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Any notion that One Nation, the political machine built by Pauline Hanson two decades ago, was still an outlier in western politics should have now been swept away by Donald Trump’s first week in office.
As Hanson celebrated Australia Day the new president was settling into the Oval Office, battling the media over crowd numbers for his inauguration and signing his first executive orders and memoranda.
In one he authorised the construction of a wall along the Mexican border. Another, according to a draft text leaked on Wednesday, would entirely suspend refugee admissions to the US for 120 days as measures are reviewed and ban Syrian refugees from entry indefinitely.
It would also temporarily block entry visas from seven countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya – for 30 days as part of a broader security review, after which permanent visa bans could be enacted for those countries and others.
In other words Trump is, as he promised during his election campaign, acting to ban citizens from selected majority Muslim countries from entering the US.
These measures will not only be felt in the nations they are targeted at, suggests a new research paper, but in Australia too, because One Nation has become a local portal for the spread of the ideas of the international far-right.
In the first of a series of papers to be published by left-leaning think tank The Australia Institute on the return of One Nation, author Philip Dorling, a former Fairfax Media employee, has studied One Nation’s rhetoric on Islam and traced the language to a handful of little-known but influential far-right thinkers and writers from US and Europe.
This week Hanson announced she was appointing Steve Dickson to be One Nation’s leader in Queensland This was a substantial coup. Dickson is not only a sitting MP for the Liberal National Party, but a former state minister. He intends to immediately begin introducing One Nation legislation to Queensland Parliament.
Such is the strength of the resurgent party, which received 20 per cent of the senate vote at some Queensland booths during the federal election, that it could secure balance of power at the coming state election.
“It is very humbling. I have never been the leader of a political party before … and I am very excited about it,” Dickson told media at a press conference with Hanson.
Hanson said she would “drain the Billabong”.
Addressing the issues, he said he wanted to get on with an 80-year-old plan to drought-proof the state known as the Bradfield scheme.
And he had this to say about Islam: “We welcome anybody from all over the world to come to Australia … If you want to come here and have two or three wives, if you want to treat women like dogs, if you want to mutilate little girls, there are many countries you can do that but none of them are called Australia.
“We are not going to take a backwards step, this is a positive campaign with positive policies.”
Dickson has fallen into line with the policies of his new party.
In launching both One Nation’s Queensland and Western Australian campaigns, Hanson focussed on a plan to ban the wearing of burqas.
“We’re going to lead the way in Queensland, so no drivers’ licenses wearing the burqa or anything like that,” she told Sky News, though at present Australian law does not permit women to have drivers’ licence photographs taken while wearing the burqa.
The party’s website details a slew of policies targeted at Islam or Muslims, ranging from the banning of the construction of new mosques to the video surveillance of existing ones to Trump’s own suspension of immigration from Muslim countries.
But it is the argument made in Hanson’s policy statement that Islam is not a religion that Dorling says reveals much about how right-wing ideas are being transferred from the American right to the Australian.
“Islam sees itself as a theocracy, not a democracy. Islam does not believe in democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press or freedom of assembly,” reads the policy document in part.
“It does not separate religion and politics. Many believe that it is solely a religion, but the reality is that it is much more, for it has a political agenda that goes far outside the realm of religion. Islam regulates the Muslim’s social and domestic life, their legal system and politics – their total life. Its religious aspect is fraud; it is rather a totalitarian political system, including legal, economic, social and military components, masquerading as a religion.”
Dorling notes that though the idea that Islam is not a religion might be a “radically new proposition within Australian public life”, it is an idea with a history among right-wing evangelical Christians in the US, where anti-Islamic sentiment rose after the September 11 attacks.
“As early as June 2007 the conservative American Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson told his national radio audience that ‘we have to recognise that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world’,” Dorling writes in the Australia Institute paper.
