In an attempt to avoid anti-racist protesters, the February 18 meeting to launch the Australian speaking tour of Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, was, at the last moment, moved to a desolate, non-residential part of Somerton on Melbourne’s northern edge.
More than 200 anti-racists, however, picketed Wilders’ meeting while another 100 protested in Melbourne CBD, where one of the speakers was Greens Senator Richard Di Natale.
Addressing the picket after police on horses and foot had cleared the driveway to the venue, Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton, drew attention to the fact that Wilders was preaching hatred of Muslims in an area with a high Muslim population. In Campbellfield-Somerton, 31.4% of the population are Muslim, compared with 3.6% for Greater Melbourne.
She made a comparison with Fawkner, a suburb in the Moreland Council ward she represents, where Muslims are 25% of the population and where neo-Nazis attempted to set up a bookshop, which was eventually shut down by anti-racist protests.
She pointed out that Muslims and non-Muslims in these suburbs both suffered from a lack of employment opportunities, public transport and government services and attacks such as the cuts to single parents’ benefits. She said it was no coincidence that Wilders promoted inter-communal hatred while also supporting pro-big business economic policies.
“This is a man who is not only preaching hatred against Muslims, he is preaching economic policies that hurt the working class, the poor and the oppressed. It’s no wonder that he is preaching hatred against Muslims … that’s what’s preventing working class communities from uniting and defending our rights.”
She called on Muslims and non-Muslims to unite and struggle to redistribute the wealth of the mining companies, banks and power giants to provide jobs and services.
Wilders’ crude anti-Muslim rants have caused most mainstream politicians to shun him. The exception has been Fred Nile, of the fundamentalist Christian Democratic Party. Wilders condemned Islam for being homophobic and sexist while welcoming the endorsement of a politician who is notorious for homophobic and sexist public comments.
Bolton warned that while many write off Wilders as a “loony”, far right extremists act as the stalking horse for the racism of the mainstream establishment. She condemned the Australian government’s imprisonment and deportation of refugees and the use of Islamaphobia to justify wars and security laws that attack civil liberties.
[Campaigners in Perth and Sydney also protested against Wilders' visit, disrupting planned functions in the respective cities.]