These past few days the people of Grafton and the wider Clarence Valley have reeled in shock as we heard about the massacre in two Christchurch mosques and then learned that the assailant was one of our own, a young man who grew up in Grafton.
Over the weekend I was interviewed by numerous national and international media, and one of the most frequent questions concerned our contacts with the local Muslim community as we prepared for the prayer vigil that was held in Grafton Cathedral last night.
When I explained that it was proving very hard to make contact with the local Muslim community, as they meet in secret and do not advertise any community contact persons, the immediate question was: Why?
Why are they afraid of us?
They are afraid of us because of the spread of an insidious virus in the Australian body politic, evidenced in the rise of right-wing parties such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party.
This ‘virus’ is not limited to the far right, but also infects major political parties who find that fear fuels electoral support. Even parties which are traditionally left-wing creep to the right to minimise the electoral damage.
In the nether regions of Australian political life we find overtly white-supremacist groups and even members of parliament blaming Muslim immigration for the rise of Islamophobia and suggesting that the massacre in Christchurch was the result immigration policies that do not privilege white people.
The dog whistles echo around the media, and especially at a time when we have both state and federal elections.
It seems that my comments on a local radio station yesterday have upset a local candidate for the Shooters Party, Fishers and Farmers.
It is controversial to name the elephant in the room, namely the rise of populist political movements with policies that oppose immigration, call for the protection of our ‘western culture’ and seek to reduce or eliminate controls on gun ownership.
Read their policy documents. I have. [See australia.isidewith.com for a helpful collation of the data]
For the record, the context of my comments was the sad fact that our small Muslim community in Grafton (and indeed throughout the North Coast) meets secretly for their prayers and had proved impossible to contact as we planned the community prayer vigil at Grafton Cathedral.
Now why would they be afraid of us? Could it be the rise of populist political movements and the infection of racist atttiudes within so-called mainstream parties?
More importantly, in my view, how do we make Grafton a compassionate city where everyone feels safe and welcome, including our Muslim neighbours?
This is not party politics, it is compassion as taught by Jesus. “Love your neighbour as yourself …”
My prayer is that we come together as the generous communty that we are and use a project such as the Compassionate Communities program to demonstrate our true character to the world, but especially to our Muslim neighbours.