Thursday, September 20, 2012

Letter: Muslim right to protest

[This letter was submitted to The West Australian on 20 September 2012. While it is long for a letter to the editor, it is shorter than some other letters published on this topic this week.]

Of the 42 letters to the editor about last weekend's “Muslim Riots” published [in The West Australian] since Monday's report, not a single one has come out in support of the right of Muslim people in Australia to be able to protest peacefully without being the victims of police violence.

Daily I have waited for somebody to stand up in support of this basic democratic right. Were the letters not written? Or not published? I am unsure.

I write now because I have read credible eye-witness reports (by non-participants) [see here and here] that confirm that provocation by police was the main source of violence at the protest. Police turned up in imposing numbers - prepared for violence - and started to throw their weight around in a provocative way.

Had this not happened, most likely there would have been nothing more than a legitimate protest of 400 people against an offensive video. It would not even have been reported in WA media!

Much has been made of a sign calling for the “beheading” of those who insult Islam. Of course I don't support this. But whatever became of the notion: “I disagree with what you say but I'll defend to the death your right to say it”?

Instead, we have heard calls for deportations and stripping people of their citizenship – the opposite of democracy.

And why should a whole rally be attacked because of the signs carried by a few?

Indeed, why should a whole crowd be violently attacked because some people (in reaction to police violence) were throwing bottles? We would not tolerate that at a football match.

Many letter writers have used these events to launch vitriolic attacks on the whole Islamic faith. Have people forgotten the violent actions of mass murderer Anders Breivik in the name of Christianity? What about the Buddhist chauvinist attacks on Tamils in Sri Lanka? Or the slaughter of activists bringing aid to Gaza by representatives of the Jewish state?

Every religion has violent and fundamentalist elements just as every religion has peaceful and humane ones. No religion should be attacked because of the actions of a minority of its followers.

We have an important challenge to defend democratic rights in this country in the face of government attempts to erode these rights. Standing against the tide of racism and Islamophobia is an important part of meeting that challenge.

Alex Bainbridge
Socialist Alliance

Public forum against Islamophobia: 
Wed 3 October, 6:30pm, Perth Activist Centre
15/5 Aberdeen St, Perth (next to McIver station)

SBS news report on the rally