TENSIONS between young white gangs and youths of mainly Middle Eastern origin erupted on one of Australia's most popular beaches yesterday in what police condemned as a racially motivated rally driven by a mob mentality.
Thousands of people, many chanting racial slurs, were engaged in running battles on Cronulla Beach in Sydney's southern suburbs.
At least 13 people were hurt, including five police, and 12 were arrested during the clashes, which followed a week of mounting anger over an attack on two lifeguards who were beaten up by a gang of Lebanese youths.
Furious locals, many wielding empty beer bottles and waving Australian flags, shouted anti-Middle Eastern slogans as they marched across the sand, on which was written "100 per cent Aussie pride".
One white teenager had the words "We grew up here, you flew here" painted across his back. As the crowd moved along the beach and foreshore, one man on the back of a truck shouted: "No more Lebs [Lebanese]", a chant picked up by the group around him. Others carried Australian flags and dressed in Australian sports shirts.
Up to 150 police officers were drafted in to cope with the 5,000-strong crowd, many of whom roamed the beach and side streets in vigilante fashion.
Two girls of Middle Eastern appearance were pushed to the ground and pelted with bottles as police tried to rescue them.
By mid-afternoon word spread that a Lebanese gang was arriving at the nearby railway station. Some members of the mob jumped on a train where they looked for anybody of vaguely Middle Eastern appearance. They found two men whom they began to beat before police intervened with batons and formed a human chain around the station.
In a separate incident, two paramedics were injured as they tried to rescue a group of Lebanese youths who had sought sanctuary in the Cronulla Surf Lifesaving club.
The mob smashed windows and kicked at doors, while others stomped on police vehicles and parked cars. Officers fought back with pepper spray and batons, bringing a semblance of calm to the area by late afternoon.
Last night, violence flared in at least six Sydney suburbs in retaliation for the Cronulla clashes. In nearby Brighton-le-Sands, an Australian flag was reported to have been taken off a building and burnt.
The violent clashes followed weeks of rising racial tension in the beachside suburb, which is popular with thousands of Middle Eastern families from Sydney's mainly ethnic outer areas at the weekend. Locals have accused some of them, particularly visiting Lebanese youths, of being disrespectful to white women and other beachgoers.
Following the attacks on the volunteer lifeguards, a mobile telephone text campaign started, backed up by frenzied discussions on weblogs, calling on Cronulla locals to rally to protect their beach.
In response, a text campaign urged youths from western Sydney to be at Cronulla on Sunday to protect their friends. All week police and politicians had been calling for calm.
Yesterday, Islamic leaders blamed the trouble on influential talk radio hosts who had whipped up racial tensions in the wake of last weekend's attack on the lifesavers, who epitomise Australia's white traditions and Anglo-Saxon roots.
Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association, accused the media of incitement.
Ken Moroney, the New South Wales police commissioner, pledged to target people who raised the ethnic tensions that ignited the violence.
Mark Goodwin, the assistant police commissioner, branded the riots as "disgusting and disgraceful". "It's certainly not the Australian way," he said.
Kevin Schreiber, the Cronulla Mayor, said many who flocked to the beach were looking for a fight. "I'm devastated by what has happened on our beachfront. It is the actions of a few, but let's not kid ourselves that people didn't come from far and wide to participate."
VIOLENCE SPLITS THE BLOGGERS
‘I find it offensive when "humans" come to our country and try and f*** up our way of life'
‘What happened to those lifeguards sucks . . . but instead of more violence and hate let's work out a way to stop it peacefully!!!'
‘They are trying to change our way of life. Do you not understand the concept behind it? They hate the way we live'
‘The best way to respond to this violence is with love. We should as surfers spread our love into their community. One way to do this is to date their sisters'
Extracts from Realsurf.com forum
Anti-Muslim riots strike force
Australian police have formed a strike force to track down the instigators of a day and night of racial riots that left more than 30 people injured in a string of Sydney beachside suburbs.
