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August 24, 2013

Stephanie Banister: Islam is a country

The Canadian Charger

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When a candidate for a political party in a developed country such as Australia has no choice but to resign, after being widely ridiculed, as a result of mistaking Islam for a country, in a television interview and, saying Jews follow Jesus Christ, in the same interview, one has to wonder if this is just "one lone nut", or is she expressing the views of a significant portion of the electorate.

Stephanie Banister, a 27-year-old candidate who was contesting a seat in Queensland for the anti-immigration One Nation Party, had only been in politics for 48 hours when she referred to Islam as a country in an interview with Channel Seven News reporter Erin Edwards, in early August.

''I don't oppose Islam as a country, umm, but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia,'' Ms Banister told Channel Seven News.

Later in the interview, Ms. Banister claimed she wanted Halal food to be banned. But does not have a problem with kosher food being sold.

"Jews aren't under haram.  They have their own religion which follows Jesus Christ," she said.

She added that, "Less than 2% of Australians follow haram."

It is unclear whether she meant the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Haram refers to things that are forbidden under Islamic law. Moreover, Judaism is based on the Old Testament, which predates the birth of Jesus Christ.

Commenting on current government policy, Ms. Banister said the Australian national disability insurance scheme was "working at the moment." It is not set to begin until 2016.

Despite these gaffes, the leader of One Nation, Jim Savage, said Ms. Banister continued to have the "full support" of the party executive. He said she had been under "enormous pressure", including threats to her and her family.

Mr. Savage said she has been dealt a terrible injustice.

“She meant to say in a country and immediately corrected herself; but this was not aired.”

He said he's furious that Channel Seven targeted this young woman without the knowledge of party officials.

“Of course, as a rank novice it was easy to get her to make a slip of the tongue.”

Tellingly, her comments, and the fact that the 27-year-old ex-candidate for the One Nation party was already facing disqualification after being charged for placing stickers on products in a Brisbane supermarket that read "Halal food funds terrorism", didn't diminish her standing in the One Nation Party.

One Nation, is a right-wing and nationalist Australian political party that received more than 22 percent of the statewide vote in 1998 state election, which gave it 11 of the 89 seats in the Queensland legislative assembly. The name “One Nation” was supposed to represent national unity, in opposition to the perceived increasing divisions in Australian society that the party alleged were caused by government policies favoring immigrants and indigenous Australians.

Federally, the party reached its peak in popularity in the 1998 election, winning nine percent of the nationwide vote and electing one Senator in Queensland.

Although One Nation has never approached this level of electoral success since, it has had a significant impact on Australian politics. It split the conservative vote at both state and federal levels, thus threatening the National Party's support base.

The appeal of its policies to the National Party's constituency put great pressure on that party. The rapid rise of the party revealed a substantial minority of discontented voters dissatisfied with the major parties.

Some may see this phenomenon as eerily reminiscent of Canada's Reform Party.

Subsequently, as One Nation's voter support collapsed in elections – first at the state level – then culminating in the 2010 Australian federal election, when it won well under one percent of the vote, the party is attempting an electoral comeback.

Party officials considered Ms. Banister, a 27-year-old welder, and federal election candidate, “a poster child”, whom they thought would be able to rally young voters in waiting. 

It appears that party officials feel Ms. Banister can mitigate the damage she did with her comments by claiming Channel Seven edited her interview and twisted her words. And One Nation officials still feel there is a constituency out there that will support political candidates such as Ms. Banister. They certainly don't believe she is “one lone nut”, and their support indicates that they're probably right about that much, at least.

Keeping in mind that the media people pay attention to is their window to the world, one can only wonder where Ms. Banister and those who support her get their ideas from.

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M. Elmasry

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