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Sons of beaches: a land girt by bigots

2005-12-12 19:54:00

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Sons of beaches: a land girt by bigots

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By Tony Parkinson
December 13, 2005
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BEFORE we get into the blame game over what went so awfully wrong at Cronulla, it is important to recognise how much Australians stand to lose collectively.

In the iconography of this country, it is the beach culture, perhaps more than any other phenomenon, that symbolises all that is breezy, open and inclusive about the nation's character. Just as John O'Grady's Nino Culotta took that first exhilarating plunge into the waves at Bondi, rejoicing in the freedom of sun and surf has been a rite of passage for all Australians, new or old.

Today, a tidal surge of intolerance is threatening that ethos.

Although the word is much used and abused, what is happening at Cronulla could not be more un-Australian. Two tribes who presume it as their right to attack others who look, speak or think differently have turned a beach playground into a battlefield: on the one hand, Lebanese youths asserting a separate cultural identity, and seeking to rule by fear the streets of their adopted home; on the other, a baying pack of drunken boofheads, susceptible to the worst excesses of phony patriotism and yabbering on mindlessly about teaching "the Lebs" a lesson.

In the awkward interplay between Western society, and Islamic or Arabic cultural traditions, it has become the practice of social commentators to look for root causes to explain acts of violence and savagery. But poverty, unemployment or alienation cannot and should not be used as excuses for either side in the Cronulla turf war.

This is about bigotry, plain and simple; two warped narratives feeding off each other.

The questions to be asked of political leaders, and law-enforcement chiefs, are these: how was it that community relations in Sydney's south degenerated to the point where young toughs of Middle Eastern origin felt entitled to harass girls on the Cronulla beachfront, only to beat unconscious a volunteer lifesaver who sought to restore some decorum?

And how was it that a large and brooding mob of vigilantes, incited by the mad dogs of the far right, was able to launch this crude, senseless act of revenge, assaulting anyone who looked vaguely Middle Eastern, before turning their anger on paramedics and police?

Sydney's Islamic community has blamed rabble-rousing by irresponsible radio shock-jocks for the mob violence at the weekend. Yes, but surely that's only part of the story.

Nobody would deny trace elements of racism exist in this, as in any other society. But before it becomes conventional wisdom that what this incident reveals most about Australians is a rampant redneck mentality, it is worth exploring why and how the ugly jingoism on display at Cronulla came to the surface.


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