Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sydney Riots Gain Form

The rioting in Sydney continues, though on a much reduced scale. You can read the usual news coverage at The Australian and from the Sydney Morning Herald, or by listening to Sydney talk-back radio station 2GB.

I've been listening to 2GB off and on, and looking for some local reporting with some success. The history and shape of the problem is beginning to come into focus. The American press line is "racist white Australians, egged on by hate caused by the War on Terror, are attacking innocent Arab-Muslim Australians." The truth, as is often the case, is much less terrible, more local, and more prosaic.

First, the history of violence in Sydney isn't recent. Via Tim Blair comes this 1974 report, which notes:
Jennifer Cornwall, who is writing a municipal history of the shire, said Sunday’s riot was part of a continuing problem fanned by the rise of Pauline Hanson, Tampa and terrorists. “Now they’re fighting the ‘Lebs’, as they call them, but I have a 1974 report by the council on problems between locals and so-called ‘wogs’ that talks about parochialism and racism,” she said. “Before that, the locals fought the ‘Bankies’. Really, it’s partly about protecting your territory from outsiders and sticking with your mates."
The whole article is the usual lefty blather, but buried within are nuggets like the above.

Reading around, I came across this tale of growing up in the center of the rioting, Maroubra Beach. The blogger is a Sydney cabbie with a street-level view of what's happening.

What we learn is something very familiar, especially Lefty students of class struggle.

The area is a tough, working class neighborhood. There is a strong sense of community that would be very familiar to any New York Bronx, Chicago South Side or Los Angeles South Central resident. When people are packed into low income, run down neighborhoods, sense of place becomes very important. For young men who otherwise have no outlet for their boisterousness and aggression, defending their "turf" and falling into gangs happens quite easily.

Add to this the surfer territoriality. I can remember back in the Seventies a band from California, America's Surf Central, called The Surf Punks, who had one album, Locals Only and their "hit" My Beach. It was funny to us Southern boys, but fighting for control of the local surf and keeping out the invaders was serious business.

Beaches and surf are limited resources. When your beach becomes popular and others (in academe-speak "The Other") start showing up and competing with you to take a part of that away, you get defensive. Mix all this together and you get a volatile situation.

What's been happening in Sydney is that Lebanese-Australian (LA) young men have been coming to the beaches from their inland neighborhoods. The "'Bra boys" as they are called, have been defending their turf. There have been confrontations. It's the stuff of classic American working class novels and movies.

Now, let's add in some more complexity. The "lebs" (the most recent slang insult name) are bringing in their culture, which says that women who dress in bikinis and shorts and tight tops are whores. They are taught that these women deserve whatever happens to them. The LAs have no reason to respect these women, as they aren't taught to respect the larger Australian law and political culture when it conflicts with their religious culture.

The result has been years of reports of gang rapes and assaults but little apparent response. The police and government have been treating these gingerly, bowing to political PC pressure. The LAs learn to further disrespect the police and the law. The working class white Australians also learn not to respect the law and the police.

New wrinkle: while the cops can and do make a lot of arrests, they have a problem with judges in courts releasing people on easy bail, to return overnight to the streets and back into the conflict.

It all came to a head Sunday, December 4th, when another gang of LAs swaggered onto Maroubra Beach. These men attacked the two life guards on duty, sending them to the hospital. The 'Bra boys had to respond, not to the assault -- because they also have issues with the life guards who are seen as extensions of the police -- but because of the flexing of muscle on "their" beach.

Another factor is alcohol. The anger of the crowds was fueled by alcohol, as many people admit. The government and police have reponded to this by getting new powers to ban sales of alcohol in certain parts of Sydney (shades of American laws that restricted alcohol sales to keep lower class workers in line) and also to create "spot zones" where alcohol is banned. Part of the problem with this approach is that the LAs don't drink alcohol. It's banned in their culture.

And so began the back-and-forth cycle of attack and response by counter-attack. This past weekend may have been the peak, as the Sydney community is responding rapidly and with concern. But there have still been incidents, like an expected attack against a mosque and a fire-bombing of a church last night.

The press has been doing a spotty job of reporting the violence, because the Australian press is much more worried about PC than their American counterparts. "Men of Middle Eastern appearance" is the euphemism of choice. So is reporting violence and action without mention of which "side" is doing it. Like these examples:
• A 23-year-old man was in St George Hospital ...[with] a knife embedded in his back ... [after] an altercation outside a golf club with a "group of males of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern appearance".

