Culture

Tony Abbott Wishes More Muslim Leaders Would Distance Themselves From Terrorism Like They “Mean It”

This isn't even dogwhistling. It's dog-airhorning.

Last week Tony Abbott flagged that the government was seeking changes to Australia’s national security arrangements in a YouTube address that only needed a flak jacket and some dramatic crouching to be an episode of Frontline. This morning he fronted the media in full “we shall fight them on the beaches” mode, speaking from the Australian Federal Police headquarters in Canberra flanked by seemingly every Australian flag in existence to outline what those changes actually are, and to make a last-ditch effort to appear vaguely qualified for the office of Prime Minister by trying to scare the absolute beJesus out of everybody.

The announcement was actually pretty light on what new powers Australia’s intelligence agencies are getting; Abbott flagged (heh, get it) the power to revoke or suspend Australian citizenships for dual nationals who travel to prohibited areas like northern Iraq, programs to challenge terrorist propaganda online, a commitment to “take action against hate preachers” and denying Australian nationals involved in terrorism some citizenship rights, like the right of return after fighting overseas.

It’s a little difficult to cobble together substantive and far-reaching policy on a week’s notice in any area, let alone anti-terrorism, but what Abbott’s speech lacked in policy specifics it made up for in astonishingly aggressive rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims, including yet another call for Muslim leaders and organisations to do what they’ve regularly and vocally done already and condemn acts of violence that have little if anything to do with them. Considering Abbott apparently thought about getting Australia into a ground war with freaking ISIS last year it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise when he runs his mouth off over the playing-at-soldiers stuff, but it’s always good to be reminded that the person running the country is basically a poorly-scripted bit character in a Michael Bay movie.

“Everybody, including Muslim community leaders, needs to speak up clearly, because no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents must surely be a blasphemy against all religion,” Abbott said, seemingly having never listened to a Muslim community leader in his life. This kind of talk is something that’s sadly come to be expected of Abbott over the last eighteen months, but we took the fearmongering to new heights this morning when he dropped this absolute pearler: “I’ve often heard western leaders describe Islam as a religion of peace. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.”

Leaving aside that, as we’ve gone over before, Muslim leaders do constantly emphasise that Islam is a religion of peace, what does Abbott himself mean when he says he wants them to “mean it”? That Muslim leaders are lying when they distance themselves from attacks perpetrated by random psychopaths, or say that violence and bloodshed saddens them? That’d be a bizarre thing for your racist uncle the family politely tolerates at Christmas to say, let alone the Prime Minister to roll out in a policy announcement on national security.

It can’t even be called “dog-whistling,” really, because it’s just so blatant; it’s more like dog-airhorning. The assumption that Muslim communities somehow don’t “mean it” when they describe their own religion as peaceful goes beyond sneakily implying that Islam is a threat; it quite openly suggests to whoever’s listening that Muslims aren’t entirely human. Not exactly the kind of sentiment that calms the waters.

As if to capitalise on that theme, Abbott also announced measures that will, in his words, “remove the benefit of the doubt” for people who are “taking advantage of us” — namely, immigrants, particularly asylum seekers. Refugees and asylum seekers who cannot produce evidence of their identity will automatically be denied protection visas, as will refugees who presented false documents in their application, even if they were successful. The prospect of refugees having incomplete or false identification because the Iranian government isn’t too keen on handing out travel visas to political dissidents who criticise it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Abbott or his cabinet, but this probably isn’t something they’d be keen for anyone to bring up, so keep it to yourselves, please.

Presumably because his sense of irony was punched out of his skull in a long-ago university boxing match, Abbott then gave a dewy-eyed tribute to the Australian way of life he is so keen on protecting, via its total destruction. “Australian citizenship is an extraordinary privilege that should involve a solemn and lifelong commitment to Australia. People who come to this country are free to live as they choose, provided they don’t steal that same freedom from others,” the PM said. Considering Abbott came here as an immigrant himself, he might consider applying those same standards to himself.