"Let's be very clear, the police will be unrelenting in their fight against these thugs and hooligans," New South Wales state political leader Morris Iemma said.
The violence shocked the city of four million which prides itself on being a largely harmonious cultural melting pot.
Sydney's Daily Telegraph tabloid's front page headline, over a picture of white youths attacking a man of Arab appearance on a train, read: "Our disgrace".
Sydney's Daily Telegraph tabloid's front page headline, over a picture of white youths attacking a man of Arab appearance on a train, read: "Our disgrace".
Iemma said the riots, "showed the ugly side of racism in this country".
Prime Minister John Howard condemned the rioting, but added: "I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country."
Iemma said Muslim leaders and community leaders from the suburbs hit by rioting would meet in a bid to ease tensions and prevent a recurrence of the violence.
Police arrested 28 people in hours of street battles that left 31 people, including two ambulance officers and five police, injured, New South Wales police said in a statement. One man was hospitalised after being stabbed in the back.
One lawmaker said anti-Muslim resentment that has risen since the September 11 attacks in the US and the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia that killed 88 Australians also played a role.
Revenge attacks bring second night of race violence to Sydney
· Australians shocked by media reports of clashes
· Politicians and pundits accused of inciting unrest
Bernard O'Riordan in Sydney
Tuesday December 13, 2005
Australia was last night in the grip of its worst race clashes since independence, with youths battering cars and shattering shop windows as violence spread through Sydney's suburbs for a second day.
The attacks came in retaliation for Sunday's violence, in which 5,000 people rampaged across Cronulla beach chanting racist slogans, leaving more than 40 police officers injured. Members of the crowd had wrapped themselves in the Australian flag and chanted: "No more Lebs [Lebanese]", attacking men and women of Middle Eastern appearance. Several victims were evacuated in police vans.
Last night police made several arrests after more than 50 carloads of Middle Eastern men armed with baseball bats sought revenge in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla.
More than 500 mainly Muslim men also gathered outside a mosque at Lakemba, in the city's south-west, after rumours that surf gangs were planning to attack the building. They later dispersed, throwing rocks and flares at police protecting the building.
Television images of the fighting shocked Australians, whose pride in their country's tolerance was shaken by the level of popular support for Pauline Hanson's anti-immigration One Nation party in the late 90s. More recently, the prime minister, John Howard, won the 2001 election on a hardline anti-immigration platform.
Police said neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups had used Sunday's protest to incite hatred. "A lot of these people involved in the violence were not locals, they came from far afield looking for a fight," said a longtime resident, who only wanted to be identified as Maree.
But Mr Howard denied there was any "underlying racism" behind the events. "This nation of ours has been able to absorb millions of people from different parts of the world over a period of now some 40 years and we have done so with remarkable success," he said.
Surfers and residents say racial tensions at the beach have simmered for years. Shaun Donohoe, a 24-year-old chef, said: "[Lebanese Australians] look down on our women. They don't really assimilate to our way of life. I've been at war with them for 10 years."
Roland Jabbour, the chairman of the Australian Arabic Council, said the unrest had been stoked by politicians and media commentators. "Arab Australians have had to cope with vilification, racism, abuse and fear of a racial backlash for a number of years, but these riots will take that fear to a new level," he said.
The spark for Sunday's violence was an alleged attack on a Cronulla surf lifesaver by four Middle Eastern youths the previous weekend. But many locals claim that attack as part of a wider pattern of young Lebanese Australians gathering at Cronulla to harass people. "There's only so many times you can be sworn at and called disgusting names just because you swim in a bikini," said Nicolle Dunk, 17.
Elie Nassif, the president of the Lebanese Community Council, dismissed those claims yesterday. "I don't think that is true ... they [Lebanese youths] don't do that," he said. Malcolm Kerr, the Liberal MP for Cronulla, said locals were tired of being intimidated by gangs but should also be ashamed of Sunday's violence.
