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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

of Middle Eastern Appearance

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Over the past five years these words became part of the media verbiage when describing violent and anti-social activities associated with gangs of first and second generation Lebanese-Australian youth in
Sydney. It looks like the blowback has finally happened in the rather insular suburb of Cronulla which has a history of intolerance towards people from other suburbs. What was intended to be a legitimate protest by surfies and beachgoers quickly became a cowardly and inexcusable racist mob that indiscriminately attacked anyone who looked “middle eastern”. This has been followed by more cowardly reprisal attacks over the past two nights by car loads of youth (read Lebanese). Lets make no mistake, this is a turf war between two Neanderthal tribes ( the "lebos" and the "surfies" ) with a racial elements mixed in.

While I’m not a Sydneysider and am not intimately familiar with the city, I lived there for a year. I also have family members and friends whom I visit at least twice a year. It is from this perspective that I analyse and write here.

The timeline and lead up

Lebanese youth seem to have been frequenting the beachside suburbs of southern Sydney and generally making a nuisance of themselves (more below). Reports alleged threatening behaviour towards fellow beachgoers, loudmouthed ogling and calls of “sluts” towards girls in bikinis / swimwear, etc.

Ms Lamour said the gangs that roamed the beach targeted the locals. "They always come down trying to start trouble. It's the only reason we don't want to come down, because we know we will get harassed."

On the previous Sunday a gang of Lebanese youth were involved in an attack on lifeguards at Cronulla beach. This attack seems to have been the straw that broke the camels back. In most beaches lifeguards provide a volunteer community service which carries a degree of respect and gratitude within the local community.

As a response a community protest was planned this past Sunday but without proper coordination the organisation took a life of it’s own (similar to flash mobs) as SMS texts did the rounds calling “Aussies” to take back the beach and join in “bash a wog and leb day”. The media too got a wind of this and started to report on it.

The media baiting and incitement(?)

During the week elements of the media, particularly the RWDB shock jocks on Sydney talk-back radio let rip and stoked the flames on intolerance as usual.

Alan Jones was screaming like a race caller whose horse was coming home. "I'm the person that's led this charge here. Nobody wanted to know about North Cronulla, now it's gathered to this."...

top-rating breakfast host had heaps of anonymous emails to whip his 2GB listeners on. "Alan, it's not just a few Middle Eastern bastards at the weekend, it's thousands. Cronulla is a very long beach and it's been taken over by this scum. It's not a few causing trouble, it's all of them."...

He assured his audience he "understood" why that famous text message went out and he read it right through again on air: "Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge. This Sunday every Aussie in the shire get down to North Cronulla to support the leb and wog bashing day …"

Such comments, IMHO, contain statements inciting violence. The question is, would the authorities enforce the rule of law and call these lame and temporal media elites to account?

Though this is not the first instance of the media targeting the Lebanese community as a whole due to the actions of some, many high-profile incidents involving self-identifying Lebanese youth have created a negative stereotype

Lebanese violence and stereotype

The history of Lebanese migration following the civil-war is an interesting story on its own. It’s my understanding that the then prime-minister allowed many unsavoury characters to migrate to Australia and most of them settled in Sydney but they certainly haven’t followed the script of Model Minorities. From this emerged crime gangs whose modus operandi became the unrestrained use of firearms. At times it seemed that drive-by shootings in the south-western suburbs became a weekly event and even the police stations came under fire.

Also in Sydney, around 2000 gangs of youth from muslim backgrounds were involved in luring and gang-raping “Aussie” girls. Most of these limpdicks self-identified themselves as Lebanese. The most notorious being one Bilal Skaf now in jail.

These events and other minor incidents involving a disproportionate use of violence sent chills throughout Sydney and socialised the “lebo” stereotype. Though some are eager to blame the S11, Bali and Tampa incidents I believe much of the damage was self-inflicted by a community now knowing how to come to grips with the idiotic and macho elements among them. As with any other insecure minority the lebos too make a habit of over emphasising their ethnicity and are negative towards “Aussies”.

Cronulla; an intolerant suburb

Cronulla, the suburb where the riots occurred, has a history of violence towards outsiders. During the week the beach is primarily the domain of locals but on weekend the people from the nearby suburbs arrive and it seems this riles the locals. There have been riots and rivalry between the parochial insiders and outsiders and it appears to have been particularly bad in the 60s. Most of the Lebanese youth who frequent the beach are from these same suburbs.

My significant other worked in a Cronulla school for over 6 years and according her it’s a generally middle-class suburb, but ethnically homogenous with a underbelly of nastiness. According to her, the yobbo elements were always a significant proportion of the population. It also appears to have one of the lowest proportions of migrant settlement rates in Sydney.

In 2003 I wrote a feature for the Herald about the implications of the Shire's cultural make-up. Its 215,000 people then (the second biggest local council in NSW and the fourth biggest in Australia), had one of the lowest proportions of non-English-speaking-background residents in the country: 9 per cent. White faces dominate, as do conservative values.

The suburb is known for its surfing facilities. While there are many smart people who surf one needs to differentiate them from the “surfies”. The surfies are those for whom surfing is their primary identity and lifestyle. Having spent some time amongst surfies, most people I know agree with me when I say that surfies are not the brightest lights on the beach.

The riots

Following the cowardly attack on two lifeguards by about 20 Lebanese youth a community protest was planned for Sunday. Spreading the message via SMS and the media the protest seems to have attracted a large numbers of youth from all around the shire. It was also attended by small numbers of ultra-rightwing neo-nazi and nationalist groups who were there spreading their bile and stirring the passions of hatred as usual.