“In April 2008 he broadcast that ‘I want to say it again, and again, and again: Islam is not a religion, it is a political system meant on – bent on world domination, not a religion. It masquerades as a religion, but the religion covers a worldwide attempt to exercise power and to subjugate the world to their way of thinking’.”
This line of reasoning can be found discussed Breitbart, the online news outlet that helped foster the alt-right movement, as the new white nationalist movement in America has been called. Breitbart’s former chief executive is Steve Bannon, who now serves as the Trump’s senior counsellor, having helped help run his election campaign and write his “America First” inauguration speech.
Dorling traces the intellectual history of the argument to back further to virulently anti-Islamic scholars and activists.
One is Iranian-born Canadian ex-Muslim activist Ali Sina, who argues that Islam is not a religion but rather “an unreformable, violent, militant political cult”.
Sina has offered $50,000 to anyone who can disprove his charge that the prophet Muhammad was “a narcissist, a misogynist, a rapist, a paedophile, a lecher, a torturer, a mass murderer, a cult leader, an assassin, a terrorist, a madman and a looter”.
Dorling quotes Sina’s website: “I find the word ‘Muslim’ very derogatory and insulting. It is synonymous to stupid, barbarian, thug, arrogant, brain dead, zombie, hooligan, goon, shameless, savage and many other ignoble things. I don’t know whether this most disgusting word elicits the same meanings in you or not. So when I want to show my despise [sic] of someone I call him ‘Muslim’. But because Muslims are stupid, they don’t know all these things and they are proud of this name. This is a win/win situation because I insult them and they are happy and thank me for it. Isn’t that smart?”
Sina’s writing has been quoted by Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, who travelled to Australia last year to help launch the Australian anti-Islam party Australian Liberty Alliance.
Dorling traces similar ideas to Rebecca Bynum, publisher and managing editor of the British far-right New English Review and an otherwise obscure American former professor of engineering, Bill French, who writes under the name Bill Warner.
Warner has published “statistical analyses” of the Koran and other Islamic texts to argue that Islam is “political, not religious. Islam is a political ideology.”
The contention that one of the world’s three great Abrahamic religions is not in fact a religion serves a specific purpose in the American context. It allows religious critics of Islam, such as the evangelical right, to argue that it should be stripped of constitutional protection extended to religious thought and expression in the US bill of rights.
Similarly in Australia, he writes: “One Nation seeks to deny Islam’s status as a religion and thus deny Australian Muslims constitutional protection for their human rights of freedom of religion and belief.”
The paper notes that when asked how the party established its position that Australia was at risk of being “swamped by Muslims”, One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts told Channel 10’s The Project: “We’ve got an adviser who goes into all of that called Frank Salter.”
Salter is an Australian academic who undertook post-doctoral research at the former Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Germany. He contends that discrimination against ethnic minorities is an “inborn response” all humans have, Dorling writes.
“In his view monocultural societies are inherently ‘fitter’ than multicultural ones, and that ethnic diversity leads to corruption, weak public services and a decline in government institutions. South Africa’s former apartheid regime is described as an example of ‘aggressive social control’ used to preserve the ‘fitness’ of society.”
Both Salter and Hanson declined to be interviewed for this story.
Speaking with Fairfax Media, Dorling said the political purpose of One Nation’s adoption of its stance on Islam was simple. Hanson, he said, launched her career by attacking Asians and Indigenous Australians. She is renewing her support by harnessing an international fear of terrorism linked to Islamic extremists.
But, says Dorling, the significance of the development is broader.
He notes that when One Nation first arose in Australia, Parliament House was not linked to the internet, Hanson had no political experience or brand and her ideas were not buoyed by an international movement.
All of that has changed, says Dorling, and today’s One Nation is now an effective Australian portal to the ideas of a far-right that is surging in Europe and North America.
“The Trump administration is going to present [One Nation] with a slew of ideas, and the justification of applying the ideas and policies of the emerging Australian alt-right.”
The story One Nation, Australia’s portal to Trump and the alt-right first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.