Cronulla beach, immortalised in the novel and film Puberty Blues, has been the venue for earlier bouts of tension. The early 60s saw pitched fights between surfers and other youth. But many have linked Sunday's violence to broader issues in Australia. Bruce Baird, Cronulla's state MP for Mr Howard's Liberal party, said rioters were taking revenge on Lebanese Australians for the 2002 Bali bombings.
The Lebanese youth leader Fadi Rahman said many young people in his community were beginning to wonder if they would ever feel accepted in Australia. "Let's not forget these kids are born and raised in Australia; they were not born and raised overseas," he said. "We're heading for disaster as far as I'm concerned."
The following is a very personal account of one Australian's experience of race and violence. OhmyNews has chosen to publish this article to help elaborate the issues surrounding last Sunday's riot, but we must emphasize that this is one man's story. Mr. Lee is proposing to have readers post thoughtful views on the matter. OhmyNews hopes to stimulate constructive debate. -- Ed.Last Sunday was the darkest day in recent Australian history when one of its most famous beaches became the scene of a race riot, with an estimated 5,000 angry Australians blockading Cronulla beach.
Tensions have run high in recent years, with the media steadily reporting imminent Islamic terrorist attacks on Australian soil. Some Sydneysiders claim that Lebanese youths have been trying to claim their own territory on the beach for decades.
The tension became critical when several Lebanese youths brutally attacked two volunteer Life Guards ("Savers") on Cronulla beach about a week ago. "Life Savers" hold a special place in Australian culture, as Aussie an icon as "shrimp on the barbe." Locals have been demanding retribution ever since. Before these latest ugly scenes an SMS text message had been making the rounds in Sydney calling for all Australians to take the beach back from these "Lebs." The Premier of New South Wales, fearing more violence, aggressively increased the numbers of police on patrol.
No one ever imagined that approximately 5,000 Australians would turn up to "take back the beach." The gathering started out peacefully enough, with barbeques and beers, until a man was chased into a bistro, because of the color of his skin; within minutes thousands of locals surrounded the bistro, chanting racial slurs.
According to initial reports three men were assaulted, and the NSW State police have been forced to protect anybody with a Middle Eastern appearance. Problems have been a brewing for many years, if not for decades.
This is a volatile subject for myself and my white friends. My experience with the Lebanese community has been a mixed bag -- good, bad and the downright ugly. While attending primary school I lived in a Lebanese-dominated region of Sydney called Lakemba. There was a Lebanese boy who was one grade higher than me who took it on himself to make my life a living hell. I would be bullied and beaten every time I saw him, seemingly encouraged by his older brothers.
My schoolteachers did nothing other than force these sessions of pain and intimidation underground, while the Lebanese boy's parents seemed to show no disgust or anger with their son, as, on one occasion, he punched me in the chest in front of their house and in plain view. So for many years I thought they condoned these violent acts.
This is the darker side of Islamic religion and culture -- the main headlines you see concerning the Lebanese and Islamic community, aside from terrorist attacks, are Middle Eastern youths gang-raping young girls; prominent Islamic clerics on national television saying that women who dress provocatively deserve to be raped; all the while, the majority, moderate Islamic community sits idly by, watching their darker, more radical brethren become identified as the national face of their otherwise peaceable religion.
The Islamic community in Australia keep itself isolated and seems to send the message that its religion and culture are no one else's business. Many other ethnic communities in Australia invite other Australians to experience their culture -- to exchange ideas and experience their customs -- things that make Australia such a great multicultural country.
Many of my friends claim that all they see from the Islamic community are their youths, wearing baseball caps, loitering and trying to force themselves onto young girls with promises of "good times." The most dangerous point they make to me is that every time they see a Lebanese teenager they think "rapist."
