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Race riots – let’s be honest, John

15 December 2005

Did anyone notice how hard John Howard tried to distance himself from the fact that the violent attacks that occurred at Cronulla were evidence of racism?  Why? Well, because if any serous analysis was undertaken of the unprecedented – in recent times – outbreak of mob racism, one would have to find that one of the main culprits would in fact be the current Prime Minister and his government.  His delight at using fear of Muslims to garner votes on behalf of his illiberal conservative right-wing party, his characterization of fleeing refugees as potential terrorists, his use of concentration camps to breach Australia's obligation under international laws, his lying over the Tampa, and the claims of children overboard, have all been aimed to create a climate of hysteria in which Australians are made to believe that they are being protected solely due to the efforts of his government, when in reality the only true protection, a culture of tolerance and respect for difference is being eroded. 

This incessant pandering to the rabid shock jocks that he uses as his cheer squad has involved a series of carefully manipulated cultural cues which are designed to encourage white Australians to believe that their entire way of life is under threat and can only be protected by a government – as Malcolm Fraser, hardly a raving Marxist. correctly states – that represents "fear and reaction".  The truth of his tactics on this matter can be borne out by considering the way in which Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party has disappeared from the political landscape – obviously moribund – given the attitudes exhibited and the policies implemented by the Howard Government.
Yet, I also believe that in one area he has been far more subtle, yet ultimately perhaps even more dangerous, in the way in which he has consistently used jingoism, and a singular, and it should be stated, mythical, interpretation of Australian history, and the representation of Australian identity.  He does this by wearing Vodaphone jumpers, and in the ultimate refuge of scoundrels by wrapping himself in the Australian Flag, and by constantly tub thumping in relation to the mythological digger and the Spirit of Anzac, without ever noting that it was a variation of the militaristic brand of nationalism that he incessantly promotes that contributed to so many of their deaths. 

Far too often he has demonstrated a willingness to portray our fellow human beings as senseless evil aliens, while playing a sycophantic mimic to George Bush on the so-called War on Terror.  It was the semiotics of yesterday’s events that were so vivid, the youths draping themselves in the Australian Flag, wearing the very same rugby jumpers that the Prime Minister prefers, acting out some bizarre attempt to out-Australian all others that etched itself most deeply on me.  Of course, they were only acting out the dramatic roles assigned to them by the repeated actions of our nation's inglorious leader.
As anyone with knowledge of the wider world would be aware, such actions as these are commonplace throughout most of the world.  While undoubtedly there are socioeconomic and cultural reasons for what occurred, my own studies of the history of racism and genocide have shown me that these problems nearly always occur when they are manipulated by a particular political leadership that sees that it can attain advantage in the manipulation of popular fear.  This was the case in the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, the many cases of ethnic violence of the last twenty or so years, including the dreadful events in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and is certainly true of the daily cycle of violence that has infested India since the rise of the nationalist right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party in India.
Howard wants to avoid the issue of racism, because any serious analysis would indeed implicate his government in the creation of the environment in which ordinary Australians believe that it is legitimate to act out this thuggish nightmare, thus inviting further reprisals, and the initiation of a spiralling cycle of violence. 

As someone who was born in the Shire, I know only too well of the deep underlying racism that many of the Shire’s resident adhere to, but I also know that the Shire is not an island of isolation, but representative of much of the rest of the country.

Can it get worse?  You bet, just look at what happened in Paris only recently, and remember that the ugly part of Australian history includes the massacre of Chinese miners, and the moral bankruptcy of the White Australia Policy.  Can we do something to stop it?  Yes, as Howard is only too well aware this is a cultural war.  Everybody who believes in the ideals of peace, tolerance, respect for difference, and social justice needs to put our feelings on display – thereby generating a public discourse that is capable of dethroning Howard’s vision splendid of the one-dimensional Australian. 
We could also begin by spending a small proportion of the public monies that have been spent in beautifying the beaches on assisting with programs that will develop the south-western suburbs of Sydney.  If you’re not aware of the difference, take a drive from Punchbowl to Maroubra to assess the differing levels of public amenities and investment  that have been implemented in the last decade, and you will be given a visceral example of the neglect and alienation that is felt by so many young Muslims in Howard’s Australia.  While we were all back slapping each other over the marvellous Olympics and the exploits of our sporting teams, we have been letting a large part of Sydney develop into a ghetto, in which unemployment far exceeds the levels of the rest of Sydney, and this issue is just one of many that needs to be addressed. 
I understand that in the coming weeks there may be marches organised for those wishing to express their solidarity with all of those who live here, regardless of race or creed, and I’d encourage all to strongly consider attending.