Objects thrown at television sets across Australia as the opposing senators went head to head on the ABC’s live Q&A program.
This week’s episode of Q&A had a “special” guest. Senator elect Pauline Hanson joined the panel in what was to be a debate dominated by questions on Islam.
Before the show even began tensions were high. Over 200 protestors swarmed outside the ABC’s Ultimo centre on Monday night, both for and against Ms Hanson’s controversial policies. As the live show began, the first thing you noticed was how production staff had decided to seat Ms Hanson next to Muslim Labor senator, and halal snack-pack appreciator, Sam Dastyari.
Almost immediately, the Q&A debate turned to Islam. After the first questioner asked about early intervention strategies to prevent terrorism (in which she did not once directly mention Islam), Pauline Hanson’s response was as expected: long-winded, ill-informed and aimless.
“It is a huge issue in Australia and we haven’t had terrorism on our streets before. You know, it’s just in these last decade that we have experienced it and we are experiencing it around the world” said Ms Hanson
“This is happening on the Internet, it’s happening around the world because people, for whatever reason, are drawn to a religion or an ideology that is not compatible with the Western way of life and is having an impact on our culture and our way of life.”
Ignoring the fact that terrorism did exist prior to 9/11, Sam Dastyari quickly rebutted Ms Hanson’s comments by encouraging unity across Australian communities.
“We have a responsibility to acknowledge that there is a problem but we also have a responsibility to make sure that we’re not fanning the flames of extremists who want nothing more – nothing more – than for Muslims in Western nations to feel uncomfortable about being there.”
Things started getting really heated, however, when the next questioner directly challenged Ms Hanson as to why there should be a royal commission into whether Islam is a religion, when it also stems from the same basis as Christianity and Judaism.
After making claims that Islam does not separate itself from political ideology unlike Christianity (which is totally why we have same-sex marria…oh right), Ms Hanson decided do away with all facts, and claim that,
“Islam does not believe in democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or freedom of the press.”
Which, as Q&A host Tony Jones pointed out, was a very generalised statement to make, considering the largest Islamic democracy in the world lives roughly 1000km north of Darwin.
The woman who put the original question to Ms Hanson, Cindy Rahal, was not impressed.
“Muslims in Australia have constantly been telling people like you and
who support you that that is not what Islam is about and it’s falling on deaf ears…. If you want to have a look at creating one nation, you need to look at ways we can include everybody – all the Muslims and any other religion as well.”
Sam Dastyari was likewise critical of Ms Hanson’s response, saying she was not an amateur at attacking racial or religious minorities in Australia.
“…20 years ago it started off with blaming Indigenous Australians. Then it became about we’re being swamped by Asians. Now it’s about blaming the Muslim and the Muslim community,” said Mr Dastyari.
“It is the politics of fear and division and, Ms Hanson, you’re incredibly good at it.”
Things came to a head between the senator and senator elect when the next questioner asked whether politicians were being naïve or arrogant in thinking Muslim populations can fit into western democracies.
For Mr Dastyari, the question was personal. Born in small town in Iran and an immigrant to Australia at just five years old, he found comments that attacked Muslim immigrants hurtful, and put a question to Pauline Hanson herself,
“I have to ask, does that mean that a five-year-old Sam Dastyari should never have been able to set foot in Australia because somewhere in Tehran there’s a document that sits that says beside my name the word “Muslim” because of where I was born?”
Instead of answering the question Ms Hanson replied with,
“Are you a Muslim?”
It’s still uncertain whether Ms Hanson was really ignorant of Mr Dastyari’s faith, or whether she was
trying failing to make a joke. She never directly answered his question, but implied that in today’s political climate, a moratorium should be placed on Islamic immigration to Australia.
You can watch the full Q&A episode here.