YOUR WORDS AND ACTIONS ON RACISM MUST MEAN SOMETHING: AN OPEN LETTER TO POLITICIANS

An Australian white-supremacist and terrorist stands charged with murdering at least 50 people in Christchurch New Zealand last Friday. This tragedy has highlighted that white-extremism and associated divisive far-right ideology is becoming normalised in Australia and has enormous and tragic consequences. Whilst this catastrophic tragedy has saddened and angered our community, it is not entirely surprising. Racism and hatred when left unchecked can become extremist action.

And yet some of our Federal politicians actively divide rather than proactively unite our country. As an elected Member of Parliament you need to be genuine in your acceptance of this, and we urge you to commit to change it.  Too often some in our political class fail to question or condemn hate and racism until something tragic occurs. Condemnation today is not enough. Denunciation does not change the systems and structures that allow racism to flourish. It is your duty to stand up for the muslim community, not just through rhetoric but by taking action.

We must stand united against the deep-rooted, racist beliefs that drive these atrocious acts and we must  address them. Discussion around immigration has too often been divisive and dehumanising in this country. Such pronouncements,  actively play to the stereotypes that cause fear and misunderstanding. When our leaders tell us a certain type of person isn’t welcome in Australia, they signal that those people are a risk, and should not be trusted. This language sends a message about the people already here that look like them, sound like them, and have the same faith as them. Such pronouncements are both irresponsible and unfair. This language bleeds out into the broader community, breeding the racism and hate that saw more than 50 people being killed.

We must stop racism and challenge its normalisation. Politicians have a duty to be an active part of that by framing immigration positively, by refusing to take part in fear mongering and stereotyping and by actively welcoming diversity in our decision making.

Some politicians’ regularly misuse and support freedom of speech to espouse racial hate and bigotry. This enables racism to fester. When it rises, it can result in situations like we have seen in Christchurch. Hate “manifestos” are distributed and championed as examples of free speech. In reality these are tools of extremism that divide and harm our community. Practicing the right to freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to ensure that such speech does not lead to harm.

The outpouring of support and grief following the Christchurch shootings has shown that many everyday Australians, including hundreds of thousands of Amnesty International Australia supporters, care about doing the right thing: we are inclusive and welcoming, accepting and warm. But these everyday actions will amount to nothing if an environment of hate and fear is fostered by decision makers. Even one racist is one too many.

Together we have shown we can create genuinely inclusive, diverse and welcoming communities. If we break down the systemic barriers to inclusion and diversity that remain in Australia we will beat racism and division with understanding and acceptance. Now is the time to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community in both words and action.

Yours sincerely,

Tim O’Connor

Impact Manager

Amnesty International Australia

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