Fascism, Anti-fascism, and a coffee shop full of white liberals
If you have been following what’s been going with the fash over the past year, you might want to skip to the paragraph under the image of the Herald Scum. Otherwise, read on:
Over the past few years there has been increase in the number of nationalist and fascist organizations in Australia. Currently their main unifying mantra is a hatred of Islam and a paranoia that Muslims, via the sale of Halal products and the building of Mosques, are enacting a massive conspiracy to impose Sharia Law on honest and simple “Aussies”. In a ham-fisted attempt at sleight-of-hand these groups claim that they are not racist because “Islam is not a race”. Groups such as the United Patriots Front, Reclaim Australia, True Blue Crew, Party For Freedom, and the Australian Liberty Alliance are trying to capitalize on the fertile ground prepared by the LNP and the Labor Party’s racist policies, most notably in their willingness to use refugees’ lives as political footballs. Many people have heard of these groups but believe them to be trivial entities, however, one only needs to visit their social media pages to see that even in their current state they are a serious threat to public safety, particularly to people of color and women. Calls for assault, rape and murder of Muslims, First Nations Peoples, Africans, anyone that you care to mention that is not white/Anglo/European and in agreeance, are commonplace.
Let’s be clear here: this is not simply freedom of speech that fascist groups are exercising. It is racist misogynist hate speech, it is an incitement to violence against minorities, and it is illegal. Not that police or federal agencies seem too concerned. Aside from the horrific long-term aims of these far right groups, the possibility of individuals carrying out US-style killings is certainly not out of the question. If and when something like this does happen, we will wonder how on earth it was not prevented when the intent was clearly and publicly declared for all and sundry.
Allowing these groups to organize themselves, to publicly and freely gather, is to allow them to reaffirm each other in their beliefs, and therefore to strengthen and grow. They do not simply exhaust themselves if the public pays them no attention: no one was paying attention when on 5th April 2015 they managed to organize simultaneous rallies across Australia, many of which went largely unchallenged. In fact, unless there is violent clash between anti-fascist activists and the far-right the media does not pay any attention, but these groups still grow. They have subsequently held other rallies around the country, most notably in Melbourne and Bendigo. This year they have stepped up their activities by not only holding their own rallies, but going and disrupting peaceful anti-racist rallies, as well as other gatherings such as a Halal food festival in Melbourne. As of today they have planned at least two more events in the next month. Neither the police nor any major political party has taken any steps to prevent these actions – they have merely washed their hands of the whole situation, apart from a concerted effort to increase police powers to limit the rights of protestors. The only group of people who have identified the far-right fascist threat and have organized to directly confront it are anti-fascist and anti-racist individuals and organizations, many of whom were in Coburg last Saturday.
The counter protesters who go to prevent these gatherings understand that this is the nascence of a fascist movement. The idea that these right-wing groups will simply exhaust themselves and disappear is clearly unfounded, and deeply irresponsible, particularly considering the current political climate. Successive Australian governments are systematically abusing the human rights of political prisoners to such an extent that is inspiring the far right even in Europe (for example British UKIP and German NDP). Australian fascist groups are capitalizing on this and pushing for what are essentially White Australia policies.
Given this context, the response by commentators and the corporate and national media has been a disgraceful combination of deliberate obscuration of the facts and smug, white complacency. Consider the fact that the vast majority of reports focus solely on the fact that there was a brawl and that police used capsicum spray to quell “extremists from both sides”. It is reprehensible to call both neo-Nazis and the people opposing them “extremists”: they are simply not equivalent. The idea that in the absence of the counter-protestors the Nazis would have simply gone home is laughable if it wasn’t such a strong indication of the naivety of people who are relied upon to provide intelligent commentary.
Indeed, some people have tried to blame Councilor Sue Bolton, who organized the initial “Moreland Says No To Racism” rally, as the effective instigator of the fight that took place on Bell St. Think about that a little: the reason there was violence in Coburg was because people organized to peacefully speak out against racism. Never mind that it was the United Patriots Front and the True Blue Crew who decided to bus in flag-waving meatheads in from Bendigo and Melton to cause trouble. And in a small measure they did succeed in this aim by causing the Greens Councilor and Wills candidate Samantha Ratnam to not participate.
If the idea of opposing racist fascists is more distasteful than the fascists themselves then your conception of being anti-racist and anti-fascist is severely warped. Taking the moral high ground by doing exactly nothing about the growth of extreme right-wing ideology is having your cake and eating too, and it is not on . The much abused corpses of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King have been wheeled out in order remind us that “dialogue” and “true compromise” are what stops single-minded racist ideologies – by people who do no such thing. This public performance of appalled outrage also involved a performed dewy-eyed innocence of foundational (and ever present) Australian racism: it’s as if genocide has never been committed here, and we have all lived in glorious harmony until the riff-raff mucked it up.
Armchair expert Ben Birchall was much more concerned that “discourse will not be any richer” following the Saturday clash than the fact that there would be a large gathering of neo-Nazis in his local park. He then curses the people putting themselves on the line while he strolls off to have a coffee (a multicultural coffee and za’atar, because see how he’s being anti-racist?).
Darren Gray’s article didn’t even mention fascism or Nazis: its main point of this article was how “surreal” Coburg felt on the day. Thrilling! Emily Wood’s article detailed how residents didn’t want racism in their neighborhood, but then somehow failed to mention that one side of the “racially fueled brawl” were neo-Nazis. Other pieces, such as this one by Bianca Hall, were more concerned about the unseemly nature of the brawl rather than the truly threatening ideology of the UPF and TBC. Her article also used people of color as currency to validate her own perspective while actually erasing the many people of color and Coburg locals who had the courage to get out on the street and eject the fascist intrusion.
I imagine these people think of themselves as anti-racist, but, as a person of color who turned up to chase those bigots out of town, they are symptomatic of the worth placed on words and not actions. They disgust me. People who do not do any anti-racist or anti-fascist activism do not suddenly get to loftily dictate strategy or morality to the people who are actually affected by racism and/or who do the hard work of anti-racism. Retweets don’t count.
You can bet that they will not say a word against what I predict will be the increasingly racist coverage of future clashes between fascist and antifascist supporters: only last Monday the Herald Sun front-page had a completely decontextualized photo (image uploaded soon) of Coburg locals, people of color, standing in front of police and yelling. Out of the frame of view are the fascists, but what editors wanted the public to see and react to were young Muslim men shouting while standing in front of riot police. There is already talk of a ban on face masks at rallies restarting the niqab/burka arguments, affecting Muslim women and their fundamental right to exist on the street.
And in future, as more people of color gain courage and start to take to the streets in response to fascist groups, expect to see the focus move from “masked vigilantes” to “riotous migrants who have failed to integrate”. And where will these commentators be? In a warm coffee shop, on Twitter, congratulating each other on their high moral standards.