Terrorist Attack in Christchurch – The Volcano Set to Erupt

by Dalia Al Haj Qasem

Meticulously cultivated, Islamophobia is an uncontrollable force – one that pushed through the brittle surface on Friday 15th March 2019 to take the lives of 50 innocent men, women and children.

There was nothing shocking about what occurred on that dark day, or even surprising.

The wholesale demonisation of Muslims is something that has gone unabated for years on end, fuelled by policiticians, the media and the willingness of law enforcement authorities to look the other way.

In this environment, manufactured fear and fertilised hatred have translated into a horrific attack on unarmed, vulnerable human beings.

Magma rises and collects in chambers near the surface of a volcano, before becoming lava and spilling out in the lead up to an eruption.

So what causes the magma to become lava, and ultimately be thrown into the atmosphere by a volcanic eruption?

Prominent psychiatrist and revolutionary, Dr Frantz Fanon, once published the following words:

“Hate is not inborn; it has to be constantly cultivated, to be brought into being, in conflict with more or less recognized guilt complexes.”.

Sadly, our metaphorical volcano was far closer to home than many recognised. And our very own politicians and media relentlessly filled the earth with pressure, forcing the eruption of last Friday.

Politicians and media

Over many years, conservative politicians and the mainstream media have enabled, propagated and even encouraged hate speech against Muslims. They have helped to normalise the use of anti-Muslim rhetoric and made certain the volcano would eventually erupt.

It is our very own current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who capitalised on and benefited from Anti-Muslim sentiment in 2011.

It is the founder of the One Nation Party, Pauline Hanson, who tactically shifted her supposed concerns of an ‘Asian invasion’ to Islamic terrorism in order to feed the fears of her base of supporters, calling for a ban on Muslim immigration in 2016.

It is Fraser Anning abusing the protection of parliamentary privilege to incite violence, by calling for a ‘final solution’ to the ‘Muslim problem’.

It is Dutton saying in 2016 that Lebanese immigration was a mistake, it is Bernardi claiming in 2017 that Islam is going to take away our culture, it is the refusal of the Prime Minister Turnbull in 2018 to rebuke right wing hate speech.

It is the inflammatory rhetoric of tabloid newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph, and radio-show personalities like Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt that fuelled hatred against the same Muslims that have helped build our economy for decades. Unfettered sensationalism and hate-filled rhetoric has contributed to the demonisation of an entire religion.

It is the willingness of television stations like 7, 9, 10 and Fox to provide a platform for the proliferation of right wing extremist views, giving credibility to the dangerous and hateful.

It certainly is not mental illness or a travel experience that led to the terrorist massacre of 15th March. It is the very environment which cultivates hatred that has led to the actions of right wing extremists. Through this, one man found his justification to execute a horrific act of terrorism last week – as politicians, the media and many others pointed their fingers at a manufactured enemy.

It was our politicians and the media that loaded the deadly bullets, and who continue to provide right wing groups with the platform  they need to spread their hateful message with impunity.

So where is the accountability? Where is the swift regulation and enforcement that is routinely exercised in respect of Jihadist social media pages and ‘radicalised’ young Muslims. Why the hypocrisy, the double-standard?

The answers await as families of the defenceless victims gunned down during their most vulnerable time continue to suffer.

Free speech vs hate speech

It has been said that, ‘there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Free speech encourages debate whereas hate speech incites violence’.

The law in Australia, and indeed elsewhere, has struggled to draw the line between the two concepts.

Whilst Australia is a signatory to various covenants which recognise a general right to free speech, our nation does not have a bill of rights to protect the concept.

Indeed, there is no country that protects freedom of speech without exception.

The nearest thing we have to the protection of free speech is the limited, implied right of freedom of political communication, as set out by the High Court in the case of Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation [1997].

Incitement

In terms of hate speech, various laws apply across Australia to prevent the incitement of violence and the vilification of individuals and groups.

For example, section 93Z of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) makes it an offence punishable by 3 years in prison to publicly threaten or incite violence on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex or HIV/AIDS status.

The offence  – like others such as ‘incitement’ under section 11.4 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) – extends to publications on television, radio, newspapers and indeed social media.

The existence of such laws begs the question: Why are those on the far-right being allowed to publish hate speech that incites violence against Muslims?

It’s high time these offenders are criminally prosecuted with a view to sending a strong message that such conduct will not be tolerated in our society, before further terrorist atrocities are enabled to take place.

Author

Dalia Al Haj Qasem

Dalia Al Haj Qasem is a law clerk with Sydney Criminal Lawyers who has a special interest in humanitarian and social justice issues. She won the Marie Bashir Peace Award in 2015 and has written for a number of reputable publications.

Your Opinion Matters