Vol 11, Issue 4
Last year a heritage-listed pub, The Corkman, was allegedly destroyed by developers of an apartment block on the same land.
2016 also blessed us with a Trump presidency – seemingly impossible, especially after he had demonised and denigrated Latinos, women, African Americans, and Muslims.
It was also the year One Nation made a return to Federal Parliament, and polls suggested that close to half of Australians support a Trump-style ban and would be very concerned if a near-relation married a Muslim.
The tendency to populism – which continues to prove ruinous in Russia, threatens the nascent democracy of Poland, and has led to an endless parade of Middle-Eastern dictators – has spread to the Western bastions of human rights and liberal democracy. Sad!
The right-wing form of this populism, the white nationalist alt-right movement, has adherents at MLS. These are students who believe that Western, Christian cultures are superior, especially to those of the Islamic world.
The incompatibility of frothing at the Western world’s tolerance, informed by so-called Judeo-Christian values, while being anti-marriage equality and anti-women seems lost on such people.
Many at MLS have been unwilling to call out expressions of white supremacy. The gaining steam of Western white nationalist movements has clearly emboldened its supporters. Trump’s election might not directly cause vilification against minorities, but it emboldens those who, hitherto at the fringes of society, hold these views. It normalises their expression. When people - including we at MLS - do nothing in the face of the increasingly open expression of these views, we are contributing to this normalisation. Students have told me privately that they see certain open holders of these views as extreme. This is not enough.
Supporting Trump’s policies and being part of the alt-right should be unacceptable positions. This is not to say that right-wing economic populism is an immoral political position. Rather, that the white supremacist rationale overtly and covertly behind the policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration should be rejected, not normalised.
I have empathy with the unemployed, misinformed former-factory worker who thinks their problems arise due to trade liberalisation is easy, even if expert analysis tells us this is untrue.
Empathy with someone who is at one of the world’s best law schools and holds these kinds of views is impossible for those of us who belong to the groups affected by Trump’s policies.
The Corkman demolition was a cause of mass-mobilisation, and the outrage and fury this caused stand in contrast to the non-reaction to the expression of views that are inherently racist and bigoted.
The passion these students showed should be commended and emulated for more significant issues (and more efficient uses of our time).
At the time the Corkman was destroyed, a piece in De Minimis declared:
‘A Law Student working group has been created to look into the matter and to see whether a rebuilding of the Pub could be ordered.’
Never mind that the Victorian government is served by a whole department ready to remedy such acts. Never mind that the government acquiring that same money could spend it on public housing (for which there is a thirty-year wait list in Victoria).
We live in an Australia where women in hijabs are thrown off trains and where some extremists baselessly believe halal certification apparently funds terrorism and that Sharia law is somehow supplanting our legal system. Hindu temples have been desecrated with anti-Muslim slurs because the vandals don’t know what Islam is, and in the US an Indian national was killed, his murderer identifying him as a “Middle Eastern” – yet the Corkman was somehow a priority.
When this kind of idea (i.e. alt-right ideology) gains mainstream currency, when white men and women are Trump’s greatest supporters; and when, at what is still a very white institution, the demolition of a pub is a matter of urgency, there is something horribly wrong.
Surely it should be more controversial to be the supporter or adherent of an ideology whose basis is racial and civilizational superiority than it is to call them out. You’re not impinging on anyone’s rights, you’re standing up for the rights of others to feel safe and welcome. Respecting rights to political views is not a free pass to disrespect minimum standards of human dignity.
Some say that the issues I’ve raised are too big, that the Corkman is an issue that we can do something about. It’s unclear exactly how MLS students were going to add value to the efforts of better skilled government lawyers. On the other hand, there are many organisations ready to help refugees which could benefit from our efforts.
There’s no reason why we can’t care about both kinds of issues. However, it was very confronting that one evinced such a robust reaction, and the other remains largely ignored. I therefore encourage those who care about fairness and justice to speak up whenever bigoted or racist views become visible.
Many of the same students involved with the Corkman challenge are leaders in groups like Law Students for Refugees. My point is that even more urgently than challenging illegal demolitions, at a minimum racism and the open expression of white supremacist ideology should be unacceptable. Those who are not directly affected by the changes taking place in the world must step up and challenge these views. This is something small that we at MLS can do to make it a more welcoming space and place of respite for minority students.
The views in this article are entirely my own. Please check out: facebook.com/lawstudentsforrefugees
Asad Kasim-Khan is a second-year JD student
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