Thu, Dec 15, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Riots reveal the myth of Australia's ethnic harmony


Jim Saleam, the head of the ultra-right Australia First party, is positively gleeful at weekend violence that saw a mob of drunken white youths pick on ethnic Arabs and try and drive them out of a swish Sydney beachside suburb.

"This civil uprising, which may well continue for some time, has actually gone a long way to bury the concept of multiculturalism," Saleam said.

He blames the replacement of a whites-only immigration policy 30 years ago with the color-blind one that rules today for racial tension that bubbled to a head on Cronulla beach on Sunday and sparked reprisal attacks 24 hours later.

But for most people it's not the concept of multiculturalism that is being questioned but its application.

"The violence of last weekend was not evidence of the breakdown of multiculturalism but, rather, its absence," said Gerard Henderson, the head of an independent think tank called the Sydney Institute.

Multiculturalism is the doctrine that immigrants can keep their languages, customs and religions so long as they obey the law and identify as Australians. It's a policy embraced by all political parties.

In the view of some, the shock troops of multiculturalism were none other than the Lebanese-origin youths who were booted out of Cronulla on Sunday and returned there the following night to reclaim their birthright to walk any beach in Australia.

Cronulla is an aberration in modern day Australia, where a quarter of the 20 million population were born elsewhere. In the suburb, more than nine out of 10 of its residents are from Anglo-Saxon stock.

In nearby Lakemba, a suburb that Saleam and his fellow-thinkers describe as a Muslim ghetto, is in fact a place where three-quarters of the residents are not Muslims and a quarter speak English at home.

Few share Saleam's opinion that Australia will go the way of France and that rioting will rumble on through a long hot summer month. The prediction is that tit-for-tat attacks will go on, arrests will be made and an uneasy truce will settle on a turf war between suburbs that are only a half-hour drive apart.

Cronulla, anyway, is up for change: Other eastern beach suburbs have been taken over by rich professionals and the "locals" have been pushed out by price rises.

The shocking scenes at Cronulla have shaken an Australia that has prided itself on settling 6 million settlers from 150 countries since large-scale immigration began in 1947.


It has sparked flashbacks to 1996 when right-wing rabblerouser Pauline Hanson swept into the federal parliament on a stop-Asian-immigration platform. Hanson, who went on to win 11 percent of the vote in a Queensland state election, has since left politics. Significantly, the last election Hanson fought was as a resident of Southerland Shire, the municipality that contains Cronulla.

The images of beer-brave youths that flashed around the world were incontrovertibly of racist thugs. Attesting to that were T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like "Ethnic Cleansing Unit" and "Fuck off Lebs."

"That was the ugliest manifestation of racism we have seen so far in this country," said Keysar Trad, head of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia.

"Nobody wants to see this violence in Australia. Nobody from the Middle East, nobody from the Anglo community. It's something that's most unfortunate and should never have happened," he said.

This story has been viewed 6666 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top