World News

Australian Senator Calls for ‘Final Solution’ to Muslim Immigration

SYDNEY — An Australian lawmaker invoked a Nazi euphemism for genocide on Tuesday, calling for a “final solution to the immigration problem” during a speech in Parliament in which he proposed a national plebiscite on banning all Muslims from entering the country.

Posted Updated

Isabella Kwai
, New York Times

SYDNEY — An Australian lawmaker invoked a Nazi euphemism for genocide on Tuesday, calling for a “final solution to the immigration problem” during a speech in Parliament in which he proposed a national plebiscite on banning all Muslims from entering the country.

“We as a nation are entitled to insist that those who are allowed to come here predominantly reflect the historic European-Christian composition of society and embrace our language, culture and values as a people,” said Sen. Fraser Anning, a member of Katter’s Australian Party, a small, conservative political party.

“The final solution to the immigration problem, of course,” Anning said in his first speech since his election, “is a popular vote.”

On Wednesday, leaders from across the political spectrum condemned Anning’s remarks. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, of Australia’s conservative Liberal Party, called them a “shocking insult” to the millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and he used the moment to appeal to the country’s Muslim population.

“The Islamist terrorists’ argument to other Muslims is: ‘Australia is not your country. They don’t want you. They hate you. You’re not ever going to be really Australian. Join the war on our side,'” Turnbull said. “Those who try to demonize Muslims because of the crimes of a minority are only helping terrorists.”

Other politicians, from the Greens to the far right, joined in denouncing Anning. But some critics said his speech, while extreme in its choice of language, was not that far off in tone from much of Australia’s recent public debate about immigration.

Decades after Parliament phased out the so-called White Australia policy, which limited immigration by people of non-European descent, critics contend that racism is again creeping into the national discussion of the issue, with politicians scapegoating new migrants to score populist points.

Some of the dozens of politicians who criticized Anning on Wednesday had shaken his hand after his speech the previous night, video from the Senate revealed, though such handshakes are often a pro forma gesture. (Turnbull did not shake Anning’s hand.)

On Wednesday, Anne Aly, a member of the opposition Labor Party who was the first Muslim woman elected to Parliament, broke into tears as she addressed the House of Representatives about the speech.

“I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of having to stand up against hate, against vilification, time and time and time again,” she said.

In a telephone interview after her speech, Aly called Anning a white supremacist and accused him of abusing the bully pulpit of the Senate.

“For somebody to use the privilege of Parliament, the privilege of this platform, to spew such hate is beyond comprehension,” she said. “It’s sad that things have got to get to a point where this white supremacist’s hate speech is said in our own Parliament.”

Even far-right politician Pauline Hanson, who has railed against Muslim immigration herself and once wore a burqa on the floor of the Senate as a stunt, called the speech appalling. “We are not a racial society,” she said in the Senate. “I’ve always advocated, you do not have to be white to be Australian.”

In an interview on Wednesday, Anning said that he had not intended to invoke Nazi language but refused to apologize for his comments.

“The thought police have jumped on it,” he told Sky News Australia. “They’ve taken it completely out of context.”

He reiterated his call for a national vote on banning Muslim migration, accusing Muslim immigrants of failing to integrate into society. “We don’t need to bring more people in this country who may cause us harm,” he said.

Bob Katter, the lawmaker who founded the party to which Anning belongs, lauded the senator Wednesday.

“Absolutely 1000 percent. I support everything he said,” Katter said at a news conference. “It was a magnificent speech. It was solid gold.”

“You lily-pad lefties come at us with some absolutely ridiculous technicalities,” Katter said, adding that Anning had been unfamiliar with the history of the term “final solution.”

A motion to censure Anning was introduced by the Greens party Wednesday but did not pass Parliament. Lawmakers instead agreed to a statement supporting the principle that “race, faith or ethnic origin” should not be a factor in creating immigration policy. In recent years, Australia has become a focus of migration for Muslims escaping war and economic depravation in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa. The country has maintained a contentious policy of offshore detention, on remote islands in the South Pacific, for migrants who try to reach Australia by boat.

The influx in immigration has strained resources and infrastructure in some cities. Critics of Muslim immigration have also pointed to several small attacks carried out by people who voiced support for Islamic extremism, although many of those people showed signs of mental illness.

“Political speech sets the tone for our society and Fraser Anning’s speech flirted with inciting the most serious kind of violence against Muslims,” said Tim Soutphommasane, Australia’s race discrimination commissioner.

The words “final solution,” he said, should send a “shiver up the spine.”

At the Immigration Museum in Melbourne, dedicated to celebrating Australia’s diversity, visitors and employees tried to take Anning’s comments in stride.

“Every society has pluses and minuses. It’s just that people judge the negatives first and leave the positives aside,” said Maria Faiq, 29, an immigrant from Pakistan who works as a concierge at the museum. “People should focus on the positives so we can all work together on the negatives.”

She smiled and fixed her black hijab, noting that in her two years in Australia she has generally felt welcomed. Asked if Anning’s comments made her angry, she said no.

“It’s just interesting,” she said. “It’s always interesting to learn about another culture.”

Copyright 2023 New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.