Meet the world’s least effective anti-Islam political candidate

August 9, 2013

Stephanie Banister in her fateful interview with Brisbane's Channel 7 news. (YouTube)

Australian media are giving a rough welcome to Stephanie Banister, a novice politician who is running for a legislative seat in a suburban district under the ticket of One Nation, a controversial far-right nationalist party. Banister's platform is pretty straightforward, and not well-received outside her party: She doesn't like Islam or its adherents, who make up 1.9 percent of Australia's population.

Banister had won the attention of One Nation as an anti-Islam activist; she faces court charges for plastering halal grocery products with a sticker reading "Beware! Halal food funds terrorism."

Banister is reaching new heights of national and international notoriety after an interview with a Brisbane-based TV station, which was clearly looking to debunk her (transcript here). There are many facepalm moments in the clip, in which both Banister and the news anchor make some basic mistakes about Islam and, at one point, Judaism.

Here's the interview, followed by a few highlights.

• Banister refers to Islam as "a country."

• She says several times that Muslims follow "haram." In fact, haram means "sinful" or "forbidden." She probably meant to refer to sharia, Islam's religious law. The interviewer seems to believe she was referring to the Koran.

• She insists that halal food be banned but says kosher food is okay because "Jews aren't under haram; they have their own religion which follows Jesus Christ." Where to begin! Most kosher food is actually halal; the two words have similar roots, literal meanings and requirements. Judaism, of course, does not follow Jesus Christ. And if Banister's metric for a religion's merit is how it treats Jesus, then she should actually prefer Islam, which praises Jesus as a prophet.

• The interviewer rebuts Banister by saying that "Judaism rejects Jesus Christ," though this might be a bit strong. Maybe better to say that Judaism rejects Jesus as the messiah.

• My favorite moment is when Banister says, "Less than 2 percent of Australians follow haram." Assuming she meant to say "sharia," her statistic is actually sort of correct -- 1.9 percent of Australians are Muslim, according to a 2010 Pew report -- but not all Muslims follow sharia, and none of them follow haram because that's not a thing.

Banister and her (probably destined to be short-lived) media fame are obviously not in themselves a very big story, but they are of a piece with Australia's growing anti-immigration sentiment. Many of Australia's Muslims are from Southeast Asia, a source of considerable immigration to Australia. The country has ramped up efforts to expel or refuse migrants who arrive illegally, shifting many of them to nearby island nations where they live in vast refugee camp-style facilities.

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