By now everyone in WA and elsewhere would be well aware of the story about the severed pig’s head that was dumped in the toilets of the Mosque at the University of WA. The story was well covered by a number of media outlets. We, here at The Stringer, were among the first to break the story and it was then picked up all over the world. The stories we wrote are accessible here and here:There are a number of things that we can learn from this event. The first of these was that if you scratch the surface of a number of people in Australia out will erupt a level of racism and bigotry that is quite unsightly. In the second of the articles above I looked at the comments of readers of the posts on the Channel Nine News Perth Facebook page. They were distasteful and completely bigoted and derisive of anything Muslim in nature. Even the comment made to The Stringer (on the website) by Raj Jain that said “Some one just practicing head chopping imitating what the terrorist do with the Kafirs! Poor piggy are you an infidel, they think?” was pathetic at best and completely bigoted at worst.
Every time I look to see the best in our community, the keyboard warriors come out and destroy any illusions that I may have. They remind me that the level of racism, casual or otherwise, is still rampant. They remind me that they are some very severely disturbed individuals out there. They remind me that there are people who leap to stereotypes very quickly. And they remind me that there is a social responsibility that the media has in the way these matters are reported. And they finally remind me that social media is a very pervasive set of tools that can gain reach very quickly.
The other thing that we have learnt is that this event was perpetrated by someone who may have some mental health challenges. Therefore it is unlikely that we will be able to get a “Race-Hate” crime charge to stick. But it also set forth a series of considerations with interesting outcomes. The first thing that we considered was “What could this person be charged for?”
- He was in a public place so trespass was out of the question
- He has not conducted an assault of any nature
- He was in a religious place and what he did was “religious hate” and not “race hate”. Hence sections 75-80 of the WA Criminal Code would not apply. I was significantly involved in the Gallop Government days in WA Parliament with both sides of politics in getting bi-partisan support for that legislation
- We have no religious vilification legislation in this state despite the fact that most of the Human Rights violations have been on the basis of people’s adherence to the Islamic faith
This event also then raised the question of support for the WA Labor Party’s legislation that they had put forward to protect places of religious worship. This legislation was put forward by Labor earlier this year and had been rejected out of hand. I will declare that I have been opposed to that legislation in the way it was drafted because of the uncertainty that surrounds the definition of a “religion”. I point to the fact that at the last census in Australia a number of people (70,000) in Australia showed their religion as “Jedi”!
Given that this is the case I would have supported the legislation that Labor put forward if there was an overriding supervisory or overseer role for Parliament to decide which cases would be taken forward to prosecution stage.
But the fact is that we do not have religious vilification legislation in this state. And that the vast majority of Human Rights abuses recently have been against people of Islamic faith. This highlights again the need for this type of legislation.
A further factor that is problematic in this area is that Jews and Sikhs are considered by the Courts as “races” rather than religions and therefore able to access protections under race hate legislation. This is illogical and needs to be addressed by way of legislation so as to treat all the religious groups equally and equitably.
The only way that this type of legislation is able to be introduced here is by support and championing by the Minister for Multicultural Interests, Dr Mike Nahan and then convincing of the Attorney General Michael Mischin. This is a pipe dream at best currently.
I look forward to seeing some discussion around this subject. For those of you who would treat this event (the dumping of the pig’s head) as being fairly trivial should speak to the person who discovered it and some of the other people at UWA who are of Islamic faith. These people are significantly hurt and it will take some considerable effort to bring them round to thinking that they are safe at the academic institution that they attend. This is something that the Vice Chancellor at UWA needs to address in a decisive fashion.
So out of the despair of the event occurring there will hopefully be something important that can come out of it. But as I said earlier, it will not happen without the support of the Minister for Multicultural Interests Dr Nahan.