Saturday, December 17, 2005

Race Riots in Sydney

Three nights of racial violence in eight suburbs of Sydney had prompted the state legislature of New South Wales to reconvene in an emergency session on Thursday in order to pass extraordinary legislation giving police sweeping powers to deal with the riots. These were the worst racial riots to hit Australia in decades and resulted in the tightest security clampdown witnessed in Sydney since the 2000 Olympics.

The reported attack by Lebanese youth on two white lifeguards - the epitome of white Australian beach culture - in a Sydney beach led to a retaliation by 5,000 white youth on Arabs in the Cronulla beach last Sunday. Screaming white youth kicked and punched men of Middle Eastern origin and ripped off the head scarves of Muslim women. This provoked a retaliation by Middle Eastern youth who proceeded to shatter store fronts with baseball bats, smash cars, hurl rocks at police and burn the Australian flag later that evening. White men were stabbed. Australia was stunned at the three nights of racial violence. A church hall, next to an Islamic center, was set on fire while shots were fired at a Christmas carol service at a primary school. Cardinal George Pell condemned the last incident as "apparently motivated by religious intolerance". These in turn fueled isolated attacks on Arabs across Australia. The police , which is now on high alert, has clamped down anticipating a possible re-eruption of race riots this weekend.

The race riots has prompted renewed criticism of Australia's multi-cultural immigration policy. Australia has a population of 20 million, approximately a third of whom are of Anglo-Saxon heritage. 4% have a Chinese or Vietnamese background. Middle Eastern and other Muslims account for 1.5%. Indians account for 1%. The country has witnessed a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Bali Bombings in 2002 that resulted in the death of 88 Australians, a series of gang rapes of white women involving Pakistani and Lebanese men in 2002, and last month's clampdown on Islamacist cells in Melbourne and Sydney pre-empting what was thought to be a major terror attack aimed at Australian civilian targets. The bombings in Bali by Islamic fundamentalists were intended to kill Australian tourists. The recent incidents have tarnished Australia's reputation as a bastion of tolerance and racial integration. As Kuranda Seyit, of the Forum of Australian-Islamic Relations, put it "There is racism running deeply in the Australian psyche. Its been simmering for years".


cynical nerd said...

Jaffna: Nice post as usual. I would like to add more.

If Aussies are racist as the FAIR chap says, how come the Chinese, Indians, Filipons are not complaining. Even the case of Lebanese, ("Lebs" if you will) Australia has had them for more than a 100 years. The first wave during 1900s, second after World War 2 - were predominantly Maronite and Christian. It is after the Lebanese civil war that they started to have Leb Muslims belonging to a very conservative Shiite background totalling around 150,000.

It looks like the Leb Muslims have self-ghettoized, with many of their neighborhoods practically "no-go" zones for normal Ausralians and even cops. Say what you want about the Anglo-Australian majority, a small population of Leb Muslims seem to create a disproportionate amount of mischief!

Jaffna said...

Cynical Nerd,

Your grasp of the dynamics down under is impressive and informative. I just got back from cocktails with Australian friends of mine and they gave me additional material. Apparently, Lebanese Muslims from the Beka'a valley had immigrated to Australia with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s. They had been marginalized in Lebanon prior to that and continue to be peripheral in Australia. Many have retained the conservative village identities of the Beka'a and reside in the remote western suburbs of Sydney. There has been a lack of integration in the broader polity. The conservative social ethos led to friction i.e. bikini clad women in the beach etc. etc.

The parallel with the riots in France last month is unmistakable.

Best regards

cynical nerd said...

Thanks Jaffna. Right on the first para.

I kinda disagree on the similarity with France. First, the size: in France the size of North African origin immigrants is 5-6m, 10% of the French population as a whole compared to the 150K out of 20m down under. Second, the widespread unemployment in French immigrant communitites sometimes touching 40-50%. OTOH, the Leb kids seem to be rolling in Merc-type sedans, hardly a sign of poverty. I would like to see more data on their social standing in Aus. Third, most the rioting French "kids" were second or third generation immigrant - they were not concerend about cultural difference with the majority but rather about jobs and the perceived discrimination by the French mainstream. OTOH, the Leb "kids" seem to be influenced by a dislike for the Aussie beach culture.

So, I am not sure about the similarities between the two though in both cases they are Middle Eastern in origin.

Jaffna said...

Cynical Nerd,

It is hard to dispute you since I am not too familiar with the subject matter (beyond the press reports). You have an interesting read and I intend to visit your blog regularly to learn more :-)

The only point that I would disagree with you would be the statistics. Those of North African/Arab/Muslim origin are 7% of the French population, not 10% (regret the nitpicking). But then the French census does not include such data - so all is conjecture and can be politically influenced either way.

The parallel I drew in the comments section was about marginalized young males belonging to an immigrant community of middle eastern descent, largely confined to the suburbs, rioting in a "western metropolis". This said, your points provide contextual depth.

Best regards

cynical nerd said...

Thanks for the appreciation. I take it as a token of appreciation from the Sage Vishwamitra himself!

I agree with your neat summarization on the last para. But we would like to see the reason for this phenomenon to happen *repeatedly* across the globe. In addition to the urban riots, the more worrisome part is that they have served as a breeding ground for terrorists too.

Some of the foremost French experts on Islamism such as Olivier Roy say that it is simply the rebelious underculture of our times. Like in May '68, when students took out to the streets chanting Marx and were members of the Communist Internationale. Accordingly, at present these "youth" chant anarchist hip-hop/rap, deal drugs and some of them eventually become radicalized to radical Islam. We feel that's one reason why they see a routine police round-up in "their" suburb as a provocation thus creating such "no-go" zones. A worrisome phenomenon indeed.

cynical nerd said...

Just pointing to your attention Jaffna.

I have non-Muslim friends who are furious at being mistaken for Muslims because of their Middle Eastern background; they are doing all they can to differentiate themselves from people whom they, too, are starting to openly dismiss.

I suppose we have seen such division in the past among British (South) Asians in the aftermath of the Rushdie-fatwa affair and Bradford riots. Many Hindus and Sikhs did'nt want to be associated with increasingly radicalized Muslims although there was this "shared culture" aspect.


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