Reclaim Australia has been around for less than a year, and already they have generated a reputation that many Australians don’t want to be associated with. Their Islamaphobic slogans and swastika-tattooed supporters clearly demonstrate what they really stand for.
Earlier in the year, Jimmy Barnes, John Farnham and John Schumann asked that their music not be played as anthems at Reclaim Australia rallies. This past weekend, Mark Seymour from Hunters & Collectors joined them. Mainstream Australia is turning its back on Reclaim Australia and its divisive slogans.
As the Managing Director of an anti-racism organisation, one might assume that I would want to be on the front lines of the counter rallies to oppose Reclaim Australia, dishing out abuse to racists who would like to see an end to Islamic faith in Australia.
However that’s not how most anti-racists behave. Most of us believe in peaceful protest and nonviolent action. We are compassionate towards the targets and the perpetrators of racism. Yes that’s right – we are compassionate towards the perpetrators!
I have met former far-right nationalists and have seen first hand that it is possible for them to turn their lives around. Having witnessed this, I know that a compassionate approach can enable a violent extremist to transform his or her life and become an integrated member of society.
Conversely, when anti-racism protestors hurl abuse at perpetrators, they ensure people with racist views continue to hold their problematic beliefs. Far-right extremist groups like Reclaim Australia exist because members are looking for something to belong to – and for most of them this means a group where fear-fuelled beliefs about Islamic practices are shared and perpetuated. Abusing members of Reclaim Australia makes them feel more connected and legitimate.
Some anti-racists might attend Reclaim Australia rallies because they do not want people with strong racist views to present their oppressive ideas in a public space. I completely agree with this sentiment; however I disagree with their method of trying to prevent it. I believe that abuse simply breeds more abuse. Given the history and effects of racism in Australia we need more effective methods of preventing racism.
So, you may ask, if I’m not protesting then what am I doing to prevent racism? Instead of attending the protest in Sydney last weekend, I spent my weekend studying. I’ve been awarded a full scholarship to study an MBA. Studying business is giving me the privilege and opportunity to address interpersonal and systemic racism from another perspective. That is, I believe that social change comes through strategic thinking, effective leadership, and academic evidence, not through violent protest. My MBA studies are enabling me to work in this way.
If, like me, you believe that there is power and dignity in non-violent action and that it can effectively advance racial equality I urge to you seek creative ways of doing this. There are plenty of options.
Priscilla Brice is the Managing Director of All Together Now, the national anti-racism organisation. All Together Now’s project Community Action for Preventing Extremism (CAPE) works to undermine recruitment by white supremacists.