By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim
On November 8, Australian Labor senator Sam Dastyari was buying drinks at the VU bar in Melbourne’s Footscray, when he was accosted by a group of men who surrounded him and started hurling racist abuse. And like it was a badge of honour, these men actually filmed their attack.
One of the assailants called the Iranian-born senator a “terrorist,” and asked why he didn’t go back to his country of origin. Mr Dastyari told “the racist rednecks” that they “follow him wherever” he goes.
And that’s sadly the case. It’s not the first time the senator has been subjected to racist taunts.
Mr Dastyari made his way back to the table where he was waiting to conduct a Q&A about his newly released book. And as the men continued their assault, they took issue with the senator calling them racists. They asked, “What race is Islam?”
This is yet another example of Islamophobic incidents that are increasingly taking place across the country. And on this occasion the perpetrators felt so emboldened that they posted the footage incident on the Patriot Blue Facebook page: that being the new white nationalist group they belong to.
The increase in hate incidents
While Senator Dastyari was standing at the bar, Labor MP Tim Watts approached him to lend some support to his colleague. However, most Australians who are subjected to an anti-Muslim assault find that no support forthcoming.
The Islamophobia in Australia report was released in July. Researchers found that of the 243 verified incidents that were reported to the Islamophobia Register of Australia no one intervened 70 percent of the time.
The report also outlined that in the majority of cases the targets of Islamophobia are women, especially those wearing head covering. And half of the female victims had their children with them at the time.
President of the register Mariam Veiszadeh said in May that “what’s shocking is the continuous rise in both the frequency and the severity of the incidents.” On the release of the report, she stated that it was timely as the debate still continues over whether Islamophobia actually exists in this country.
The rise in anti-Muslim sentiment has been fuelled by the hate speech of vocal right-wing politicians. Australian Conservative party senator Cory Bernardi has referred to the Islamic faith as “a totalitarian political and religious ideology.”
While quintessential racist ranter Pauline Hanson said in her Senate maiden speech that Australia “is in danger of being swamped by Muslims.” This is despite 2016 Census figures revealing there are only 604,000 Muslims living in Australia, making up just 2.6 percent of the population.
And encouraged by this recent shift in the political arena, white nationalist groups have formed. Reclaim Australia took to the streets in 2015, followed by its offshoot the United Patriots Front. And now, it seems Patriot Blue is the new face of right-wing racism.
A rise into a whimper
Senator Dastyari warned there is a rise in white nationalism. And while these extremist groups have become more prominent over recent years, perhaps they’re more likely the last remnants of a fading idea of what this country is.
Dr Jonathan Bogais, adjunct associate professor at the School of Social and Political Sciences at Sydney University told Sydney Criminal Lawyers in February that the recent rise in the alt-right is due to “growing discontent” with mainstream politics.
However, as One Nations’ performance in the Queensland election reveals, although white nationalists receive a lot of media attention, the support in the community doesn’t warrant it. And the low number of votes Hanson’s party received in the WA election had already confirmed this.
An outdated identity
The senator assumed his assailants at the bar were from the United Patriots Front. He stood corrected, when they revealed they were from Patriot Blue. However, subsequent media reports confirmed that at least one of them had been a member of the United Patriots Front.
So, while new white nationalist groups are forming, it may be that their members are made up from a small, but vocal, group in the community that keeps factionalising.
And this so-called rise in white nationalism could very well turn into a fizzle, as the participants in these groups come to grips with the fact that they’re holding onto some warped idea of what the nation of Australia actually is.