The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN [12.09 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens and as The Greens multicultural spokesperson I speak in support of this motion. The Greens condemn all violence. It is a core principle of our party to support non-violence and it is essential to every position we Greens take, whether it be as members of Parliament, as campaigners or as members of our community. The protests this weekend were punctuated by a tragic display of violent behaviour from an extreme minority who are not representative, as we have heard today and from the community, of Australian Muslims.
As leaders in this place we must repeat over and over again that they were not representative of Australian Muslim people. It is extremely important that we categorically support tolerance and Muslims everywhere who are equally appalled by the weekend’s events and who will be feeling the weight of judgement applied unfairly and unequally.
The Greens moved quickly to condemn the violence at this weekend’s protest and immediately called for restraint and dialogue. The film that was the stated reason for the protest may well be offensive, insulting and of absolutely no merit either artistically or socially, but to use it as an excuse for violence is totally unacceptable to most Australians and it is also deplorable to most Australian Muslims. It would be a tragedy if a small minority of extremists were allowed to taint community perceptions of a cultural and religious group that has contributed so much to the fabric of Australian society.
To demonstrate just how unrepresentative of the Muslim world these violent actions were, Muslim community leaders from across the country united to condemn the violent protests. Yesterday in Lakemba at a special media conference the leaders made clear the voice of the majority of Muslim Australians. The Greens congratulate these leaders from the 25 Muslim organisations who met to condemn the violence and to call for no more protests against the anti-Islamic film that has sparked violent riots around the world. In a letter to News Limited papers, Dr Omar Lum, the chairperson of the Islamic Foundation of Australia, said:
Islam is a religion of peace.
Provocations have been made on the Prophet Muhammad and Islam throughout history.
The proper Islamic response has always been the exhibition of patience and enjoining good, despite hostile provocations.
The violence, destruction and deaths caused by these misguided Muslim extremists in Sydney and around the world have no place in Islamic teachings.
We strongly condemn the violent and destructive reaction of these extremist Muslims in Sydney and elsewhere.
We condemn the teaching of hatred and extremist ideas to Muslim children.
I draw to members’ attention an article in The Drum by Dr Ghena Krayem, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, and Mehal Krayem, a writer and PhD candidate at the University of Technology, who had this to say in part:
The protestors, some of them children, carried signs that proclaimed, ‘Behead all those who insult the Prophet’, ‘Our dead are in paradise. Your dead are in hell’ and ‘Obama, Obama we love Osama’. This is hardly projecting the image of peace they apparently intended. Conjuring associations with terrorism and barbarism and spreading hatred is contrary to both our democratic beliefs and Islamic values.
Unless this was an academic exercise in irony, on all accounts protestors missed the mark with their placards, which were at best ill thought and at worst reinforced long-held beliefs that Muslims will never belong.
It is made even more ironic by the fact that these placards, banners and chants are far from the conduct that befits those who follow in the footsteps of a Prophet who came with a message of peace and mercy. Ultimately they undermine the true message of Islam and the very message the protestors sought to defend.
But let’s be clear, this wasn’t simply a protest about a film. It was a protest intended to address years of abuse suffered by the Muslim community and in particular by a section of the community that clearly feels marginalised and disenfranchised. The inconsistent messages on the placards being paraded by protestors were as clear an indication of this as anything could be.
This brings me to another extremely important point: Where did this anger come from? It is undeniable that an element within what has become a global phenomenon of protest is the disadvantage, discrimination and marginalisation experienced by Muslims in various places around the world, including by some in Australia. I repeat that this is in no way an excuse for the violent behaviour at the weekend, but as leaders we have a responsibility to dig deeper and to truly examine the reasons why violence such as this, including riots, occurs. We have a responsibility to future generations of both Muslim and non-Muslim Australians to maximise social cohesion and prevent future unrest. The perpetrators of the violence should be brought to justice, just as the perpetrators of discrimination and intolerance should be exposed, condemned and held to account for their actions.
I despair at some commentary which has used the weekend’s terrible events to attack the very core of multiculturalism in Australia—one of our most significant achievements as a society. Some conservative commentators, including Piers Akerman, have refused to speak out in support of the majority of Australian Muslims, instead choosing to inflame hatred by statements such as the following incredible contribution published by the Daily Telegraph:
There are decent Muslims, to be sure, but they are fighting a losing battle in the war for civilisation.
Piers Akerman recently wrote another article with the headline, “Muslims show no tolerance for the tolerant”. This man is a thought leader in our community. In some ways what do we expect when leaders and commentators preach such intolerance in our mainstream publications. If we are to prevent future events such as this we must take a calm and evidence-based approach to examine the causes and possible solutions. References to humiliated and marginalised Muslim youth are not pandering to violence as some would have us believe, nor is examining the reasons behind extremism in other cultures and in all religions. Yes, extremism exists in all cultures and religions. Dutch member of Parliament and extremist, Geert Wilders, who is awaiting visa approval to visit Australia, has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf. The Greens have called on the Australian Government to reject his application to come into this country to spread his hatred.
As sickened as we were by the sight of signs that preached hatred and violence on Saturday we would do well to remember that hatred and violence are not unique to this riot, nor are they unique to the Muslim community. During the Cronulla riots we saw messages such as, “Love Nullah, Fuck Allah”, and, “Go home, we’re full”. We saw hatred in the eyes of both sides of that riot. We most definitely saw fear in the eyes of many of those innocent young men and women deemed to be of Middle Eastern appearance and hence singled out for violent attacks by the mobs on that shameful day. In 2007 two pigs heads were staked at the site of the proposed Islamic school in Camden. One of the pig’s heads had an Australian flag on it. In June 2004 a pig’s head on a stake was left at the construction site of a Muslim prayer hall in Annangrove.
We remember other signs filled with hatred and hate speech. I saw one recently, which said, “Kill Gillard, Hang Bligh”. We also remember the hate-filled signs reading, “Ditch the Bitch”, and, “Ditch the Witch”. We need to remember that these events do not happen in a vacuum, and that is why I have given examples of signs that we all think are appalling. These riots are of course taking place as riots take place across the globe against the foolish and hateful film, which media reports state a 55-year-old Egyptian-born Coptic Christian from California, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is responsible for. This is an amateurish half hour about “Innocence of Muslims”, which mocks the Prophet Mohammad. The Greens do not support the riots; however, we do support peaceful protests. We do not support hate speech in any form. We do not support the publication and distribution of this film.
It is important to remember that despite the majority of people in Sydney and New South Wales condemning racism in all of its forms as members have said during their contributions, racism is still alive and well around the State. That is why it is critical we do not allow events like those that happened in Sydney on Saturday to wind back the good work of hundreds if not thousands of members of Muslim communities in New South Wales to promote tolerance and an understanding of shared values between all members of the wider community. The Greens reiterate our commitment and the commitment of all members of this place to a rich and vibrant multicultural Australia. In the wake of the violent protests it is all the more important for us to give voice to that commitment, but as Australian Greens Senator Richard Di Natale has stated:
The knee jerk and opportunistic call from some commentators for Australia to shut its doors and ‘give intolerance a try’ is just as offensive. Both forms of extremism have no place in a modem Australia.
The Greens categorically condemn the weekend’s violence. We call on all Australian political leaders and every member of this Parliament to use their influence to promote tolerance. I call on all members to reject hate speech and violence wherever it occurs, from all sections of the community. Only by doing so can we help prevent events such as those which occurred on Saturday from occurring again.