disturbing as their return to Parliament may be). The major parties have taken enough of their concerns on board that their ideological fellow-travellers hardly need to migrate to the political fringe when they go to the ballot box. It is interesting that the main reason cited in support of such a ban was Muslims alleged failure to integrate into Australian society. My own sense is that, in fact, the visible integration of Muslims is heightening the level of fear against us. “Failed” minorities may be regarded as a problem, but they are seldom seen as a threat. The “failures” are safely isolated from the mainstream, where their ability to impose changes on “our” way of life is limited. However, the process of successful integration might enable the designated outsiders to invert the accepted hierarchy in which white, “mainstream” Australians always and forever set the terms and conditions under which people are tolerated within “our” society. This helps to explain apparent contradictions: the election of Australia's first female Muslim federal lower house MP as well as the return of Pauline Hanson, the Gold Logie award to a Muslim broadcaster as well as a poll suggesting that nearly half the population wants to ban any further immigration of his co-religionists. A few token success stories are to be applauded as evidence of Australian tolerance -- so long as we retain the right to say enough is enough. One small indicator what may be perceived as “failure to integrate” is the uptick in the number of people who question me about the reasons why I decline a glass of wine at social events. The questioning is never aggressive, but ordering a soft drink while others make their choice between red and white wine was a habit that had passed more or less without notice for years. Now it seems to generate a cooling of the mood, a sense of them and us. Expressions of shock at the poll’s finding overlook the fact that Australia abandoned the principle of a non-discriminatory immigration policy in 2014 when the announcement of the special refugee intake from Syria and Iraq in response to the wave of sympathy to photographs of drowned toddler Alan Kurdi included a proviso that it would focus on “persecuted minorities”. The fact that this includes persecuted Muslim minorities does not render it non-discriminatory. The head of the UNHCR’s office in Jordon noted in March that Australia’s preference for Christian refugees did not prioritise those most needy. Now Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement of an intake of refugees from Central America provides another means to decline further Muslim immigration while maintaining our threadbare claim to good international citizenship. At least some of the 49% who supported a ban on Muslim immigration in the Essential poll last year probably lit a candle for Alan Kurdi. They might have voted for Waleed Aly to get a Gold Logie. And there is no particular cognitive dissonance involved. It’s all about who gets to stay in charge.

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43 thoughts on “Now we know, racists may well represent the ‘silent majority’

  1. shea mcduff

    Dorothy Parker at “Loon Pond” [you can google it] reports daily on the rantings of the ‘reptiles’, those hate filled fanatics in the media, Murdoch publications in particular but not only, such as Bolt, Devine, Cater et al – far too many of them.
    Every day several of these extremists are given forums that reach millions of Australians and every day they pontificate and obfuscate with their guiding theme being FUD about their chosen victims.
    Xenophobia, racism, misogyny, class elitism and other nastiness in great smelly dollops into the eyes and ears of the public. Unrelenting.
    Backed up by selective sensationalist hyperbolic misreporting.
    As you say, I am ‘unsurprised’, by this poll result.

  2. Wayne Robinson

    I wonder if there’s actually been an uptick in questions addressed to you as to why you decline to drink wine, or whether you’re just more sensitive to it?

    As an atheist of Northern European origin I’ve never received queries (or perhaps I don’t remember them?) why I decline to drink wine at social events. I just hate its taste. Given a choice I go for soft drink. Or water. Or nothing.

    1. samquigley

      I can’t quite figure out why you went to the trouble of mentioning your Northern European origin, and then failed to consider that your Northern European appearance is exactly why you are not questioned about your teetotalism: people presume you don’t like the taste, are the designated driver, or are an alcoholic; not that you are (that much more frowned-upon thing) Muslim. Of course, you could be, but that is not the presumption, because people racialise Islam.

      1. Wayne Robinson


        I’m not teetotal. I just don’t like wine. Or beer. I once got queried at a social when I added orange juice to a very good expensive wine in order to make it drinkable for me. The only comments I have received otherwise at social events is regarding my choice of vegetarianism. I was once lectured by two Christians that according to the Bible eating meat is mandated by the Bible. And usually being a vegetarian is no problem, except for one occasion when I was served ham in a dish at a restaurant. And a Muslim in my party received exactly the same dish with ham too. I don’t know who was more upset.

