My first encounter with Jim Saleam, who has recently received some publicity as the self-styled leader of the anti-immigration Australia First Party, was in my student days at the University of Sydney.
When enjoying one of the 5¢ cups of coffee at the time available in the Manning House, a posse of burly men from National Action entered the room and handed out leaflets warning against the perils of “overseas students” to the integrity of the student body.
In those environmentally-unaware days, most students simply disposed of the garbage in the bins designated for such purposes.
Not long after, as a director of the University Union, I was pleased to learn that the newspaper Audacity, which consisted of poorly structured arguments and attacks on political opponents of National Action, was one of a number of publications which had been rejected for sale by on-campus newsagents.
Later, as the Returning Officer for the Sydney University Students’ Representative Council, I encountered Jim Saleam as a candidate for the presidency. He was polite, respectful and spectacularly unsuccessful in convincing the student body to accept his platform.
Over the years since, Jim Saleam has become one of the best known faces of the generally faceless far right fringe, who appears oblivious to his lack of accord with the basic decency of the population to which he offers himself as a leader (one hesitates to say “Fuehrer”, despite photographs of him in Nazi uniform).
The feature on Jim Saleam by Greg Bearup in Good Weekend (Nov. 14), “The Audacity of Hate”, provided welcome scrutiny of, and insight into, “a man with a chequered past” who “dreams of steering the nation”.
One of the many things the subject apparently didn’t like about the profile was the timing – the article appeared during the annual convening of Australia’s pre-eminent gathering of far-right ratbags, the Sydney Forum.
Followers of Australia’s right wing extremist fringe also noted the Sydney Forum connection of a subsequent subject of a mini-biography by Greg Bearup, also in Good Weekend, Rihab Charida.
Rihab Charida was presented completely uncritically as a committed campaigner for a cause depicted as just and moral.
Two very pertinent points were either unknown to, or downplayed by, the article’s author.
The first is that Rihab Charida is one of a tiny number of people who has agreed to speak at the Sydney Forum, while at the same time purporting to be either progressive or to represent a progressive cause.
In fact, one of the only other people to behave in a similar manner recently was Keyser Trad, who spoke to the Australian League of Rights, Australia’s most notorious antisemitic organisation.
In both cases, the far right invited speakers they would hold in racial contempt because of the perception of a shared anti-Jewish agenda. This fact was quite pertinent to any picture of an alleged human rights campaigner, but there was another fact it was even more important to bring to public attention.
Locally, Ms. Charida might have one image, but internationally she has another – as the veiled on-air presence of the Iranian government’s despised Press TV.
A vehicle for a variety of antisemites and other Teheran-friendly extremists, Press TV carries occasional items filmed in Australia, with reporter Rihab Charida faithfully providing a spin on the news which apparently is well-received by the same thugs who brutalise the Iranian people.
When questioned, in other forums, as to her links with the ineffectual fascists in Australia and the powerful totalitarian clerical fascists in Iran, Ms. Charida comes across as having an anti-Jewish outlook which would fit comfortably with that of Hamas or Ahmadinejad. Her campaign appears more one of opposition to Israel and to human rights for Jews rather than advocacy of the rights of Palestinians.
There is a difference, just as there is a difference between the “nationalism” of Jim Saleam and the nationalism which is sourced in pride at the achievements of culturally diverse, socially dynamic Australia.
It is not surprising that the Iranian, and local, fascist connections were not revealed by Rihab Charida, but they surely should have been more fully exposed by a well-regarded and well-credentialed journalist.