Go Back to Where You(r Great-Grandparents) Came From

Two weeks ago, if someone asked me what springs to mind at the mention of Cronulla, I’d have said their rugby league team, which has not won a flag in the Sydney/National rugby league competitions, despite forty years of trying.

But now Cronulla has topped the ladder worldwide. Amazingly, the global blog search website Technorati currently lists “Cronulla” as the top search request. It’s fairly rare for an Australian search term to be featured in the Top 10, let alone at Number 1. Sadly, this ‘achievement’ is as a result of something Australia should be very much ashamed of.

Alcohol-fuelled mob violence is not completely new in our country, but yesterday’s frenzy of hate at Cronulla in Sydney is rare in its size, with thousands of people reportedly involved. However, the ‘out and proud’ racism that appears to have infused the event makes it even more unsettling, and the use of the national flag and symbols of kitsch ‘Australiana’ to reinforce the violence and to act as a rallying point for the ‘real’ Aussies is close to nauseating.

I can’t help feeling that this is the sort of thing that can happen when people sense that it’s OK to be openly racist. Clearly, the images and reports from the event have struck a big chord with people from all perspectives. If you want a sense of the huge range of opinions and feelings it has elicited, do this search at Technorati. Many comments will have as much validity as most of the opinion pieces on the topic that will undoubtedly appear in the newspapers in the next few days.

To me, this sad and ugly event raises the question of what it means to be an Australian. No doubt many people of non-white background will be feeling a bit more uncomfortable and unsafe in our country as a result of Cronulla’s outbreak of white supremacist violence. But for me, and I suspect many others, it also inevitably creates apprehension about what our country may be moving towards. The division set up between ‘us and them’, or more specifically between ‘real’ Aussies and those who supposedly aren’t, has been voiced a lot of late as if it was some sort of truism.

Is it antecedence, contribution to the society, a feeling of belonging to a place, or just where we happen to find ourselves living which makes us Australian? One could argue this point forever but I have never put much stock in ancestry, or merely being born in a particular place, as being the sole or main marker of one’s true nationality. Likewise, relying on ethnicity isn’t much help. Everyone contributes to society to varying degrees and the feeling of belonging is only as good as the extension of enough goodwill and inclusiveness to allow all types of people to be accepted in our society.

But clearly for the yobbos and hoons on Cronulla’s beach, you can only be a ‘real’ Aussie if you are white, of Anglo-Celtic background and Christian (or at least not Muslim). You’ve clearly got to blend in and not be visibly or physically different in any way that deviates from the Anglo norm. If it wasn’t so depressingly tragic it would be funny, given that undoubtedly the families of some of the Lebanese people who were made the targets of the weekend’s violence have been in Australia for longer than the perpetrators’.

This sort of antagonism and targetting loses its impact if you have to actually tell the truth and accept that people of Lebanese descent are ‘real’ Australians too. Bending to the racist agenda that people who ‘aren’t white, aren’t right’ is unrealistic, offensive and only breeds further unrest and insecurity for all.

None of this is to dismiss the unacceptable nature of the aggression and violence from some Lebanese-Australian men at Cronulla the week before. Violence should be opposed, regardless of the skin colour of those who commit it. Hatred and incitement to violence based on ethnic, national, religious, gender, sexuality or other differences is particular dangerous, as it targets a wide group of people purely based on perceived difference. If this is seen as OK, it makes actual acts of violence far more likely, and also is more likely to set off a spiral of violence which can be very hard to halt.

The suggestion that these sorts of riots occur because of ‘softly-softly’ policing is just stupid – the usual refuge of irresponsible ‘tough on crime’ law & order politicians and commentators who have no real solutions to offer. Of course. effective police action against perpetrators is important. I noticed an AAP report of a comment by the state Green Party MP Lee Rhiannon the day before the riots saying that “rushing dozens of police to Cronulla is a public relations exercise, not a necessary police operation.” While overt displays of police force can sometimes exacerbate sensitive situations, it’s hard to see how anyone could blame the police for this outbreak, or indeed have expected them to prevent it. By the time social tensions have got to this stage, it is just ridiculous to expect the police to fix it.

It is a consequence of too many people turning a blind eye to reality, and it needs a long-term solution. Anyone who suggests that there isn’t an undercurrent of racism within Australia is either a fool, or is deliberately dog-whistling. This isn’t an anti-Australian comment, it is a recognition of an aspect of human nature which is present in almost all societies to varying degrees, which can break out unless consistent and strong leadership is shown at political and community level against those factors or people that inflame it, (and by definition, in support of those people and factors which counter it).