        My only point was – it may not a statistically significant result thinking that there’s been an uptick in comments about declining to drink wine as an indication that there’s been an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment. Memory is notoriously fallible and is often modified to suit a narrative.

        I take opinion polls with a grain of salt particularly when they’re dealing with ethnic discrimination. There was the famous 1934 LaPiere study on discrimination in which a pair of Chinese-Americans attempted to obtain accommodation at 66 hotels and meals at 184 cafes and restaurants, and were rejected in 1 hotel and by none of the restaurants or cafes (receiving good service in almost half). In a follow up a questionnaire was sent out to the same establishments asking if they would accept members of ‘the Chinese race’ as guests. Of the 128 who replied, 92% answered ‘no’.

        People might express xenophobic attitudes in an anonymous poll, but in real life situations they probably won’t (not to say that they mightn’t still have hidden racist opinions – sort of like Atticus Finch in ‘Go Set a Watchman’)

        1. Stuart Coyle

          Maybe your meat loving Christian friends should give their lecture to some Seventh Day Adventist vegetarians instead who have garnered entirely the opposite view from the very same book. Which is entirely the problem with the religion thing, any one can read anything they want into the vague and self contradictory holy books and then claim they have a divine right to do whatever it is they want.

  3. Dog's Breakfast

    FWIW Shakira, I voice strong opinions on other forums that the ‘muslim terrorist’ malarkey is a tenth order issue. Sure it exists, but the chances of being taken by a shark exceed the chances of being the victim of a muslim terrorist by a wide margin. Why the hysteria, when the great terrorism in Australia, the one that claims a life every week, is domestic violence?

    Oh but that’s ok, those terrorists are generally white males.

    It doesn’t help much, but hey, it’s better than siding with the haters.

    1. Bill Williams

      Haters? The ones that hate men?

  4. David Coles

    I am surprised by the results of the poll. And digusted. It is clearly time that those who care step up to argue the case for an immigration policy that ignores the religion of applicants. The case has to be put, though, without abuse. There is a risk that if the people who are expressing these views cop abuse they will shift further to the right.

  5. Teddy

    On ABC news at noon today there was a rather amusing piece about those 33% of Greens voters who supported the bacon Muslims. Apparently no one could believe it (Essential even did the poll twice, because they didn’t). So the ABC’s panicked reporters went out onto to the streets of Melbourne to find our typical Greens voters, who were all (predictably) totally horrified.

    But I wasn’t, nor surprised by any of it. It’s not an opinion I share, but there is general growing hostility to immigration into this county, much of it fueled by the Greens themselves. Our cities are too crowded and population pressure is stoking overdevelopment they say, our fragile continent just can’t cope with people and their needs… The party doesn’t (directly) call for cuts in numbers, but their own campaigning on environmental issues directly suggests it, and goes into the mix as supporting anti-immigration sentiment.

    Also, a large proportion of Greens votes are simply protest voters who don’t like the two major parties. In the 2013 election, a huge chunk of the Greens vote outside of their central Melbourne heartland simply vanished, and PUP’s rose proportionally. These people will just go to anyone perceived as anti-mainstream. Why be surprised that they are also bigots?

    1. Teddy

      “ban on” not “bacon! Sorry, damn predictive txt-ing…

      1. Shakira Hussein

        😀 Very Freudian slip-of-the-predictive text, that one!

    2. shea mcduff

      Strange comment Teddy – somewhat at odds with the actual results in both your examples.
      Lets look at the ER poll “Support for ban on Muslim immigration”
      Greens 34%
      ALP 40%
      Others 58%
      LNP 60%
      Hmm, the Greens were least likely to support a ban.
      In your terms they are actually the least “bigoted’ group.

