BY AARON STREATFEILD
Two Sydney youths have organised a rally to show the Reclaim Australia group that they do not represent the opinions of Australians at large.
Andrew and Alex are the organisers behind anti-racism rally Stop Islamophobia. The rally, scheduled for April 4, is designed to counter a national protest convened for the same day by Reclaim Australia, a group largely based on a page on social media site Facebook.
Alarmed by what they saw as xenophobic and anti-Islamic dialogue within Reclaim Australia, Andrew and Alex devised Stop Islamophobia to support people targeted by Reclaim Australia.
Reclaim Australia outlines its goals on its official website. The eight point manifesto includes the banning of Halal certification, the burqa or any of its variants, and the teachings of Islam in schools. By staging a counter-rally Andrew and Alex say they aim to provide visible opposition to the ideals highlighted in the Reclaim Australia protest, a protest which they feel specifically targets the Islamic community.
“We were stunned by some of the racist and xenophobic comments on the page, as well as outright threats to anyone disagreeing with their ideology,” Andrew explained. “I’ve personally received threats of violence on my personal page.”
Andrew believes the ideologies on which Reclaim Australia is based are false. ‘There is no link between halal certification and terrorism funding,” he says. “In Australia we have strict laws relating to this.”
He says one of the common ideas within the group, that there is no such thing as a “moderate” Muslim, is based on fallacy. “Islamic terrorist groups represent a very small percentage of the total Islamic population.
“Ostracising an entire community is what drives people to extremism in the first place.”
But why do supporters of the Reclaim Australia rallies believe Islam is a threat to Australia’s cultural identity? And why have so many people put their support behind such an ideal? Alex and Andrew feel media is partly to blame.
“These sorts of fringe groups have existed for a long time,” Andrew says. “I think their increase in popularity can be attributed to the media’s fixation on recent events, such as the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the Lindt Cafe siege.
“The media focuses on these incidents, meanwhile ignoring other stories that don’t fit the Islamaphobic profile, such as the Christian militia in Central Africa.”
The counter-rally organisers are liaising with police and other local authorities in the lead-up to the rally in April. Andrew is worried that threatening messages he’s received could spill over into physical violence on the day of the rally, and says the police expressed concern that the rally could “devolve into a riot”. Alex says he fears for the safety of bystanders. “I am more worried about Muslims walking by during the Reclaim Rally and being subject to abuse and possible conflict,” he says. The counter-rally will now take place near St James church in Macquarie St, a safe distance from the rival rally in Martin Place.
Andrew says he and his fellow organisers will attend a Sydney Council meeting next week to challenge the approval of Reclaim Australia’s rally application, because the march might breach racial or religious vilification laws.
If one of the fundamental human rights is the freedom of assembly, does Reclaim Australia have the right to peacefully protest their views? “They do have the right to protest!” Andrew insists. “However, we also have the freedom to peacefully assemble in response.”
Organisers of the Reclaim Australia rally were approached for interview, but declined to comment.