Sometime over the course of the election campaign a small flyer landed in my letterbox from a new party called the Australia Liberty Alliance (the ALA, pronounced Allah). I was briefly amused by it, because for some overall gloss about small government, the flier was like a dirty old man with a one-track mind, except in this case everything reminded him of Islam (thus the ALA would fight for equality for woman, including specifically against the female genital mutilation; great causes both, by the way). In the end, the Alliance got just over 1 per cent of the Senate vote in Queensland, while the equally Islam-focused Rise Up Australia got just under a quarter per cent.
That 1.25 per cent, however, was not the end. Neither the Alliance nor Rise Up were the only ones to be concerned about Islam in Australia; Pauline Hanson â€“ who got 9.11 per cent of the vote in Queensland â€“ also wants a â€œPlease explainâ€.
Iâ€™m old enough to remember when Pauline Hanson was concerned about Asians and Aborigines. â€œI believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asiansâ€ (Maiden speech, 1996). Ah, the good old days. I guess Asians are OK now. At least the ones that weâ€™ve been swamped with thus far, since One Nation is in favour of zero population growth, so effectively no more.
I can save the taxpayersâ€™ money right now â€“ or, better still, Iâ€™m eminently qualified to head this Royal Commission: Islam is a religion. It is more worldly than most other religions, and in theory at least does not recognise the separation of the mosque and the state, but it is a religion alright. When Pauline muses about a political ideology she probably means â€“ or at least should mean â€“ Islamism, or the political Islam. That indeed is an issue and is a political ideology incompatible with and hostile to Western liberal democracy. Islamism does enjoy a minority support in the West, so letâ€™s focus on that phenomenon instead.
The rest of the One Nation proposals range from common-sense (a photographic ID should show a face, not a mask) to pretty blatant infringements of peopleâ€™s rights to religious worship. Even if Pauline is right and Islam is not a religion but a political ideology, you canâ€™t â€“ or, rather, shouldnâ€™t â€“ ban it, any more than you would ban, say, communism.
In the end though, One Nation, the Alliance and Rise Up exist because tap into significant public discontent. Peopleâ€™s concerns out there in the real world might be legitimate or exaggerated or stupid, on a case by case basis, but they are real and they inform their political choices. We get One Nation, the Alliance and Rise Up when we pretend that there are no concerns, or that they are beyond the pale of discussion (â€œShut up, they arguedâ€). Populism in Australia only declines as a political force when the mainstream parties engage with voters and address their concerns in measured and reasonable ways.
Whether we like it or not, there is life outside of the inner cities. Wentworth is not the microcosm of Australia, however nice and pleasant a part of it it is.
(Margo Kingston makes a similar argument from the left. Heads explode at the “Guardian”.)