Martin Place is the symbolic centre, the point zero, of Australia’s existence as a sophisticated economy. Last Wednesday it looked medieval. A forest of crucifixes sprouted among a sea of earnest faces that would look comfortable on ancient coins. The talk was of murder and persecution. The threat was real. Hyperbole was unnecessary.
As Martin Place, between Pitt and Castlereagh streets, became crammed with people, many of them young, real politics was made, and real news. Observing this rally, in oppressive humidity and under a dark sky that occasionally showered the crowd, was to observe another example of grassroots support for the ALP falling away.
Not long ago this crowd, drawn from a broader Middle Eastern Christian diaspora, would have voted like the rest of Australia. Demographics would have been the key driver. Labor would have got its share. Not any more.
When Julia Gillard’s name was mentioned, it was greeted by a stony silence from the crowd of between 1000 and 2000 people. When the name of Tony Abbott was mentioned, there was a burst of spontaneous applause. Abbott had sent a personal emissary from his shadow ministry, Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells, who would deliver some telling news.
Most at the rally were Coptic Orthodox Christians, the Egyptian branch of Christianity. They increasingly find common purpose with the expatriate communities of Assyrian Christians from Iraq and Maronite Christians from Lebanon. All three groups, who collectively number about 200,000, are heavily represented in western Sydney. All three are feeling the pressure of the religious cleansing of Christians in the Middle East.
These communities are tilting away from Labor, perceiving it as the party of appeasement of Muslim belligerence, and the party which has turned Australia’s refugee program into a Muslim immigration program, while Christian communities are bludgeoned in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. These countries have seen a Christian exodus. The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 proved to be a disaster for the estimated two million Assyrian Christians. Roughly half have fled the country.
The trigger for the rally at Martin Place was a cascade of events which began late last year when a list was circulated via an extremist Islamic website pledging attacks against 64 specific Coptic Orthodox churches. Four of the churches are in Sydney, where the majority of Australia’s 80,000 Copts live.
At the top of the hit list was the Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt. On New Year’s Eve, as Christians left a midnight prayer service at the Saints Church, a car bomb exploded. Twenty-three Copts died and at least 95 others were wounded in the attack. Hours before, Muslim fundamentalists had gathered outside a major mosque in Alexandria chanting threats against the Coptic church. After the attack, men ran around the city shouting ”Allah Akbah!”, the battle cry of jihad.
Violent attacks against the more than 10 million Coptic Christians in Egypt have been continuing for almost 40 years. The violence coincided with the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the prototype of modern Islamic fascism. Violent incidents continue. On January 12, an off-duty police officer shot six Copts on a train in Egypt after identifying them as Christians.
Australia’s most contentious mainstream Muslim cleric, Sheikh Taj el-Din al Hilaly, the former grand mufti of Australia, is an import from Egypt. He was installed as a permanent resident by the Keating Labor government, over the objections of the security service. His Labor connections are well known and self-advertised.
The Labor Party, locked into a political alliance with Muslim leaders in western Sydney, has said little of consequence about the problem of religious cleansing of Christians by Muslims. It has done even less.
On January 1, the acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Martin Ferguson, issued a six-line reaction to the Alexandria bombing, stating ”the Australian government utterly condemns the attack”. Condemnations were issued by President Barack Obama, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, among other leaders.
No statement was issued by Julia Gillard. Nor has there been any policy change in Labor’s policy of indifference to Coptic refugees from Egypt. The Australian embassy in Cairo has long been a point of contention. It is difficult for Egyptian Copts to immigrate to Australia or seek refugee status. The blocking agents include the Egyptian government, which discriminates against Christians as official policy, and the local embassy, which acts as a de facto extension of state discrimination against non-Muslims.
At the rally in Martin Place, Senator Fierravanti-Wells announced that a Coalition government would reintroduce a program for Coptic refugees from religious persecution in Egypt, a program discarded by the Rudd government.
She was one of three Liberal MPs who spoke, while Labor was entirely absent until the last minute, when a Labor member of the NSW upper house, Greg Donnelly, was dropped in to represent the Premier, Kristina Keneally. Such is the desperation of NSW Labor that Donnelly could not resist noting: ”There are no representatives from the Greens today, which is interesting.”
The absence of the Greens was not interesting. It was predictable. Throughout Western Europe and Australia, the left has consistently made common cause with political Islam, an embrace of reactionary intolerance made without a shred of irony. Also absent was the broadcast arm of the Greens, the ABC, whose two 24-hour news networks could see no value in attending.
Meanwhile, outside the world of the public sector unions, while religious intolerance remains endemic across the Muslim world and Australia’s refugee and asylum-seeker process remains a debacle, support for Labor is showing signs of disintegrating among Australians who take discrimination against Christians seriously.
SMH – Jan 24/1/2011