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Scrutinising the religious and political right

By Alan Matheson - posted Friday, 7 November 2008

The Australian Protectionist Party (APP) has recently invited Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party (BNP) to Australia. Churches, community groups, unions and anti racist groups in the United Kingdom (UK), are campaigning against his visit.

Writing to the Australian High Commissioner, they note that Griffin has been “convicted of incitement to racial hatred and is bound to whip up further racism”. They say, “he has repeatedly denied the holocaust, dismissing it as a “Holohoax”, believes the media is under Jewish control and [that] he has forged close links and friendships with convicted terrorists across the globe”.

The Australian Federal Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, has issued a statement indicating, that while Griffin has not, as yet, applied for a visa, he will have to satisfy the requirements of the “character test”. This test ensures, “that a non citizen will not vilify, incite discord in, or represent a danger to the Australian community, or a segment of that community”.


In short, for the campaigners, “the BNP is a racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and Islam phobic organisation”.

However, in the past couple of years the BNP has been re-inventing itself and in the recent local government elections it won more than 100 seats throughout the UK. While this is less than 1 per cent of the total number of seats, its increasing profile is causing concern. The Church of England, for example, has attacked the BNP funded, “Christian Council of Great Britain”, for presenting a racist agenda as Christian, and appropriating Christian language and symbols, which are the very opposite of Christian values.

According to the APP’s, Darrin Hodges, Griffin had been invited to “speak to Australians on the experiences of the BNP in their fight to protect Britain and its people from the demographic genocide that is threatening their homeland, caused by the large scale immigration from the Third World”. According to Hodges, “Griffin has been successful in bringing nationalism into the mainstream of politics”.

At the moment there is little interest or concern in Australia, as to whether or not, Griffin passes the character test and gets a visa. An Australian Jewish community spokesman, says, that, “the visit ought to be a matter of concern for Australia’s Muslim community, indeed, by all communities here who have found that tolerance and engagement is a better path that division and hatred”. No bishop or politician appears greatly concerned, with the only scrutiny of the decision coming from bloggers, such as “slackbastard”.

In part, this lack of interest is based on the fact that the APP is but one of a number of small extremist groups, which periodically fragment, divide, and unite, but mostly live out their lives on the margins of Australian political life.

With groups such as the Australia First Party, it has begun, nevertheless, to actively campaign in local council elections on platforms of opposing “state imposed multiculturalism”, keeping Australia white, and opposing, “mosques, sex shops and any developments that undermine Australia’s traditional and family values”. It’s difficult, I guess, for most Australians, to take seriously the APP’s claim, that it has “risen from the ashes of multi-decadinal-nationalist political failure, to become a prominent and viable alternative party”.


Hodges, the leader of this “viable alternative”, came last in Ward D elections, in the Sutherland Shire, with 333 votes, or 2 per cent of the total.

However, there is a need not to be too complacent. Extremist groups thrive in times of economic instability and uncertainty. Scapegoats are created, minorities feared and foreigners demonised, particularly if they happen to be Arab or Muslim Australians.

Further, extremist political groups such as the APP, and the plethora of fundamentalist and para-church organisations, mirror each other. They split, multiply, and then re-form; both lack transparency, in terms of membership and finances, and both sets of organisations, are run and controlled by men. Both see multiculturalism as evil, family values under threat, and both are more comfortable with a theocracy, than democracy.

But it is their attack on, and confrontation with, Islam which brings them together like no other issue. It’s that agenda, which brings the BNP to Australia, and unites the Australian religious right. It’s the new racism. Robert Mann identifies it, “as the rise of an ugly strain of Islamophobia throughout the Western world. From this new ideological virus, Australia has, unfortunately, proven far from immune” (The Age, September 16, 2008). It is this hatred of Islam which becomes a “central organising principle” for both the political and religious right.

The APP distributes leaflets, “Do you want your children to grow up in a Muslim Australia: Islam is a religion of Arabic race and culture and its way of life should not be pushed on Australia”.

The Reverend Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democratic Party,(CDP) wants to redefine Muslim religion as a “religious-political ideology” and campaigns for a total ban on Muslim migration. Speakers at a forum organised by the CDP and other Christian groups, describe “Muslims as terrorists and Islam as a religion of hatred” (See On Line Opinion article, “Mainstream Islamophobia” by Syed Atiq ul Hassan, January 7, 2008).

The APP distributes “Women and Islam” leaflets, saying that “Mohammad beat his wife”, and “Allah will torture single mums”. Catch the Fire Ministries, took out newspaper adverts warning that if Barack Obama got elected, with “his Islamic background”, he would drive America away from its Christian heritage and destiny. Ausprayernet, one of a number of fundamentalist national prayer networks, believes that “ideological Islam is eroding the foundations of Western society”.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and the Compass Foundation, with the support of Christian Schools Australia and Christian Parent Controlled Schools, are currently recruiting year 12 students for their 2009 “world view conference”. Darrell Furgason, a speaker at past “world view” conferences, has Muslims, “burning churches and butchering Christians”, and Islam as a major threat to Christianity. The APP’s, Darrin Hodges, on the other hand, attends BNP conferences, where, according to UK campaigners, he’ll be connected with the National Alliance, the foremost Nazi group in the USA; the National Democratic Party, Germany’s leading Nazi group; and the Front National, the French fascist group. Confronting and combating Islam is their common goal and purpose.

Ausprayernet, ACL, Catch the Fire Ministries and scores of other religious right para-church groups were responsible for national days of thanksgiving, conferences on fatherhood and the family, as well as prayers for rain, all conducted in Parliament House. Politicians, a Governor-General, bishops, and prime ministers commended them, prayed with them, opened their conferences and gave them an undeserved credibility. Whether or not, the Rudd Government will do the same, remains to be seen.

Book burnings and banning groups and individuals such as the BNP, or Griffin rarely solve the problems of racism, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. Whether or not, Griffin should be granted a visa, can be debated. The fundamental issue, however, for concerned Australian groups is how, when, and where do they confront and challenge the distrust and hatred of the Australian Islamic community by the political and religious right. How do they support and stand in solidarity with Australian Muslim communities which now are one of most harassed and distrusted religious minorities in Australia.

And scrutiny of the religious and political right is always important and necessary. Phillip Dorling warns that, “it’s always worth keeping an eye on the fringes of political life, because what lurks there may, given the right circumstances, step unexpectedly on the centre stage” (The Canberra Times, August 2, 2008).

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About the Author

Alan Matheson is a retired Churches of Christ minister who worked in a migration centre in Melbourne, then the human rights program of the World Council of Churches, before returning to take responsibility for the international program of the ACTU.

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