First France, Now Australia
On Dec. 12, mobs of young white Australians battled Lebanese and South Asia immigrants on a popular beach in Sydney, Australia, resulting in scores of injuries and the arrest of 164 people.
Like last month's rioting in France, the violence in the seaside suburb of Cronulla and other towns has provoked verbal clashes among commentators. As in France, the issues are national pride, racism and multiculturalism.
The violence is the result of Australia's abandonment of "sound multicultural policies" in the 1970s and 1980s, writes professor Allen Patience in the Sydney Morning Herald. Those policies generated low rates of inter-ethnic violence and high rates of intermarriage, he says. But in recent years, "neoconservative elements" in the federal government and "shock-jocks on talkback radio" have repudiated multiculturalism.
"The ugly consequences of these opportunistic politics are evident," Patience concludes. "There is a crimson thread of racism still running through Australia's hard culture."
"Racism is repulsive but so is self-loathing," replied columnist Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian, flagship of Rupert Murdoch's conservative media empire. She quotes a friend who says most people "have no idea what it is like to have one's suburb regularly inundated with large groups of young Muslim men from the western suburbs who proceed to shoot people [as has happened in Brighton], intimidate people, regularly threaten people within their vicinity with violence, drive around in large groups screaming abuse at people from cars with their music blaring, regularly brawling, etc."
"There is so much more to this than racism," Albrechtsen said. "Multiculturalism has been synonymous with a rights agenda -- addressing minority grievances -- rather than a framework for talking about responsibilities. The violence that has been brewing in Cronulla, culminating in the disgraceful rampages in recent days, is a pointer that if we're serious about social cohesion, it's time we all demonstrated social responsibility."
The Canberra Times came down somewhere it between: The riots are "not primarily a story of multiculturalism gone bad, or about the racist undercurrents that flow around parts of Sydney and of Australia, although there are disturbing elements of both involved," said the editors of the capital's daily newspaper.
The rioting "is more about gang cultures, tribalism, underclasses and testosterone than it is about fundamental social breakdown."
A Sydney Morning Herald Poll published today found Australians are worried about their image: "59 per cent of respondents believe the violence at Cronulla and other Sydney beaches would damage Australia's international reputation. Only 38 per cent think Australia's image has not been tarnished."
Meanwhile, a new poll for The Age of Melbourne found that "three-quarters of people disagreeing with [Prime Minister Howard's] that there is no underlying racism in Australia." According to the paper's write-up, "the poll also found that 81 per cent of voters supported the policy of multiculturalism."
The findings promoted this reaction from The Age's editors: "Our history, and everything that this country has achieved since European settlement, is built on migration. We cannot afford to ignore the lessons presented by Cronulla nor to overlook the goodwill expressed by most Australians, as revealed by today's poll. Instead of denying the problems, Mr Howard would do well to examine them with an open mind and work out a way to fulfil his promise to govern for all of us."
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