• The Australian flag at the Brighton RSL Club and burnt it in the street. Youths were seen at a garage filling bottles with petrol in nearby Monterey.

• 50 carloads of youths smashed more than 100 vehicles with baseball bats and other weapons

• Gunshots near Northies Hotel at Cronulla

• At Caringbah... four men got out and began attacking patrons of Antonio's Pizzeria. They knocked a woman unconscious on the footpath and smashed the window of a denture clinic.
All were commited by Arab Muslim men, but the reporting leaves it open.

At heart, then, this is mostly a not-atypical lower class turf struggle. But we must add to this the "clash of civilisations" that is also going on. Because the two sides have very different views of how society in Australia works. This, too, is an old story. America went through great spasms when Eastern European, Mediterrainean and Irish immigrants began to arrive in America in the late 19th century. The new immigrants were seen as smelly, ignorant, drunken; with strange and base mores; little more than animals. They were herded into slums and encouraged (whether by police or bigotry) to stay there.

It took decades for this country's dominant white Anglo-Saxon, Protestant over-culture absorb them. You can still see echoes of the old fears and stereotypes in popular culture. (Irish cops, Saint "Paddy's" Day, making fun of funny foods and accents) You see new struggles as we work to absorb the growing Hispanic minority.

But in all these cases, the cultures share a lot of things. Christian, European (or Euro-derived) foundations cross all these peoples. In places like Europe and Australia where Arab-Muslim immigration is greater and their minorities are larger and less well-integrated, the values that affect public behavior, family behavior, duty and responsibility, and especially religion are markedly different. Though family, work and community are both highly valued, they find their expression in very divergent ways.

For the Euro-PC leftists, much of Arab-Muslim culture is seen as little more than barbaric and primitive. While they may pay lip service to values like "tolerance" and "respect" they don't act it out. In fact, they will frequently try to use their daily interactions to try to "educate" the Arab-Muslims (especially the women) into Western, secularised, values.

Now, I happen to agree with many of those values -- work, education, freedom of expression, control of self. It's in being seen as shoving it down their throats that we create a defensive posture in return, one that encourages retreat into their own community rather than melding with the larger, native one. A hostile dominant culture creates a self-protecting smaller one.

This is all old news. We've seen it happen around the world, over and over. It's just that this time, the gap between the two colliding cultures is sharper this time. This time, the dominant culture is also very tepid, conflicted and hesitant in assimilating the smaller one. Rather than assume that the new will be brought into the old, leaving traces of itself in the new mix, we have PC Lefties who seem ambivalent, who want to bring in the old culture but somehow without removing any traces of the old nor inflicting the values of the new while still expecting the values of the new to magically appear in the old, welcome and problem-free.

That's a pipe dream, of course. It's going to be a mess; it always is. Folks will be hurt and some aspects of culture will be lost. If we want to make sure that Western, capitalist, democratic, secular values succeed -- and I do -- we must make sure that other, conflicting values are changed. We must be dominant, like it or not.

What's happening in Europe and Australia is a result of wanting things both ways. It can't happen, so you end up with ghettos of minority culture inside an oblivious and self-satisfied majority. Add in political alienation -- always attendant when one group is an estranged minority -- it becomes a volatile mix guaranteed to explode at some point.

Australia seems more willing to address their immigration assimilation problem more openly. Good on them! They are seeing these riots as "grog-fueled yob behavior," (according to one Australian pundit) which is true to a very large extent. Their solution comes in finding ways to both blunt and channel young male aggession first, and then finding ways to bring their minority further into Australian society and culture.

They are having the same idiotic battle on how this happens as the rest of the Anglosphere. Many PC Lefties are abashed at their own culture, even self-loathing in many cases, but absolutely unwilling to change it except in their own image. This often has little to do with the values of the immigrant society, and more to do with utopian delusions. For all its other faults, the old WASP and "One Australia" cultures had tremendous power and cohesion, a strong ability to bring other cultures into itself while not entirely obliterating them. The arrogant pride was dangerous, especially to the immigrants and to foreign nations, but accomplished a lot of good and made possible the gains of recent decades.

That is the new problem for the Anglosphere, recognising when to slow down change, to begin rejecting change for its own sake, and to pause long enough to incorporate and adapt to what its absorbed. It also involves looking to some values that have been rejected, or are in the process of being rejected, and figuring out how to re-strengthen them with the new paradigm.

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