Scott Morrison and the racist in the dark alley

So here’s something I’ve been thinking.

Scott Morrison has been saying all the right things in the last few days, both about the terrorist attack in Christchurch and about Anning’s disgusting remarks. He is clearly trying to distance himself from the overt racism of the far right. And this is heartening, as far as it goes. Frankly, if ScoMo has decided that trying to be unifying and bring Australians together is a better election strategy than racism and divisiveness, then I’m all for it. Words matter, and I’m in favour of anything that keeps our multicultural society safer.

Hell, perhaps this is ScoMo’s ‘come to Jesus’ moment – the moment when he sees where the kind of rhetoric he has been permitting leads, and decides to change. Even if it isn’t, I believe that he is quite sincere in his horror and revulsion at this event.

But here’s the thing.

This entire conversation is reminding me of the sorts of conversations we have after a woman is attacked and murdered when walking home at night, or by day, or wherever, by the stranger who comes from nowhere. And we are all shocked and we are horrified and we hold vigils and have conversations about how dangerous it is for a woman to walk alone at night. Because it is so much easier to think of rape and assault as something that is perpetrated by strangers in the dark than the fact that women are more likely to be attacked in their own homes and by people they know.

Fraser Anning is helping ScoMo and his mates quite a bit right now. He is giving them something truly despicable to point at, so that they can say ‘this is racism, and we reject it utterly’. And it is, and they should.

The thing is, though, Anning is that stranger in the dark alley. He and people like him are terrible, terrible people, and we absolutely need to stand against their overt racism – but we must not forget that for every attack by a stranger in the dark alley, there are dozens, hundreds, even, of attacks that we don’t see or don’t recognise, because they happen in private, or because they don’t fit our idea of what an attack looks like.

I think it’s important that we don’t let the government, or the media, or anyone else fool us into thinking that they are fighting against racism because they reject Anning and the acts of terrorists. That is the lowest of all possible bars (and I can’t help but noting that there are those still doing their best to limbo under it).

Pay attention to what else they say. Pay attention to the dog whistles about economic migrants and immigrants who don’t want to fit in. Pay attention to what sort of free speech is protected, and what sort is condemned.  Pay attention to who is allowed to be angry, to be outraged, to react in self-defense, to have their feelings hurt.

There are so many microagressions, so many everyday acts of racism, so many things that we ask people just to ignore to keep the peace, because ‘he doesn’t really mean it’, or ‘she was only joking’ or ‘it wasn’t that bad’.

And it’s true that these things aren’t as bad as murdering 51 people because of their religion, or even as bad as blaming those people for their own murder.  But, you know, something can be not as bad as the worst thing you can think of and still be not, actually, good.  It can, in fact, still be bloody terrible.

You can be less racist than Anning, and still be racist.

I think we ought to be demanding that our politicians do better than ‘not the actual worst’.  We’ve become accustomed to some pretty terrible rhetoric, and I think that’s dangerous – our standards have become so low that we feel faintly relieved that ‘at least’ Morrison referred to the killer as a terrorist.

(And I wasn’t even all that surprised when Dutton tried to claim that the Greens were just as bad as Anning.  Surely that ought to merit more than an eyeroll?)

We need to do better than this.  We need to demand that our leaders take responsibility for the racism and xenophobia that they have been enabling (or at best, turning a blind eye to, for the sake of votes).

But most of all we need to understand that racism doesn’t start with a man murdering people at prayer because he is a white supremacist. It starts with words, with small cruelties, with tiny acts of exclusion.  It starts with all the little things our society does to signal that it’s OK to be a little bit racist, it’s OK to think that people who come from somewhere else, or who worship differently from us might be a bit funny or a bit dangerous or a bit inferior.

And, after all, don’t we care about freedom of speech?

Fraser Anning has said terrible, racist things.  This is indisputable.  But we can’t afford to be distracted by him, or by arguments about the proper use of eggs vis-a-vis politicians of any stripe.

I would love to believe that this is the moment when our society and our politicians look inside themselves and reject racism once and for all. But I’ll need more than a denunciation of Anning to be convinced.

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Disclaimer: I’m white.  I have no direct experience of racism, nor have I devoted significant time to studying it.  So this analogy might be terribly flawed.  I welcome comments from those who are more knowledgeable.  (But bear in mind that all comments are screened, and I’m not always online and available to unscreen them.)

Christchurch

I don’t know what to say about the events in Christchurch.  I simply can’t fathom this level of violence, and of hatred, and of cruelty.

