After a few days reading the comments on this and other sites, as well as reading a range of articles, engaging in some debates and giving it further thought myself, here are some other conclusions I’ve come to.
1 My two other posts on the Cronulla race riot and related actions have got more visitors than any other I’ve done since I started blogging over 15 months ago. They also drew a lot of comments, including a reasonable number from people who hadn’t commented before. I guess this could indicate that, beyond the unrest being of widespread interest, the issues involved also raise strong interest and opinions, and may touch on some key matters of dispute in the community.
2 The public discussions, shown even just on the two Cronulla threads on this site, have demonstrated that much of this debate involves people talking on different planes, and using the same words to mean very different things. No doubt this is part of why such situations are so hard to resolve.
A key example is the word ‘multiculturalism’. Aron Paul’s description of it in his comment equates pretty much with my view: multiculturalism as a policy “aims at integration of diverse cultural groups into a cohesive community and national identity that transcends race/ethnicity. It recognises that ‘assimilation’ is unrealistic as a policy and leads to trouble/resentment and greater difficulties in integrating communities.”
But other commenters equated multiculturalism with deliberately encouraging (or at least facilitating) segregation. The result is that when a bunch of people in the community hear ‘multiculturalism’, some (like me) hear a term which embodies the importance of treating people equally regardless of their ethnic background, while others (like Gibbo) hear a term which seeks to justify treating people differently depending on their ethnic background. Not surprisingly, this makes it rather more difficult to reach common ground.
3 Guido also points to different understandings in what ‘racism’ means, and how it is sometimes wrongly equated to ‘xenophobia’ (although the two aren’t mutually exclusive obviously). It seems the new political correctness is that we aren’t allowed to call any Australian people, attitudes or actions racist, as this is somehow anti-Australian. I understand the problem in being too ready to use this (or any other) label too easily or readily, but frankly we have got to a stage where our refusal to label racist actions or statements for what they are is giving credence to views which should be unacceptable in Australia. Whenever debates happen about race related issues, as has occurred following the Cronulla riots, there are always lots of mentions about the need to have some universal, shared Australian values. One of the comments asked “what are our shared Australian values”. This is a discussion I believe our country would benefit from having. Like any set of values, they will define and put boundaries on each other, but surely one of our shared values has to be that racism is not acceptable. As this comment said, “most of us catch ourselves out being racist in small ways from time to time”, and the potential to be racist is something which is present in virtually everybody. This is precisely why we have to be much stronger in asserting that it is not acceptable. For political and community leaders to pretend it’s not really there is just a subtle way of saying that it’s OK.
4 Some of the Cronulla situation is an ‘only in Sydney’ thing, with aspects that are unique to Sydney and its local cultures, history, media and politics. Indeed the more I read about the various factors and views, the more it strikes me how very Sydney-centric so much of it is.
It is hard to see the same sort of thing happening in Brisbane, or (at least from my experience and knowledge of them) in any other city in Australia. That’s not to say that everywhere else in Australia is all sweetness and light – I know of some regional towns where the racial atmosphere is pretty poisonous, usually involving resentment and antagonism towards and from Aboriginal people, rather than migrants. EDIT: Have thought some more and changed my mind on this – there are certainly some key factors to this particular situation that are unique to Sydney, but the same sort of thing could happen in plenty of other places in Australia, if people let it.
5 It is obvious that talkback radio and other media have played a role in inflaming this problem – over a long period of time, not just the last week or so. This is another aspect that has uniquely Sydney components. Compared to the talkback I hear (and have occasionally participated in) in other Australian cities, talkback radio in Sydney (to my ears at least) seems far more prone to foam at the mouth, unashamedly and quite deliberately aiming at tapping into people’s inner-bigot, and more interested in reinforcing and validating ignorance than dispelling it. I say this not to have an easy shot at the media, but to flag one of its dilemmas (and indeed one of the dilemmas of democracy and politics too). If you want to attract attention, whether for ratings, sales or votes, there is no doubt that conflict and fear rates way better than peace and harmony.
The same dilemmas exist on a smaller scale on blogs and websites, as well as all the other mechanisms for disseminating and expressing views. Freedom of speech is essential to democracy, especially given the narrow focus and agendas of the mainstream media. However, there is no doubt that they can also be a means for vilification even more vociferous and extreme than would be feasible in the mainstream media. Censorship can’t and shouldn’t counter this, and people need to be able to speak strongly against things they oppose. However, we do need to regularly remind ourselves of the potential for political rhetoric from both left and right to inflame and divide, and to reinforce and entrench prejudice, rather than help overcome it. I can’t see an easy solution to this dilemma, but one none the less needs to be conscious that it exists.
6 David Flint has rushed to defend those in the media who inflamed rather than informed. He does the same himself, deliberately putting up a false definition of multiculturalism so he can then attack it. “If (multiculturalism) is used to mean that people should be classified and then advantaged or disadvantaged according to some ethnic tag, or that the essential principles and values of our Australian culture must give way, this is unacceptable”
In a much more coherent offering in The Australian, Mike Steketee explores the almost pathological aversion by John Howard and some other political leaders to using the word “racist”.
Larvatus Prodeo points to how Cronulla is becoming the latest conscript in the culture wars waged by the elites.
and at time of posting, “Cronulla” has slowly sunk to number 6 on Technorati. It should be out of the Top 10 by Saturday.
Laurie Oakes’ piece in The Bulletin on John Howard’s politically driven response to Cronulla says pretty much all that needs to be said.
According to the prime minister, there is no underlying racism in this country. That was John Howard’s claim during the ugly violence that rocked Sydney and trashed Australia’s international reputation. If Howard really believes it, he has been wasting his time blowing his dog whistle all these years. But, of course, the man who cashed in so cleverly on the prejudices exposed by Pauline Hanson’s brief period of political glory knows better.
And if proof of that was needed, the PM supplied it when he was asked on A Current Affair about the drunken hoons involved in the Cronulla violence, who wrapped themselves in the Australian flag. Howard — still with an eye to the lessons he learned from Hansonism — could not bring himself to criticise this behaviour.
“Look, I would never condemn people for being proud of the Australian flag,” he said. It was a disgusting cop-out, and an inglorious way for Howard to end the political year. What those louts did was just as much an abuse of the Australian flag as the flag burning by a Muslim youth outside an RSL club during the revenge “smash and bash” raids which followed the Cronulla riots.
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