I believe the long-term solution has to involve multiculturalism. Not just the concept, but the political will to see the concept work as it should. There is an oft heard argument that multiculturalism leads to ghettos and that people, in the words of Pauline Hanson, “don’t assimilate”. I doubt assimilation ever worked as a policy or as a viable reality, but even if it once did, it certainly can’t these days. Forcing a monoculture on people is a form of oppression that is incompatible with democracy.

When you drill down into the arguments of those who blame multiculturalism for racist outburts, it usually ends up as little more than ‘we shouldn’t allow migrants here in the first place’, or only those who accept ‘our way of life’. Given that last year alone, Australia issued over three and a half million visitor and tourist visas, plus over 400 000 temporary residence visas and over 130 000 permanent residence visas, trying to make everyone here fit into some mythical uniform notion of ‘Australianess’ is simply absurd, and will just generate antagonism and resentment.

On the other hand, multiculturalism, when it is allowed to operate, encourages integration of groups into the wider community within a framework of shared values. As a policy, it sees the benefits to our society from gaining an active appreciation and involvement of other cultures and views. Diversity should be a by-word for democracy, and we might as well get used to it and encourage it. We do not live in a cultural vacuum, and Australia is growing and changing whether people like it or not. We are a country made up of many cultures and ethnicities and we all want to fit in, but if the weekend’s racist uprising is any indication we have a long hard struggle to ensure that we are all regarded as ‘real’ Aussies, and indeed ensuring that being a ‘real’ Aussie is something many of us would want to be anyway.

ELSEWHERE: As Technorati currently lists over 1700 English language blog posts that mention Cronulla (and disconcertingly about 700 in other languages) , including 200 in the last 10 hours, it’s a bit difficult to give a representative summary of other posts on this topic. I have a special interest in the wider social and political issues that situations like this throw up, as it touches on the same sorts of concerns I’ve expressed regarding excessive fear-mongering about terrorism – that we will just end up with a far more divided and unsafe society, where minorities (of all sorts) will feel more and more anxious, insecure and disconnected. However, for those of you that don’t have time to trawl through Technorati, here’s a few that I found of interest in one way or another.

Andrew Norton suggests it’s “the ugliest day in Sydney in 2005, but on the evidence so far it is not a portent of looming social disaster”;

the perceptions of one migrant to Australia about whether there is underlying racism in Australia;

Darp’s view;

A range of descriptions on Tim Blair’s site;

A eyewitness description from the cabbie’s blog, the Man of Lettuce ;

Glen Fuller provides more of an academic cultural studies viewpoint.

Sometimes the short personal entries are as insightful as the longer analytical ones. A couple of examples:

Rachel from Newcastle: “I have to say I am feeling disgusted to be an Australian at the moment”;

My opinion, If it didn’t start in Cronulla, it was bound to start somewhere else. Boths sides are at Fault, everyone is to blame.”

From the mainstream media:

How the New York Times reported it; the view from the Scotsman; from the English language Al Jazeera site; this comment piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by Paul Sheehan – who is usually vehemently anti-multiculturalism – gives some useful local and historical background.

And finally, to show that some racism isn’t underlying, but very much upfront, this from the Australia First website promoting last weekend’s gathering as “an effective demonstration of solidarity with the victims of anti-Australian race hate and violence”, urging participants to “observe restraint and offer self-defence only if attacked”. The day is labelled as a “rightful method of mass action, which will … cow the hatemongers”, and a day of “mobilisation of Australians against the terror of multiculturalist ideology and practise.”

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  1. Roger,

    some nice points but come on: Lebanese gangs are just poor misunderstood, disenfranchised youngsters?

    I don’t buy that. Shall we extend a comforting arm around the bikie gangs, the mafia, the triads? It’s a very subtle form of racism to suggest that gangs are the inevitable results of disenfranchisment and lower education standards. The thousands of migrant youth who don’t belong to a gang are testament to that fact.

    Furthermore, the reason why the beach behaviour has been singled out as that of ‘Lebanese Gangs’ is because they self-identify as Lebanese and make consistent, derogatory racial remarks. Was this overblown by the media? Most probably. But it’s because there was a clear racial or cultural element in the first place that the situation inflamed.

