Don’t let Islamophobia be a blight on Yes victory

November 18, 2017

It is disappointing to see our postal survey victory marred by racism from No and Yes campaigners alike, as they descend on Western Sydney, which turned out 12 of the 17 highest No voting electorates in the country.

But not only is the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant dog-whistling that shapes this assault on people who live in the west more or less overtly racist, it is also a poor analysis of what went wrong in the west.

There is no use glossing over the reality that the west struggles with homophobia, as do other parts of Australia, such as rural Queensland. At my Campbelltown high school, "gay", "queer" and "faggot" were the go-to insults of many of my classmates. They were also the common insults of many of our parents, and once or twice, when we were "old enough", the insults of some of our teachers.

There is a lot to be said about the deep-seated bigotry that exists in the suburbs beyond the Left's stomping ground, more than an hour away by train from Sydney: home of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. But is homophobia then the purview, or even the fault, of Muslims and immigrants, or multiculturalism in general? Evidence says no.

It cannot be ignored that the most prominent religious zealots in this debate have been Christians, and the Australian Christian Lobby has been the most central religious organisation to mobilise around the No campaign.

There is a strong Christian and Catholic base in western suburbs like Bass Hill, Chester Hill, Baulkham Hills, Castle Hill and Seven Hills. Catholicism is still the largest religious denomination in the greater western Sydney region, followed by Anglicanism and then Islam.

Muslims only make up 2% of the total population. Even if every single Muslim person voted no — which we know to be false — it would still only be a drop in the bucket that is the 38% No vote turnout.

Macarthur and Fowler have almost exactly the same amount of Muslim residents, yet Macarthur was a Yes electorate, and Fowler had one of the highest No votes in the state. Kingsford Smith returned a 64% Yes vote, yet it has a higher Muslim population than Mitchell, which returned a 51% No vote.

The accusation that Muslims and Black, Brown and Asian migrants drove the No vote doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Let's also be clear about where the blame should truly lie. Homophobia is the domain of the ruling class and their parties. It wasn't the Muslims and the immigrants who gave us the homophobic marriage ban in the first place. They didn't sit in the parliaments that refused to remove the ban. They didn't impose this postal survey on us. And in all likelihood, they didn't deliver the high No vote.

What's more, many Muslims and immigrants are LGBTI, many are progressive, and many campaigned for our Yes result. This is their victory too.

[Mia Sanders is a lesbian activist and a member of Socialist Alliance.]

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