If you are an Australian, and not also a hermit residing in a remote location, it is unlikely that the Reclaim Australia (RA) movement has escaped your notice over the past few months. Splashed all over social media and news outlets, it is also a topic on the tongues of everyday Australians - in the supermarket queue, at coffee shops, in university lecture halls and libraries; people are divided. These conversations are crucial to our development as a democratic nation, but we need to make sure that the loudest voices are not also the least informed.
Reclaim Australia label themselves as “people from all walks of life” who are concerned about the “radicals of Islam”, and their ideology is painfully ironic. Extremists protesting extremism; men and women whose movement is built on religious discrimination calling for equality and acceptance; asking indigenous communities to stand with them and claiming in the same breath that “cultural marxists” [sic] are “using aboriginal genocide to hit back at today’s Australians” and “[rewrite] our white heritage.” The website warns against the “Islamisation” of our nation, suggesting the less-than-specific remedy of “[stopping] all forms of radicalisation within our shores until it stops.”
The Reclaim Australia website lists 24 items under the heading Reclaim What?, beginning with the right to peaceful assembly that they claim was denied by police when a violent clash between RA and counter-protesters was shut down in April. RA members were joined at the Melbourne event by extreme right-wing protest group the United Patriots Front, who “oppose left-wing treason and the spread of Islam” but, again, fail to suggest solutions.
Reclaim Australia claim that they are not anti-Muslim, only “anti-extreme-Islam,” but semantics are irrelevant – both statements promote suspicion and intolerance of the Muslim community in Australia. RA’s claims that they are promoting gender equality and anti-terrorism also implies that people of the Muslim faith may be anti-women terrorists. Although RA are not technically making statements against a particular ethnicity, they are definitely guilty of religious discrimination. Most of them genuinely believe that there is nothing bigoted about their worldview, and that’s a big part of the problem.
We live in a constantly changing world, and everyone reacts to change differently. Many of us embrace it and look forward to its challenges and lessons, but some of us are afraid. So afraid, that we drape ourselves in national flags and march into the streets to protest. We internalise our fear and turn it into anger. We take our anger out on the people and things that we are scared of and justify it to ourselves with the idea that we are doing what we must to protect our way of life.
The thing about groups like this is that all of their passion, and therefore their power, is rooted in that inherent fear of change. This is clear in their lack of objectives – if they are fighting something as vague as “Islamisation” how can they possibly know when they have ‘won’? When halal meat is outlawed? When mosques are torn down? When immigration ceases and our economy crumbles because Australia has earned a reputation as a place of intolerance and disrespect?
On the whole, Australia has always prided itself on being a multicultural society. It is one of the buzz words that we use to market ourselves to the world. Multiculturalism should be about respectful co-existence, and a willingness to listen to each other’s stories. We have churches, synagogues and temples all over our nation – why are mosques so much scarier?
Reclaim Australia and similar groups are noisy and frustrating, but only one piece of Australia’s puzzle nonetheless. I hear people telling their friends and family about the anti-Islam protests, and I am encouraged by what I hear. Many are uncomfortable with the degradation of individualism that movements like Reclaim Australia encourage and are ashamed that the world might perceive those groups as a majority.
In the supermarket aisles and libraries, as at the rallies, the voices of discrimination are having to compete with ones of tolerance and love. Reclaim Australia and similar movements may be loud now, but they will go hoarse. We live in a fast-paced, fast-changing world and there is no room in a bright future for intolerance. It feels like walking through waist-deep mud sometimes, but to truly reclaim Australia we have to move beyond the internalised prejudices and fears of the past. In the end, we are all just humans with a story to tell. And all of our stories have equal value.