ELEANOR HALL: Organisers of a protest march against Sheikh Taj El Din Al Hilali’s comments on women and rape say they’re confident their demonstration won’t be hijacked by white supremacists.
‘The Great Australian Bikini March‘ is planned for December the 9th, with organisers encouraging participants to put on “beachwear” and march to a Melbourne mosque.
But police are warning that the protest may be infiltrated by extremists.
Sabra Lane compiled this report.
SABRA LANE: March organiser, Christine Hawkins, describes herself as a Melbourne grandmother.
She says she was outraged by recent comments made by Sydney Sheikh Taj El Din Al Hilali, comparing scantily clad women to uncovered meat.
CHRISTINE HAWKINS: We’re encouraging people to wear beachwear. The reason for that… we’ve called it the ‘The Great Australian Bikini March’ because it’s got an interesting, iconic image for Australians that most Australians, you know, even from their childhoods remember summer holidays with great fondness, of going down to the beach, sitting in the sun, warm, swimming, lots of nice memories.
And that we’re actually identified all the world for our beach culture, so it’s a statement about maintaining our way of life through using the icon of beach culture.
And there’s a bikini because of the comments made about “uncovered meat”. So, basically what we’re saying is look, we’re not changing, we’re Aussies. We’re not going to be covering up to avoid rape.
SABRA LANE: It’s a very provocative protest.
CHRISTINE HAWKINS: It’s an honest protest. We’ve been… I don’t know… one of the things that people haven’t heard of… look, the uncovered meat statement is bad enough, but some of the other stuff he’s said is absolutely outrageous.
SABRA LANE: The march will start at a park, and end at the Islamic Information and Support Centre in Brunswick in Melbourne.
Ms Hawkins says she doesn’t know how many people will turn up to the event.
CHRISTINE HAWKINS: We’re actually going to be calling on the Government to bring in new citizenship legislation, so that extremists can be weeded out either coming into the country, or if they’re here, get rid of them.
We don’t need this in our country, we’ve got a beautiful country, people come from all over the world to settle in Australia because they want freedom.
SABRA LANE: You’re not worried that your event is going to be infiltrated by white supremacists? They’ve already sabotaged part of your website.
CHRISTINE HAWKINS: I realise that, yes, I realise that. Of course, we want that to happen, but we’re hoping that by asking everybody else to come, okay? By saying, “listen, don’t let the white supremacists be the only ones that turn up, everybody come.”
And that way they will be very much a minority, and we’re going to be working very closely with the police. And let me tell you that we will be working so closely with the police, if there’s any trouble from anyone, we’ll be handing them over.
SABRA LANE: December 9 is the first anniversary of the Cronulla race riots in Sydney.
White supremacists have already hacked the protest’s website, there are also reports that police are concerned the event will be infiltrated by extremists.
CHRISTINE HAWKINS: Melbourne is not a particularly violent place. Look, most of… look, there were those anarchists that turned up at the last demonstration. It was at the, what do they call it, G-20. But look, as far as I know, they were mostly from outside. Melbourne is not known for a lot of violence.
SABRA LANE: Christine, what’s your own background?
CHRISTINE HAWKINS: I won’t go into that. Look, you can understand that there may be some loose cannons out there, so I don’t really want to give you too much about that because I don’t really want to… but I’m a grandmother of two.
I’m a veteran bikini wearer, I run a small business. What else can I tell you? I don’t belong to any group.
SABRA LANE: Waleed Aly is a board member of Victoria’s Islamic Council.
WALEED ALY: To be honest, it’s the kind of response that isn’t terribly surprising given recent news and recent comments that have been made concerning women and dress and so on.
It’s a sort of, very reactionary, irreverent-type response that, while I think it’s perhaps unfortunate, it doesn’t surprise me terribly.
SABRA LANE: The website for this group has already been hacked by white supremacists. Are you concerned that they might try and hijack the event on the day?
WALEED ALY: Yeah, that’s much more of a concern to me. I think that something that we’ve been perhaps ignoring over the last probably year or so, has been the growing boldness of white supremacist groups.
I think there’s a real danger of that occurring and I think that’s something that needs to be thought about very, very carefully and watched carefully because the last thing we need is that toxic kind of ideology coming into the social mix in this country, and being expressed in this sort of form.
That’s potentially very dangerous and divisive, and you could really cause a lot of social problems.
SABRA LANE: The organisers say that it’s not timed to mark the first anniversary of Cronulla, but it does fall on the eve of the Cronulla riots. Are you concerned about that?
WALEED ALY: I was immediately… that was the first thing that struck me when I heard the date. Look, I’m not too much concerned about the timing of it, I think that that’s just is sort of an added dimension that maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, and that’s for people to read into.
But I think I’m just more concerned about the substance of the issue, and what might actually transpire and whether or not it is actually going to be something that’s helpful to community relations.
ELEANOR HALL: And that’s Waleed Aly, from Victoria’s Islamic Council, ending that report by Sabra Lane.