In 2002 Miranda Devine of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote:
"Yes, it is unfair that the vast bulk of law-abiding Lebanese Muslim boys and men should be smeared by association. But their temporary discomfort may be necessary so that the powerful social tool of shame is applied to the families and communities that nurtured the rapists, gave them succour and brought them up with such a hatred of Australia's dominant culture and contempt for its women that they think of an 18-year-old girl, dressed for a job interview in her best suit, sitting on a train reading a book, as a slut."
This quote relates to a number of cases of Lebanese youths gang-raping young, white girls. The Australian media have airbrushed racial references from their reporting. My friends also believe that being Muslim means that you cannot keep your hands to yourself, though, very simplistically, I cannot agree or disagree with that seemingly racist statement. At first I felt quite disgusted with myself for not disagreeing with it.
I believe that the Muslim culture is unintentionally condoning the raping of non-Muslim women. I do not have an intimate knowledge of how Muslim parents bring up their children, and please, if there are any Muslim readers out there who disagree with me, to please post their view.
From what I can gather, Muslim parents teach and treat their children quite differently, as far as gender is concerned. Daughters are covered from head to toe, restrictions are placed on who they talk to and when they can go out. Sons are treated better than their sisters and have almost unprecedented freedoms by comparison. Many sons act as if they are better than the opposite sex.
There is one thing that sons and daughters are taught -- women who do not cover themselves from head to toe and women who wear provocative clothing are sluts and whores. This is the mistake the parents make, whereas what they should say is that Muslim women who do not dress from head to toe are sluts and whores, not women from all cultures and traditions.
"I looked in his eyes. I had never seen such indifference," one 18-year-old victim, codenamed Miss C, told the court, remembering one of the 14 men who called her "Aussie pig," gang-raped her 25 times over a six-hour period in Bankstown and Chullora and then turned a hose on her. "I'm going to f*** you Leb style," he said.
You read many quotes like this in the media, you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and you realize that, although Australia may have come a long way from the "White Australia" policy, we have a long way to go yet. The Arab community has once again played the eternal victim, with Arab Council chairman Roland Jabbour saying that the AAC had foreseen yesterday's events for some time.
So Roland Jabbour predicted that Lebanese youths would brutally beat volunteers, and that Australia would go into a blood-induced frenzy? While all Australia acknowledges its faults, the Muslim community once again refuses to take any responsibility for the incident and still blames everyone else. As stated earlier, when a prominent and very vocal Muslim cleric claims that all women who dress provocatively deserve to be raped, does Roland Jabbour climb back on his soapbox and passionately condemn the comment, as he did with the race riots in Cronulla? No.
But none of what the Lebanese have done could ever excuse what Australians did in response. They formed a mob and brutally assaulted every man, woman and child with a Middle-Eastern appearance. They hunted down as many as they could find, as if they were nothing but animals. That is not what Australians do. The fact that Muslims have done worse to us still does not give us the right to terrorize them.
We are not barbarians, we extend our hand in friendship, we do not go down to their level but bring them up to ours -- that is the way a civilized society conducts itself. It is petty-minded to try and justify this behavior and immaterial if they slap our hands away. Australia is a multicultural society -- those Muslims you attacked are Australians -- we attacked one of ours. Almost every nation envies us our social stability -- Sydney and other Australian cities are consistently among the top 10 cities where foreigners want to live -- a place that they want to call home.
It is the opinion of this writer that the unknown breeds misconceptions and fear, and ignorance condones violent acts. In the end we react in one of two ways: either isolating ourselves or highlighting the faults of the other without looking in the mirror. Moshe Dayan, an Israeli General and politician who died in 1981, once said, "If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies."
Samuel Lee has a blog site http://eastasiaaffairs.blog.com/
Samuel Lee is a Korean, born and raised in Australia. He has a BA in Commerce (Accounting) and is currently employed as an accountant in Sydney, he has a keen interest in political and the military affairs. He has much-loved relatives in both North and South Korea.