Pauline Hanson supporters: Who are they? Where did they come from? What on earth is going on in their heads?

One Nation’s recently acquired four seats in the Senate, and this remains a political enigma that progressive Australia simply cannot wrap its mind around.

Not content to simply put this sudden groundswell of right wing support down to inherent Australian racism (which, I am acutely aware is alive and kicking), I’ve spent the last few weeks quietly lurking in One Nation’s biggest online fan club: the “Pauline Hanson / One Nation Supporters & Discussion Forum” Facebook group.

Tonight, 1239 comments deep, and with a head spinning from puerile insults, cringe-worthy slurs, and spelling/grammar so poor it often rendered entire paragraphs entirely unintelligible, I finally understood.

What I discovered within this 43,990 member group, nestled deep below layer upon layer of patriotic fury and vitriolic language, was this: In 2017, Pauline Hanson supporters are driven by an unanswered philosophical problem that’s much more complex than racism. In fact, such is the complexity of this problem that the vast majority of One Nation advocates seem entirely incapable of articulating it themselves.

I’m talking about the paradox of tolerance.

 

The Paradox of Tolerance

The paradox of tolerance, first articulated in 1945 by Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, boils down to the idea that if the tolerant in society actively tolerate those who are intolerant, then the intolerant are given the opportunity to flourish and may become the majority. If this happens, the overall tolerance of the society could be jeopardized.

It is this fear (real or imagined) of losing tolerance, ironically dressed in racist language, that incites One Nation support in 21st century Australians.

When writer David Marr told the ABC’s Four Corners last week that One Nation voters “don’t want a great Australia, they want a white one” many of the party’s supporters hurriedly took to Facebook to renounce racism and defend “Australian values”:

“I am 100% full blooded Chinese by culture/race but also 100% full blooded Australian by country/birth, and I support Pauline Hanson.”
“I don’t want a white Australia, I want a fair Australia for everyone.”
“We want a safe Australia. Colour is not the problem it’s ideology.”
“Asians are an abundance but they are welcome as they don’t try and shove their way of life down our throats!”

What is this “way of life” Pauline’s voters speak of? And what, if no longer the “Asian Invasion” of 1996, do One Nation supporters now believe is the biggest threat to Australia?

You guessed it: Islam.

 

“Australian Values” v The Perceived Threat of Islam/Asians/[insert non-Western culture]

One Nation voters – who are themselves increasingly coming from diverse ethnic backgrounds (the party has even recruited stalwart indigenous supporters) – all seem to be united by a mutual hostility towards Islam. Simply mentioning Muslims to Pauline Hanson’s fans will elicit responses that are crude at best and painfully derogatory at worst:

“Stone aged goat rootin pedophiles”
“Muzzies”
“Ban all Moslems”
“Shoot the putrid cunts”.

The unadulterated hatred is tangible.

Yet, reprehensible as this language is, for those who want to understand or counter the rise of the far right in Australia (be it in the form of anti-Asian speechifying of the 1990s, or the anti-Muslim sentiments of today), it is not enough to simply dismiss this rhetoric as unacceptable hate speech and blindly hope shunning the speakers will fix the problem.

If One Nation’s 43,990 active Facebook supporters are accurately voicing the concerns of the 593,013 Australians who voted for the party in 2016, then there are a lot of Australians who feel very threatened by their perceptions of Islamic ideology:

“Every country that has embraced Islam, is in the process of being destroyed. Sweden, France, England, Germany, now Australia. They NEVER assimilate. They group together and form a new society. And then spread out.”
“ISLAM is PART TOTALITARIAN POLITICAL IDEOLOGY AND PART RELIGIOUS DOGMA, and the religious dogma part cannot be protected without also protecting the poliltical totalitarian part.”
“I recognise the contribution made by many immigrants from all walks of life to this country over the years no matter what colour they are.The real concern at the moment is this government and opposition party and the media are playing a big part in allowing an alien culture with barbaric ideals into our country who resent our western values and culture.”
“Seriously! I dont care about the colour of anyone’s skin! I just dont want sharia law in our country!”
“Of all of the cultures to be found in Australia, Islam does stand out as having no interest or capacity to peacefully integrate into the Australian way of life”

One Nation supporters and sympathisers genuinely believe Islam is a very real threat to Australia’s democratic values.

 

Why Does the Far Right Keep Resurging?

The vast majority of Australians I have encountered look upon these One Nation views with contempt and confusion. The conversation usually goes along the lines of, “20 years ago Asians were the political scapegoat. Today it’s Muslims. Tomorrow One Nation will blame some other group allegedly threatening the Australian way of life.”

But, what we really need to ask ourselves is: Why does this far right swing keep on happening, and why is it always adversarial in nature?

The answer is this: The fundamental democratic problem that our nation faces stems from the existence of neither Muslims nor Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Our inability to discuss or even deal with the tolerance paradox is what is fueling the rise of the far right.

There are aspects of both Australian and foreign cultures that are intolerant in nature and incompatible with each other.

If we tolerate those who espouse undemocratic values, we risk intolerant factions of society growing to dangerous sizes.

If we suppress undesirable aspects of any culture, we become intolerant ourselves and further alienate those we disagree with.

It’s a zero sum game and I do not have the answers.

One thing is for sure, though: It benefits neither side of the equation to stifle the very real, and very uncomfortable conversations Australians need to start having about conflicting cultural values.

Oh, and a Bill of Rights would be nice.

 

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