Lateline and the Anatomy of An Islamophobic Stunt

The clusterfuck of racism, hatred, and hysteria that embodies Islamophobia is still brewing in Australia and day-by-day is taken to newer heights. The past few weeks alone have seen anti-Muslim attacks even more rampant and growing, a plan to cage Muslim women in glass boxes in a horrifying level of racialised misogyny that is frankly dystopian, and one of the biggest newspapers in the country linking Hitler, a white, European, supporter of the Church, with Islam in a new ploy to demonise Muslims.

Amidst the toxic flames of racist hysteria, ABC’s Lateline decided to make their own contribution to the national Islamophobic frenzy. For those unaware, Lateline is a current-affairs program on Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC. It claims to be “challenging, intelligent, and provocative.”

Last Thursday, the host Emma Alberici decided to interview Wassim Doureihi, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Now, I know absolutely nothing about Doureihi, nor Hizb ut-Tahrir, and nor am I accusing Lateline of being the sole purveyors of Islamophobia in this country. But in this Lateline episode, Alberici delivered an absolute masterclass on how to stage a classic dog-whistling Islamophobic stunt. It had every possible ingredient you would expect in an anti-Muslim spectacle: racism, orientalism, condescension, and outright contempt, delivered in the only ways mainstream white Australian “journalists” know how: smearing, obfuscating, and demonising.

From the onset of the interview, Alberici treated Doureihi with a truly exceptional level of hostility and condescension. Even for those who have regularly watched Alberici’s interviews with politicians, the hostility was stunning. The tone was set. It was clear what this was going to be: a staged set-up designed with the sole purpose to demonise.

It was clear that Alberici knew the value of playing the white woman standing up to the Scary Brown Man™ and it was beyond obvious that this was the narrative she was seeking to create for her White Australian audience, and thus, she was playing it hard.

The first half of the interview was dominated by her attempts to make Doureihi condemn the actions of ISIS. She pursued this line with a truly extraordinary level of pig-headedness, getting visibly animated in her determination to make Doureihi take her bait and condemn the group. Here we see Alberici peddling the pervasive “logic” that Muslims have some special responsibility to condemn ISIS. The argument of Alberici, and all those who peddle this claim, is predicated on the idea that Muslims are all by default inherent supporters of terrorism, unless they jump through hoops to prove otherwise to white people. Alberici pursued this racist narrative head-on, steely determined to push it onto Doureihi. The ferocious determination with which she pursues it is really something to behold.

Visibly furious that Doureihi refuses to play into her gutter game and be cornered by her, Alberici decides to change tack and deliberately attempts to work him up into the racist stereotype of the Angry Brown Man™ she knows White Australia all came to see her “take to task”. Alberici is determined to make this a spectacle and play the part that White Australia will go crazy for. To do this, she employs the type of contempt, condescension, and callous, wilful ignorance that all people of colour are all too familiar with receiving from white people.

See, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m angry. I’m angry because it was the sheer, brazen, and unremitting contempt that got to me about Alberici’s behaviour and that really hit home for me, because that is the type of contempt that I and other nonwhite people have to endure daily from White Australia. Unrelenting racism and gaslighting abounded throughout the segment. When Doureihi rightfully refused to accept the bait that he must condemn ISIS, her response was not to hear out why it was a racist question, but to push it even more belligerently. When he brought up Islamophobia, she dismissed it as “a so-called phobia”. When he tried to answer a question, she rolled her eyes dismissively, one of multiple times. And when he tried to bring up the fact of the Western invasion that slaughtered up to a million people in Iraq, she replied, “I don’t want to talk about context.” That said everything.

Context is the last thing that professional jingoistic race-baiters like Emma Alberici want because it upturns their agenda completely. To take context into account would ruin the agendas of those like Alberici who seek to demonise Muslims and Islam as the sole, unique purveyors of violence. To take into account the reality of constant Western atrocities wrought against the non-Western world for the last thousand years hinders those who desire more war, and more imperialism. And to take context into account means having to acknowledge blame and responsibility instead of shifting it onto others, namely, Muslims. It was clear Alberici was nowhere near ready to do that, and indeed when asked why she didn’t condemn Western atrocities, she comically, nervously declared “ok, we’re out of time”. You simply couldn’t make up something so self-satirising if you tried.

The thing about Alberici’s episode was that she was not only ready to have a Muslim on her show to treat him with utter contempt, but she was determined to make a spectacle out of it for the voyeuristic viewing pleasure of White Australia, for frothing-at-the-mouth bigots around the country, the types that have been terrorizing Muslim women on the streets. To watch a white woman try and put a Scary Non-White Man™ in his place on TV is simply racist pornography for racists, and Alberici knew it, and she was working hard at it. The next day proved her efforts. Despite it being clear from the interview that Alberici was the one taken to task, she became an overnight sensation in White Australia’s eyes, having given them the White Woman vs. Mean Non-White Man™ story they go crazy for. Media framing portrayed Alberici as a hero for treating a nonwhite person with the contempt we apparently so deserve.

However, not content with the smug, self-congratulatory spectacle of racism and Islamophobia she had staged in that interview, Alberici had this galling statement to make the next day:

In his caliphate, in his ideal Islamic state would I, as a woman, have the opportunity to sit opposite him as an equal and engage in a robust discussion about these issues on the public broadcaster?

Alberici realised that no Islamophobic stunt is complete without pulling out that well-known racist line that Muslims are inherently misogynists. Here in the West, and here in Australia, where rape culture abounds, where I and every other female I know have stories of harassment by men on the street, and where an even more alarming number of women have stories of sexual violence, according to these racist faux-feminists, it is apparently Muslims who are the real misogynists. In Australia, where the biggest risk to a woman is her own partner, it is apparently Islamic culture that is uniquely misogynistic. And here in Australia, where one woman is killed every week by her own male partner, apparently the Islamic world is the true bulwark of misogyny. If there was one single sentence that encapsulated so completely the cartoonishly simplistic and breathtakingly bigoted worldviews of Western media puppets like Alberici, this would be it, and they should all be ashamed. There are truly no real differences between these “elite” poseurs and the average raving bigot on the street that the white middle class loves to admonish for a sense of superiority.

This Lateline episode didn’t only embody every classic element of anti-Muslim propaganda; it also embodied everything that is wrong with mainstream media. Instead of being a mechanism for speaking truth to power, it is all too eager to be a cheerleader for power. See, Lateline has built up a reputation for itself in this regard. Five years ago, Lateline decided to smear Australian Aboriginal men, and more specifically, the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu in the most grotesquely racist way imaginable, and in doing so, did PR for the racist abomination known as the Northern Territory Intervention. Since then, it has never apologised for the reprehensible manner I which it smeared Aboriginal men based on entirely fabricated and unsubstantiated reports.

Lateline has developed a pattern of perpetuating racism and refusing to be accountable for it, and for this reason, I am not holding my breath waiting for either the ABC, Lateline, or Emma Alberici herself to grow a spine, take responsibility, and apologise for spouting reprehensible bigotry. It is all part of their agenda.

In the same way that Lateline smeared Indigenous people to sell a racist government policy, Lateline again deployed racism against Muslims to cheer on the new Australian bombing of Iraq. And for this, Alberici has earned a pat on the head from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

I hope Alberici enjoys her 15 minutes of fame while us non-white folk remain dealing with the frenzy of racist hysteria running rampant in the nation. In the meantime, I hope she one day finds it in herself to apply the same level of intense scrutiny to white politicians as she did to Doureihi. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

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