For myself, I am not a New Zealander, and I am not a Muslim, so this is not my tragedy – but like many Australians, I tend to think of New Zealanders as our (generally much nicer and more civilised) neighbours, and as a Christian, of course Muslims are my brothers and sisters – we are all people of faith, who are doing our best to live that faith in the world, and I think there is more that unites us than there is that separates us.

So I am thinking of and praying for my Muslim brothers and sisters today, and particularly for those who lost their lives or who lost loved ones in this attack.

And I am thinking of and praying for for all those who lost their sense of safety and of home today, because that’s the nasty aftertaste (and, really, the goal) of this sort of attack – it is intended to terrorise, and to intimidate, and make people feel unwelcome.  It isn’t just the immediate victims who suffer.

I’m so sorry for your loss, and that it was a countryman of mine who caused it.  And that people who look like me have said and done things that make this worse.

Allah yerhamon – may God grant them rest.

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There has been a lot of political commentary around this.  Some people have said some very important things, which deserve to be heard.  (Others have said some shockingly awful things which I am not going to link to, because most of these people are exactly the sort of people from whom one would expect terrible things, so we don’t actually need to go and read which particularly terrible thing they said this time.)

Below, I’ve linked to three statements which I think are worth reading / listening to, if you haven’t seen them.  But if you are completely saturated by this news – and honestly, I wouldn’t blame you, I’m going to switch off social media after this and go do something constructive – I invite you to scroll down a bit further, because I’ve made a bit of a list of things you might consider doing to help support / show solidarity with our Muslim friends and neighbours.  Feel free to add your own comments (and if you are Muslim and reading this, and there is something that you would really like people to be doing right now, please comment and I’ll add it as soon as I can).

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A statement by Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand

Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here.

They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.

The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.”

(You can read a transcript of her speech here, or click on the link above to watch her statement.)

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A statement from Waleed Aly, journalist and host of The Project

But of all the things I could say tonight, that I’m gutted and I’m scared and I feel overcome with utter hopelessness, the most dishonest thing, the most dishonest thing would be to say that I’m shocked. I’m simply not.

There’s nothing about what happened in Christchurch today that shocked me. I wasn’t shocked when six people were shot to death at a mosque in Quebec City two years ago. I wasn’t shocked when a man drove a van into Finsbury Park mosque in London about six months later and I wasn’t shocked when 11 Jews were shot dead in a Pittsburgh synagogue late last year or when nine Christians were killed at a church in Charleston. If we’re honest, we’ll know this has been coming.

(A transcript of his speech can be found here, but if you are able to watch the video, I’d recommend it – I found it very moving.)

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Journalist Osman Faruqi wrote an excellent series of tweets about the way journalism covers far right activism – the start of the thread is here. (You shouldn’t need a Twitter account to access it).  And this Tweet, shortly after the news broke, was heartbreaking to me.

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Things you can do

  • If you are in Victoria, Australia, tomorrow is Victorian Mosque Open Day. I’d encourage you to go along and visit your local Mosque – there is a list of participating venues at the link above – and say hello.
  • There are two fundraising appeals for victims and families of victims.  I gather both sites are crashing a lot because of the number of people trying to donate, so you may want to try both of them, or be a bit patient and try again in a day or two.
    • The New Zealand Council of Victim Support Groups has set up a  fundraiser on Give A Little.
    • The New Zealand Islamic Information Centre has set up a fundraiser on Launch Good.
    • If you are in New Zealand and are eligible to donate, now would be a good time to give blood, but I imagine you know that.
    • Also if you are in New Zealand, Restoring Family Links is a website set up to help people who might have been victims of the shootings and their families to find each other (and just to check in to let others know that they are alive).
    • If people in your life say terrible, racist things, call them on it (especially if you, personally, are white, and thus more likely to be taken seriously on the subject).  Even if they are joking.  They may not mean it, but not everyone listening to them will know that, and people who think that those around them share their views are significantly more likely to act on them.
    • If the politicians in your life say terrible racist things, call them on it… no, but seriously.  We all know the election is coming soon.  Write to your local MP, to your local Senators, to Bill Shorten and to Scott Morrison, and make it clear that you are not going to vote for a party that enables and supports racism or Islamophobia.  And if they haven’t denounced yesterday’s events, demand that they do.
    • Getup now has a petition to end scaremongering and bigotry in politics. Signing it couldn’t hurt.
  • Look after yourself and others.  There is a good article here on coping with traumatic news.  Read it, act on it, share it.