In Australia, the Q Society has emerged as the major ideological platform for anti-Muslim propaganda.
The organisation states that it was ‘formed [in 2010] in response to growing concerns about the discrimination, violence and other anti-democratic practices linked to Islam’. The First International Symposium on Liberty and Islam in Australia (March 7—10) is a joint project of the Society, its merchandising arm SkipnGirl, and Stop Islamization of Nations (SION), a coalition of anti-Muslim groups in the UK, US and Europe founded in January 2012. The symposium’s list of speakers includes prominent anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA); Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch; Anders Gravers, chairman and founder of Stop the Islamisation of Denmark and leader of Stop Islamisation of Europe; and local talents Bernard Gaynor, Michael Burd, Bill Muehlenberg and society president Debbie Robinson.
Despite such a stellar lineup, the symposium has received minimal media coverage. Insofar as there has been attention, it has been directed at the announcement, contained in a video greeting to attendees, that Dutch politician Geert Wilders will in 2015 launch a new political party in Australia, the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA).
The event itself got off to a rocky start on Friday night when a cocktail party at Young & Jackson’s welcoming its guest speakers was interrupted by protesters, who were described by one rightwing blogger as ‘Far Left Loons, Useful Idiots and Feral Rabble’. Robert Spencer says that the incident ‘vividly illustrated the nature of our struggle: it is truly, as Pamela Geller has so indelibly put it, a struggle of the civilized man vs. the savage.’
Protesters were also present at Geert Wilders’ address in February 2013, also organised by the Q Society, at La Mirage Reception in Somerton during the course of his first tour Down Under. Their ‘uncivilised’ protest was subjected to some minor harassment by ‘civilised’ men associated with the neo-Nazi group ‘Nationalist Alternative’.
In February 2014, one of these counter-counter-protesters, Neil Luke Erikson, ‘avoided jail for abusing a Melbourne rabbi in a series of racially-motivated phone calls he tried to explain as a prank’. Obviously, Islamophobia makes for some strange bedfellows – political tensions between various tendencies on the far Right regarding the proper place of both ‘the Jew’ and ‘the Muslim’ in Western society are seldom far from the surface.
The events of 9/11 loom large for the anti-Muslim Right. ‘Before 9/11, I was not political,’ Pamela Geller has said. The same appears to be true of many other individuals attracted to the milieu out of which the Q Society has emerged and which continues to sustain it: a milieu that is largely white, middle aged and middle class. While there’s some degree of overlap, it’s thus distinct from the sociodemographic that populates the ranks of groups such as the Australian Defence League. In the mid- to late-2000s at formal and informal meetings of various groups of concerned citizens in Melbourne’s nicer suburbs (Kew, Toorak, etc), concern over Islam melded with strong support for Zionism, equivocal attitudes to multiculturalism, and a fear of being portrayed as extreme: some meetings were held in NSW in order to avoid Victorian laws on racial vilification.
Tracing the precise evolution of the Q Society from within this milieu is difficult, but there are some clues. For example, ‘Democracy Frontline’, a website established in late 2005 and animated by similar concerns, eventually merged into another, ‘Australian Islamist Monitor’ (AIM). This site ceased publication in July 2012 and upon doing so informed concerned readers that they should consult the Society for further information. Contributors to AIM included one ‘Skipping Girl’.
In a contribution to the 2011 Inquiry into Multiculturalism in Australia published on the AIM site, Skipping Girl makes the claim that ‘the doctrine of Islam … is the cause of most of the problems experienced in Australia and throughout the world’. Interestingly, ‘SkipnGirl’ is the brand under which Q currently raises funds to support its activities. The company has one shareholder: Debbie Robinson, President of the Q Society.
AIM’s agenda was spelled out online in various email groups and blogs several years prior to the establishment of the Q Society. A chief reference point was a US group called ‘anti-CAIR’, an Islamophobic organization that purports to be ‘defending America and the Constitution from the Council on American-Islamic Relations’. Online discussions canvassed the possibility of establishing a non-profit organisation to, inter alia, produce anti-Muslim propaganda, monitor Muslim political activity, organise seminars, lobby politicians to recognise Islam as a hostile ideology and to enact government policy on that basis (harshly restrict Muslim immigration, education, employment and political opportunities etc). It did not, however, seek to establish a political party, preferring to operate as a private lobby.
On the party-political field, the emergence of the Wilders-backed ALA poses a distinct challenge to the far-Right micro-Party for Freedom (PF), established in late 2012 by the Sydney branch of the Australian Protectionist Party (APP) in imitation of Wilder’s own highly-successful Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid). The split in APP that produced PF occurred after an internal party dispute over the advisability of the Sydney branch’s organisation of a June 2012 public rally demanding that the government ‘torpedo the boats’ of asylum seekers. Since then, PF Chairman, Nick Folkes, has further distinguished himself by declaring Africans ought to be sterilised. As a result of opposition from anti-racists, a public forum on ‘African crime’ that the party organised last month was forced to relocate venues twice before settling on the Newtown lounge-room of notorious anti-Muslim bigot Sergio Redegalli.
As for the symposium, a debate that Muslim students had organised between Geller and Spencer and Mohamad Tabbaa (Executive Director, Islamic Council of Victoria) and Dr Yassir Morsi (Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia) on the subject of ‘Islam or Secular Liberalism: Which is the way forward?’ was cancelled after Geller and Spencer withdrew.
Tabbaa argues that the society is ‘intent on presenting Islamophobia as a rational and sensible position, in opposition to the outwardly simplistic and unattractive rhetoric of populist Islamophobes such as the ADL’. He says it is keen to avoid the accusation of bigotry ‘by appealing to human rights rather than a crude nationalism’. That objective is a continuing struggle for the Q Society. Though its core message has won support from significant elements of the political establishment, the crude antics of fringe elements in the ADL, APP, PF and others arguably present a more honest reflection of its aims.