Monday, December 12, 2005

Rioting in Sydney

In the American press, the rioting taking place the past two days in Sydney, Australia, carries a faint tinge of "angry white Australians" attacking the Muslim community.

But dig deeper and the story is a bit more one-sided. And worrying. It began last weekend when a group of men of "Middle Eastern appearance" (the Australian press euphemism of choice; the slang word is "leb" for Lebanese, the majority of the immigrant, Arabic, Muslim population) showed up at a public beach and threatened the life guards. The men beat the two life guards bad enough to send them to the hospital. It was a battle over "beach turf."

If you want to hear the more unfiltered version of events, you can listen to Sydney Australian radio station 2GB. It's a news/talk station (the Australians call it "talk back" radio -- Have your say!) that is covering the latest developments as soon as they learn them, and fielding calls from Australians reacting to events. Bear in mind that Sydney is sixteen hours ahead of us.

The reactions are interesting. Mostly what you hear is concern for the public safety, and anger at armed groups of young men (regardless of ethnicity) making the streets a "war zone." There is also some angered confusion at the official response from police and government. The police are announcing a new riot squad -- that will be operational in January. The government is talking about banning the sale of alcohol (which the Muslim young men don't drink) in the affected areas, or in having the power to instantly create "spot zones" where the sales of alcohol is immediately banned. Yeah, right.

There was a report when I was listening earlier that police had raided a rooftop where they found dozens of Molotov cocktails and crates full of rocks, stockpiled by the Arabs. Shades of the Paris riots! There are also reports of guns being brandished and used by both "sides."

The reactions of the hosts to reports of guns is amusing to an American like me. They speak with horror and surprise and a certain amount of disgust. But given that the primary weapons of choice are knives and fists at close range, and baseball bats to car windows all over the place, it's not a serious concern for them, yet.

Callers seem to be baffled at the lack of immediate action by government. Most plans I've heard generally involved getting ready for the next weekend, or finding the right force (local police are overwhelmed and unprepared, even in Australia's largest city; the Army is thought to be overkill) to bring in. Callers want community action right away, to defuse the anger and bring the young men under control.

It's interesting to listen to. The prevalence of text messaging to organise spot mobs and to plan actions (or responses) is making it hard for police to interdict. The shared language (although Ozzie accents can get thick) makes this situation much more accessible than the Paris riots were. (Though I stress that things down under aren't nearly as terrible as France.) It gives Americans a bit of an idea of what we might be facing in a few more years.

Or not. I've lost the link now, but a demographic study has shown that Muslim Arabs are never more than five percent of the population in almost all American counties. There are some exceptions -- parts of LA; Dearborn, Michigan -- but Muslim Arabs are a very small part, for now, of the American mosaic. There just aren't the packed-in ghettos nor the cultural and employment isolation Arabs face in Europe and, yes, Australia. Most Arab-Muslim Americans are busy about the business of living their lives.

Which is good news for us. But you should give a listen to 2GB for at least a bit to see what might have been. Or what may be.

[Digressions.] Sydney has had racial tensions for many years. If you read Tim blair's blog you'll see they've been dealing with it since the Seventies. But in recent years there have been regular assaults by "Middle-Eastern appearance" men against white Australians. This problem has been festering a while now.

It may be the summer heat which is triggering the explosion. (The public officials are also blaming alcohol.) Don't forget that Australia's seasons are opposite ours. Right now it's coming on high, hot summer Down Under. And if you listen to 2GB, don't forget that they are about seven hours ahead of us. Afternoon listening will get you the late-evening program.

Australian "talk back" radio hosts aren't conservative like in America. They are most decidedly more liberal. Like most other Anglo-descended nations (Britain, Canada, New Zealand, etc.) what they call conservatism is much more "big government" adapted than their cousin-strain in America. PC is way more observed and respected. Listening to the hosts' disbelief that "it's happening here" would be amusing, if the subject at hand wasn't so awful. They are also very observant that their actions and statements on the air have an effect on the situation, so they tend to behave in a more calming way. It's an interesting cultural difference, at least to me.

Really, skip the American press coverage, if you have any interest in this subject, and go straight ot the Australian coverage. Just go to Google and search there, or start with Tim Blair's blog and follow the links.

Last, the difference between Australian talk-back and American talk radio is striking. The hosts tend to keep their comments short and to the point, then get right back to the phones to hear what callers have to say. Callers are given long stretches of time, without interuption except for ad breaks, to make their points. Compare that to America, where the hosts talk, talk, talk and only give short time to callers. I can remember a time when people like Rush would give callers their time. No more; it's about the star now.

Even locally, someone like Mike Fleming will flap his yap incessantly, then rush through a few callers quickly, cutting them off or finishing their thoughts for them. You have to go to WDIA/1070 to hear people speak their whole mind, or Andrew Clark on WREC/600 on weekends. Clark is especially good at letting callers work themselves through their thoughts, though he suffers from a stable of regular callers who seem more concern with hearing themselves on the radio than with furthering discussion. I haven't listened to Janis Fullilove or Leon Gray in a good while, so I can't say what their shows are like.

EVENING UPDATE: I made a point of watching the BBC (World) evening news and CBS. The BBC was surprisingly even handed, for them, though they were explicit in laying blame on "neo-nazis and skinheads" (their term). CBS was much, much worse. They made sure to blame angry, simmering, white racism for all the problems. The incident last weekend with the two life-guards being sent to the hospital was an "allegation," a pretext for whites going berserk. They showed some folks on the street cleaning up broken car glass, implying it was caused by white rioters when in fact it was almost certainly the work of "men of Middle Eastern appearance."

The BBC at least addressed the Muslim Arab side of the problem, but CBS made it an explosion of white supremacy, pure and plain. Awful.

MIDNIGHT UPDATE: Here is an excellent analysis of what led up to today's riots -- police and governmental indifference to rising trends.

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