According to what I saw on TV, a hot day, lots of booze and a lackadaisical police presence seems to have turned local pride into jingoistic ethno-nationalist hatred. While there was a racist element to the mob, my observation was that it contained people from many races not just Caucasian Australians as reported worldwide. The racism that was evident was of everyone hating the “lebos”.

Irrespective of the targets all racism is deplorable. What is bravery when the fight is 5000 vs 1 or 20 vs 2 ? How does one justify a mob attacking a muslim girl? or attacking an ambulance? These acts of violence were conducted by cowardly thugs involved in a turf war. They seem to find security in self-fulfilling ethnic identities and resorting to pack mentalities afraid of one on one confrontations.

More discussion at catallaxy(post1, post2), LarvatusProdeo and darp. Oh and by the way, In my experience Australia is not Racist.


  • At 11:25 am AEDT, Blogger sittingnut said…

    a very good and informative post. thanks.

    ok, i will take your (and host of others word for it ) 'australia is not racist'.
    only that kind of reporting(tone etc.) in the newspapers(?) linked by you.....

  • At 9:59 pm AEDT, Blogger ivap said…

    Sittingnut - The newspapers always sensationalise anything that is seen as a threat to social harmony. I suppose it's part of their job to act as the watchdogs (possibly barking dogs). They do allow the more reasonable voices to be heard too. The sites I used for links contain mainly center-left views while the murdoch sites tend to be right-wing. The op/ed pages tend to be more reasonable and less reactive.

    As for racism Australia is not immune to it. IMO scratch the surface of any country hard enough and you are bound to come across it. It seems to become an issue when a minority asserts it's "ethnic chauvanism" as opposed to the pride in one's ethnicity.

    Looks like the perception of Australia is worse that the reality. In fact, since it abandoned the White Autralia Policy in the 60s it's been one of the most progressive and comsmopolitan nations. It dilutes with each generation as they increasingly intermingle. Keeping racism at bay is also one of the more interesting challenges of preserving individual liberty.

    The answer of course is open borders enabling free trade in goods, service and labour. Just got to get around that global(ized) mono-culture along the way ..:)

  • At 6:43 pm AEDT, Blogger sittingnut said…

    as for global(ized) mono-culture, if ppl want that, they should be free. and one can always escape a culture even if all others are part of it. :-)

  • At 7:22 pm AEDT, Blogger ashanthi said…

    Good on you Ivap - you've just insulted my husband 1000 fold ... he's not happy at all :-)

  • At 10:21 pm AEDT, Blogger ivap said…

    Ashanthi - how so madame ?

  • At 11:43 pm AEDT, Blogger ashanthi said…

    heck no - i don't want a globalized mono culture - think what food we'd be eating - yuck,

    now ivap - don't you madame me - think i've spilt the beans in the next blog but yeah one should never type cast

  • At 3:01 am AEDT, Blogger ivap said…

    sittingnut - here is a good article about racism and tolerance in OZ See


    Ashanthi -
    Let me see, sushi(japan), hamburgers(USA), stir-fries(chinese s/e asia), curries(asia), grilled chicken (portugese), pizza & pasta (italian), pies and susage rolls (uk), pastries (europe), pavlova (australia/nz), souvlaki/kebab (mediterranian), etc

    A bit of everything, is it that bad ?

    Actually I would expect more specialised and diverse restaurants to actually open up around the world.

  • At 11:11 am AEDT, Blogger Keshi said…

    hey Ivap Im here :)

    I live in Sydney for many years now...when these Cronulla riots started, for the fist time in my life in Aus, I felt 'different'...I felt so sad that ppl were getting into bashing each other just cos of the color. But one must remember that these riots occured only between gangsters. That's why it all stopped so fast.

    Australia is certainly not a racist country. It's a country blessed with goodwill and peace among all citizens of it irrespective of their origins.


  • At 3:25 pm AEDT, Blogger ashanthi said…

    A bit of everything, is it that bad ?

    hey - did I say it was? hmmm - sorry you've got me a bit confused... with someone else

    i love all the additional cuisine - I just want more of it. I mean for example the Indian food we eat - it's all the same type & not very good...

    Heyyy Keshi - ahhh so you're a Sydney gal - anywhere near the beach possum?

  • At 10:02 pm AEDT, Blogger ivap said…

    keshi - welcome!

    Agree with you. Honestly speaking, having not grown up here I am always consious of being somewhat "different", by that I mean being in a racial minority though not in the ethnic sense. I feel more Australian than Sir Lankan in that sense. Then again we are all just individuals.

    I have to agree it was a gang/tribal issue. Howard could have condemd them buyt chose not to.

    It's a country blessed with goodwill and peace among all citizens

    It's certainly not blessed, it took a lot of hard-work, sweat and tears from many committed individuals and collective action over meany years to construct this society we live in.

  • At 10:03 pm AEDT, Blogger ivap said…

    meany = many ...:)

  • At 12:34 am AEDT, Blogger sittingnut said…

    thanks for the last link.

  • At 5:05 pm AEDT, Blogger Keshi said…

    lol @possum

    Ashanthi Im close to the Cronulla beach actually hehe..

    Ivap it took alot of sweat blood and tears alright but Aus is a peace loving nation isnt it...I mean compared to many other countries in the world, Aussies maintain harmony among the cultures quite well :)



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