  2. Justbemused and others:
    I did not say Lebanese gangs were poor disenfranchised youngsters – you said that in order to knock me down. Discussion like this gets nowhere if we see it terms of making points against each other – as some sort of competition. I know little about the gangs you mention – first I have heard of them as a reality was in this discussion. What I am saying is that anti-social violence of any kind, whether it be IRA or or “Lebanes Gangs” (which apparently exist), rioters at Cronulla or Osama Bin Laden are a product of social behaviour which needs addressing and which has genuine concerns and fears at its roots. If we do not address those concerns and treat these persons as humans, however aborrent they may seem, we are in a way, guilty of the same mind set that is at the basis of racism. Similarly dismissing the rioters as Hooligans (as I did too), Hoons etc doesn’t get us anywhere either, except to indicate to others we don’t condone this sort of behaviour, don’t want a society like that. There is fear at the basis of all this – fear of values and way of life being threatened, of the fact that everything we do, at the basis of it, is invented, created by ourselves. That may be frightening, but it is also our strength, bacause it means we can change it. The other, the stranger, always challenges our values. Some, like EP don’t want to be challenged, don’t want to recognise their fears – want to be comfortable all the time – or so it appears from reading his e-mails. Labelling me as a lefty or someone else as right doesn’t go anywhere as others have already pointed out.
    Having said that doesn’t mean sitting by and allowing the violence and discrimination to happen. I am also aware there are those who are so impaired in their thinking or psychology and stuck in ideology they are unable to change or adapt or reason. Its sometimes impossible to get through to such people, no matter how skilled you are and they may have to be put out of harms way.
    Roger Callen

  3. Multiculturalism is not a myth.
    It is my everyday reality as an Australian of Dutch background. I live and love my two cultures and resent any suggestion that one is better than the other or that I have to wipe out the rich heritage of my parents and people.

    Multicultural policy at the federal level has enshrined English as our official language as well as the core values of our democratic and legal institutions. It respects and values those aspects of my culture (and that of all immigrants) that do not conflict with Australian core values. It encourages me to enjoy the delightful differences among human beings from more than 160 nations who make up our unique society. The right to marry whom you want is resulting in increasing diversity and the very fact of our harmony in such diversity won us the honour of hosting the 2000 Olympics!

    Whatever you want to label it, I want my society to respect the human rights of all men, women and children and to be a place where living in peace and harmony is normal. One solution to “Sydney’s shame” (the ugly and violent clashes between the young men at Cronulla) lies in schools being safe places for newcomers where racist and sexist taunts and bullying are eradicated. The slogans heard on the beach were only variations of those yelled in the schoolyards. All young Australians must be taught who we are and where we came from in the context of human rights, the history of the first people and recent immigration.

    Building an Australian identity and society must not be left to chance. English speaking or not, newcomers must have information and community education to help them integrate and prepare for Australian citizenship. Regrettably, it was not available to the Sydney “quasi refugees” fleeing civil war in the Lebanon 30 years ago. History repeats itself, so we had better check that settlement services for today’s refugees and immigrants are both adequate and focussed on successful integration into the host society, and recognises the place of original Australians.


  4. Roger, you are labelling me as someone who is afraid of the challenge posed by “the other” in order to dismiss my viewpoint — and therefore avoid any challenge to your own comfortable worldview.

    This is a classic case of projection. You are externalising your own faults and pretending that they are my faults.

    Try to overcome your fear of the new, and really think about what people are saying here instead of pigeonholing it into your pre-determined categories.

  5. Where to begin?

    Well Evil Pundit and Yobbo have actually been doing a far better job at addressing reality than most of the rest of you for starters. Which if you don’t believe it, should give you pause to think. not retreat into denial as the progressive Left usually does. Is there little wonder people are finally getting sick of it.

    weezil is clueless… for starters back in 1999 the anglo-celtic percentage of the Australian demographic was 70%, you can bet it’s even less now. Funny Andrew was silent or clueless on this.

    Andrew’s continued ignorance of the violent rampage that occurred on the night after the so-called riot certainly points to his bias. The day riot was a peaceful walk in the park compared to it.

    As for the 5000 rioters???? Excuse me? Please explain? You mean the one’s playing cricket with the police? There were at most 100 people involved in the drunken violence that day. That’s what 2%? As opposed to the 200 plus non-drunken violent vandals that destroyed property and assaulted people including; knifing a young man in the back and hitting a little old lady in the head with a baseball bat.

    The life savers were bashed by more than 4 Lebanese Andrew. Yes, Lebanese Andrew, they don’t see themselves as Australian. When they rape they do it “Leb style”, I’m guessing that means in large groups.The people protesting during the day were as Evil Pundit already pointed out of various ethnicities.

