Flogging dead refugees / live Muslims = smart politics?

Probably.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister (since June 24, 2010) and Treasurer (since December 3, 2007) Wayne Swann has accused The Mad Monk of parroting the views of marginal right-wing party One Nation. This follows Shadow Minister for Productivity and Population (since September 14, 2010) and Immigration and Citizenship (since December 8, 2009) Scott Morrison‘s heartfelt plea for The Australian Taxpayer to remember just how much $ it cost Them to transport, to their funerals in Sydney, the families of asylum seekers who drowned in a boating accident at Christmas Island. (In fairness to Morrison, shovelling dirt on to the bodies of the eight people (including two infants) who died in the shipwreck may have been prompted by his own desire to cut costs.)

The Day After his remarks, Morrison admitted that his comic timing may not be what it once was–a fact perhaps reinforced by the frowns on the faces of the few liberals who remain in the party. (If Comedy = Tragedy + Time, a more experienced comic would probably have waited at least a week or two before making cracks about expensive corpses.)

On the plus side, Morrison’s wisecrack has allowed the Coalition to test the waters regarding using dead refugees as a political football, and the results, to this point, are somewhat uncertain. Xenophobic elements welcome any opportunity to make their case; the more psychotic elements among them positively celebrated the deaths. Others have expressed sadness at the tragedy, and reacted with contempt at the Shadow Minister’s attempt to capitalise upon resentment at what was touted as yet another instance of refugees making excess claims upon the public purse.

But can adding refugees and Muslims to the list of The Usual Suspects (indigenous peoples, the unemployed, et al) that politicians (and large segments of the general public) like to bash truly get results? That is, deliver a sufficient number of votes to allow the Coalition to capture Government at the next election? The problem for the Coalition (and occasionally Labor), is that while instituting policies designed to discipline and punish these sectors of society can bring marginal political gains, they also have a tendency to clash with their other political commitments. Thus according to Lenore Taylor (Morrison sees votes in anti-Muslim strategy, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 17, 2011):

Sources say Mr Morrison told the shadow cabinet meeting on December 1 at the Ryde Civic Centre that the Coalition should ramp up its questioning of “multiculturalism” and appeal to deep voter concerns about Muslim immigration and “inability” to integrate.

The sources say Mr Ruddock, the shadow cabinet secretary, was particularly “blunt” in his rejection of the suggestion, saying a well-run and non-discriminatory immigration policy was essential for nation building.

Others said they had picked up on strong anti-Muslim sentiment in their electorates but thought running a campaign against Muslim immigration could be “misconstrued”.

(Note that Morrison has dismissed as “gossip” a report that he had urged shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s concerns about Muslim immigration: Morrison and Bowen both in firing line, Adam Gartrell, Danielle McGrane and Belinda Cranston, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 17, 2011.)

The misconstrual, in this case, presumably being that the Coalition is intent on gaining office, and that matters of political principle–such as maintaining a “non-discriminatory immigration policy”–is merely a means to that end. The real question, then, is just how popular adopting anti-Muslim rhetoric might be among the electorate, and to what extent it may be adopted without endangering the support of actually existing liberals (those for whom religious freedom is recognised as being one among a number of rights afforded citizens in a liberal democracy). In this instance, a look inside the ballot box may be in order.

At the last Federal election, concern over Creeping Sharia remained more-or-less in the background. The handful of parties on the far right which campaigned (partly) on the basis of phantasies of Islamic rule performed fairly poorly: the one, partial exception being Queensland, where in the Senatorial contest One Nation received just less than 1% of the vote. In the absence of a significant upsurge in support for minor minor parties such as these, the smart $ is on the subsumption of specific paranoias over Muslims and refugees into a broader critique of multiculturalism as such; in other words, the (re-)development in Australia of what British PM David Cameron has recently termed a “muscular liberalism”. Political rhetoric which places un-assimilable Others at the centre of political discourse has the added BONUS! of directing public attention away from other, moar problematic areas of political conflict. In the case of the UK (but also elsewhere), this takes the form of austerity measures and cuts to workers’ incomes and social services that are being imposed as (neoliberal) capitalism is forced to confront economic ‘crisis’. Or…

Muslims! Behind you!

See also : ‘How Much Is Too Much?’, Benjamin Kunkel, London Review of Books (Vol.33, No.3, February 3, 2011).

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse. But when a prince is with his army, and has under control a multitude of soldiers, then it is quite necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never hold his army united or disposed to its duties.

~ The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli (Translated by W. K. Marriott), Chapter 17: Concerning Cruelty and Clemency, and whether it is Better to be Loved than Feared

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2020 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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