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An excellent opinion piece by Jenna Price in The Age last Tuesday looked at bigotry and ignorance in Australian society. The article “Ignorant Australians are the threat to my society – Fear of the other is alive and well, and damaging” comments on new research by Matteo Vergani at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation which is based on data from the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes. The article also mentioned the Online Hate Prevention Institute’s important work monitoring such bigotry.

Vergani’s research showed that almost two-thirds of Australians felt concern at the idea of a Muslim marrying into their family and one-third felt concern at the idea of a Jew marrying in to their family. The research showed a correlation between the level of ignorance about the religion and the level of concern about it. As Jenna Price summed it up, “the more you know about a religion the less likely you are to be a bigot.”

The article discusses the way minorities are presented as having problematic divided loyalties and how the response to this needs to come not only from the community affected but from society more generally. It also quotes Prof. Mort Weinfeld from McGill University who explains that, “you have to have a process of law to protect vulnerable minorities and a process of negotiation on the part of the minority to confirm their good standing.” Jenna Price explains, “that means the rest of us need to get in there, shoulder-to-shoulder, and defend the objects of the hatred: Muslims, Asians, Jews, Indigenous Australians. Don’t allow yourself to be persuaded by identity warriors who say only those groups should speak for themselves.”

The articles notes that bigotry is a significant problem in Australia and more action is needed.  “Every year there are attacks on Jews and on Muslims. If you look at the reports of the Online Hate Prevention Institute you’ll see bigots still ply their trade. Muslims are terrorists. The Holocaust never happened. Muslims are oft beset by those who can’t distinguish between Islam and Islamic State; and I get similar correspondence because, in the same way the ignorant imagine that all Muslims are terrorists, they also conjure up all Jews as Zionists, murderers of Palestinian babies.” She urges readers to “educate yourselves on what it means to be someone else” in order to “be a decent Australian”.

At the Online Hate Prevention Institute we play an important role both in dispelling that ignorance, and in bringing people of different backgrounds together to stand against all forms of bigotry, racism and hate. We highlight the hate that occurs and explain the ignorance involved through our articles, and with the support of our online community of over 24,000 people on Facebook. We help to activate the public to take action reporting the hate and in spreading awareness.

The model we have chosen, of tackling all forms of online hate rather than focusing on hate against one particular group, comes with its own challenges, particularly when it comes to seeking funds to keep our work going. On the other hand, it is only by bringing people together and tackling these problems collectively, cross different segments of the community, that we can tackle the ignorance. People may come to us to support a against against their community, but they stay to learn of the similar problems other communities face. They help initially as one of the victims on the hate targeting their community, and later as part of the wider Australian society as they help tackle the hate targeting other communities.

We have taken the hard path to tackling ignorance, building harmony and strengthening community resilience, but we believe it is by far the most effective. Alternatives such as cross community dinners or events where small numbers of (the same) people gather to express unity may strengthen relations between leadership groups, but just don’t tackle the wider problem across society. Online is where the ignorance spreads and grows, it’s where that ignorance is encouraged to turn to bigotry. The impact of the online world is neither indirect or inconsequential, we ignore it at our peril as a society.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute is deeply disappointed that recent grant applications to the Victorian Government to continue this work as an effort in support of community harmony and resilience were not supported. With everyone focused on their own communities, it is only an organisation like the Online Hate Prevention Institute that can tackle the deeper issues and bring the public together from across the different segments of the community. With each community rightly focused on their own concerns, and most people focused on supporting their community rather than general causes, Government is left as the only source of significant support for innovative and broad based approaches like those of the Online Hate Prevention Institute. With the recent news that Government will not be supporting us, we are currently reviewing whether it is possible for our work to continue. If we close, it is essential that government step forward in a much more significant way to tackle the growing problem of bigotry and hate online which are having such a devastating impact on the community.

NB: Donations to help keep OHPI running are still encouraged, we do close any remaining funds we hold will be allocated to another Australian anti-racism harm prevention charity as required by our constitution and legislation.

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