      Now lets look at Australian Electoral Office results for National Metro and Non-Metro first preference votes for the ALP and Greens in this last election – you know the one we just had, the ‘current’ situation more or less that is the background for the ER poll.
      ALP 37.52% a swing of 1.24%
      Greens 11.71% a swing of 1.69%
      ALP 30.34% a swing of 1.46%
      Greens 8.18% a swing of 1.42%
      [And the Greens performance in this category in NSW and Vic. was slightly above this national result]

      Seems that whatever alleged ‘loss of non-metro votes’ you can assign to the Greens can equally validly be assigned to the ALP.
      In point of fact both did slightly to moderately well in both categories

  6. Inscrutable

    The result doesn’t surprise me a lot when I think about as I suspect its the cultural dress aspect of some muslims that is the issue. I have a large number of muslim friends and work colleagues (with very western outlooks) and their religion is the last thing I think about when I’m with them, but, when I drop my daughter off at school and see Burka clad women there I find myself being quite conscious of that (probably due to the lack of body language) despite intellectually putting it to one side. For other people though with less connection to muslims, the emotional reaction doesn’t get put to one side….

    1. Joe Fitzpatrick

      Almost half the kids I teach are Muslim and, trust me, they’re among the harshest critics of Muslims there are. They’re very conscious that extremism is a problem and often express very critical opinions of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa. e.g. “Half of them are crazy. Trust me, my mum grew up there” etc.
      As I’ve said before, the Left are totally hamstrung on this issue. It’s almost too hard to have a rational debate about Islam. That just leaves the lunatic fringe to grab onto the debate.
      I wish it was not so.

  7. Itsarort

    Would there be any psychologists or psychiatrists surprised by this poll?

  8. Sweeney Julanne

    I have discarded the shackles of the Christian religion I grew up with,so have no wish to see another set of constricting rules fostered in Australia.There are too many medieval laws in Moslem religion for me to welcome them,even though I love the rich variety of races in our cultural makeup.

    1. Marilyn J Shepherd

      So how many muslims have ever shackled your life, honestly the racist bigotry you babble on about is sickening.

      1. Lee Tinson

        How very Andrew Bolt-ish of you (although he is much better at it). Just how was it racist? How was it bigotry? Some people actually practice sharia “guidelines” in their sequestered communities, in defiance of Australian law. Occasionally, “honour killings” are committed, and 10-year-old girls are forced into marriage. If it’s racist and bigoted to object to that, then yep! that’s me.

    2. Joe Fitzpatrick

      According to Pew Research:
      Over 70% of Muslims in the following countries support Sharia as the official law of the land: Malaysia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Niger, Nigeria, Congo,.
      Over 50% of Muslims support stoning to death in the following countries (adultery/apostasy): Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq.
      Wishing it weren’t the case isn’t going to make the numbers go away.

  9. lethell

    There is a difference between welcoming alien cultures into one’s own and welcoming the possibility of the destruction of one’s own culture by another. Who’s in charge is a relevant and legitimate concern for any culture, Australian or otherwise, in relation to immigration, and fair enough too, although it certainly does not justify denigration of the “other” as such.

  10. lethell

    Google Skepticlawyer, “Why hasn’t the politics of immigration gone feral in Australia?” for an interesting take on the issue, also his earlier post on the cognitive closure entailed in applying the term “racist” to those with questions about immigration policies.

    1. shea mcduff

      From the “About” section of the site “skepticlawyer”
      ” skepticlawyer is Helen Dale”
      Helen dale was formerly policy adviser to Senator David Leyonhjelm until just before the election.
      The post mentioned by Lethel was written by Lorenzo.

      1. AR

        That would DEMIDENKO , a much needed Angry Penguin of the last gasp of a rational, progressivist, class/grundle/grundle class in 1994 awarded prizes and acclaimed by the bien pissants who saw the light and became property magnates.

        1. shea mcduff

          Yep we would both remember her beautiful dog avatar at Larvatus Prodeo back then.

          1. AR

            Last I saw, a year or more ago, she was at Catalepsy, aka CATLAXATIVE.

        2. klewso

          Author of “The hand that signed the paper” – another work of fiction.

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