    No Mosques were burned or shot at, yet Christian churches were. Someone mentioned a disturbance at the lakemba Mosque… yes, that was the large Lebanese contingent getting ready to raid the beachside suburbs.

    As for socio-economic reasons.. well their designer sportsware, cars, etc seem to point in another direction… unless of course it was all bought with the proceeds from drugs of course.

    The police have been going softly on them for years… if you lived in Sydney you wouldn’t need to be told that.

    Well I could go on and on and on… I look forward to any of you trying to mount a case based on facts that actually factually refutes anything I’ve said.

  6. Why shouldn’t non-citizens and dual passport holders… not happy to be considered Australians be asked to leave?

  7. You, Sir, are either a coward, a liar, a fool, a multi-culti lemming or a combination of the above.

    Your apologist line reminds me of an incident in wonderful, vibrant, multi-culti Britain that’s a sign of things to come for you Aussies.

    I work in a large hospital near Manchester and a 15 year old, white English lad hobbles in one Tuesday afternoon.
    He could barely walk and although he had no visible injuries and was wearing clean clothes, he was clearly in a lot of pain.

    Long story short, it turns out that this kid had been beaten up a month previously in an unprovoked assault by 4 Pakistani youths as he waited for his Mum to pick him up after his guitar lesson. He had sustained a fractured lumbar vertebra and a crushed disc in the assault.

    A broken spine!

    He’d been limping around for a month with a broken bloody spine!

    He hadn’t reported it because…

    Wait for it…

    And I quote;

    “I didn’t want to cause any trouble for the “Asian community”.

    Jesus H Christ on a rusty unicycle… WTF!!!
    This kid was a couple of millimeters from paraplegia and he was so brainwashed by multi-culti apologetic propaganda that he was prepared to let it go!

    Again, long story short, when this kid’s Dad found out what had really happened and made a Police report, it turns out that these Pakis had all pissed off back to Pakistan (yeah, right – Birmingham more like)so they “didn’t intend to pursue the matter.”

    Stand up for your own people for God’s sake you big pussy.

  8. The above comment is a good example of why defending multiculturalism is so important, rather than giving in to isolationism and narrow mindedness.

    If we retreat inwardly and try to live in the modern world by using concepts of race to define who ‘our own people’ are, and who ‘the other’ is, we’ll be in big trouble.

  9. The above comment is a good example of head-in-the-sand denial caused by multicultural political correctness.

    People like Andrew are simply incapable of acknowledging that non-Anglo groups can be racist or intolerant, and will always seek to blame the victim in cases such as the Lebanese Muslim gang bashings in Sydney.

  10. One question to you, Andrew: Exactly why is it wrong to suggest that we should only take immigrants who accept our way of life?

    Why should we tolerate immigrants who refuse to tolerate us?

  11. Good questions EP.

    I note Andrew reverts yet again to calling people RACIST.

    Yet culture is NOT race.

  12. EP

    I thought I had regularly made the comment on this blog as well as elsewhere that people of all backgrounds and cultures are capable of being intolerent and racist – however, if I haven’t said it before, you can take it as said now. The problem to me seems to be that some people won’t acknowledge that Australians can and have also behaved in this way or hold views such as these.

    To address your question, I don’t necessarily disgaree in principle with the suggestion you have made.

    The main problem is what the definition is of “our way of life” (and who does the defining). There is a follow-on problem of how to then implement this under migration laws and what the wider consequences may be of doing so, but that really depends on the initial definition.

    In one sense, we already only take immigrants who accept our way of life, in that we have the ability to reject or cancel a visa on character grounds. So people who are not australian and who are seriously criminal or who promote violent uprising or the overthrown of democracy can be refused entry or removed under current laws.

    There can be a problem if such laws are implemented selectively, without due process or for political purposes, but the principle is not one I object to.

    However, we shouldn’t forget that there will be Australians who would fit into such a categories as well. Not to mention the fluidity in how an Australian is defined (as the recent Jovicic case shows). Even an extremely zealous approach to potential migrants will not address that problem, but it can cause trade, tourism and other economic problems and diplomatic problems to no good end.

    We also have to remember that more people come here on temporary resident visas than permanent resident visas these days, so if you have an overly restrictive criteria, you will severly restrict the intake.

    As someone who thinks current levels of migration provide major net benefits for Australia, I think that would be a problem. I’m not suggetsing we should ignore or do nothing about letting in people who are highly undesirable, but I do think we have to weigh up the overall costs and benefits from being overly zealous in this area.

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