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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Christchurch massacre a game changer

The sheer human tragedy of the Christchurch shootings hit home in the Sunday papers. There on the front page of many was the beautiful innocent face of a wide-eyed three-year-old boy. Mucad Ibrahim was one of the 50 victims slain by a cowardly Australian racist. The impact was as gut-wrenching as the image of the drowned two-year-old Syrian refugee washed up on a Turkish beach four years ago. His sneakers, T-shirt and shorts made him look like any other toddler loved and cherished in families around the world.

The Syrian boy’s name was Alan Kurdi. Such was the revulsion in Australia, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced he was offering asylum to 12,000 Syrians displaced by that brutal civil war. Abbott’s response was all the more dramatic as he and his senior ministers, Scott Morrison and then Peter Dutton, had made a virtue of demonising people either displaced or fleeing for their lives from the cauldron that is the Middle East.

Just as that heartbreaking image of Alan Kurdi acted as a game changer – at least for a while in Australia and around the world – the hate-filled massacre in Christchurch has triggered the same emotions again. Australians have joined New Zealanders recoiling in horror at the barbarity of a gunman slaughtering a Muslim congregation as they prayed.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited a mosque the day after the killings to express solidarity with them and to condemn the “horrific and tragic terrorist attacks”. He did not cavil at labelling what happened an act of “terrorism” – unlike Donald Trump in America. His condolences were no doubt heartfelt, but there was a perspective on them given by TV host and commentator Waleed Aly on Ten’s The Project on Friday night.

The devout Muslim said he also prays at a mosque most Fridays and while he accepted the condolences of Morrison and other political leaders, he said they cannot ignore the role they have played in creating the climate for such attacks. He pointed to a 2011 Sydney Morning Herald report where, as shadow immigration minister, Morrison urged the Liberals to “ramp up questioning of multiculturalism” and appeal to deep voter concerns about Muslim immigration and “inability to integrate”. The Prime Minister’s office denies the accuracy of the reports; he has the support of Peter Dutton and Greg Hunt in that denial.

But those quoted  arguing against Morrison in the shadow cabinet – Julie Bishop, Malcolm Turnbull and Philip Ruddock – have not denied it. The journalist, the respected Lenore Taylor, says she had multiple sources, other media outlets had similar reports and she stands by her story.

How the times have changed. To be seen leveraging anti-Muslim sentiment now for political gain would be transparently disgusting. Former Hanson Senator now independent Fraser Anning has discovered that to his detriment. One million petitioners are urging Anning be expelled from parliament for blaming “Muslim immigration” for the “bloodshed on New Zealand streets”.

The blame lies with fear-driven bigotry.

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