|Police watch crowd before Cronulla Riots. (Flikr: Warren Hudson)|
When considering all of the available facts, it's hard not to believe that racism and intolerance played a significant role in the lead-up to, and the riots themselves.
For example, on December 4, 2005 police were called to North Cronulla Beach following a report of an assault on off-duty surf lifesavers by members of a group of Middle Eastern men.
As noted in Strike Force Neil, Cronulla Riots, Review of the Police Response:
Three Caucasian members of the North Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club ... has just completed duty on North Cronulla Beach and were walking in the direction of the club house. They walked up a ramp leading from the beach. A group of about eight Middle Eastern youths were on the beach at the bottom of the ramp and had been observed there for some three hours. It would appear that as the three members of the surf club passed the group of Middle Eastern men, the members of each group were staring at each other. A verbal exchange took place in which a member from both groups accused the other of staring at them. At the time on of the Middle Eastern males said to the victim, in response to the staring accusations, "I'm allowed to, now fuck off and leave our beach." The victim said during this verbal exchange, "I come down here out of my own spare time to save you dumb cunts from drowning, now piss off you scum."
The following day, Alan Jones expressed his unique view of the exchange on 2GB radio:
"What kind of grubs? Well I’ll tell you what kind of grubs this lot were. This lot were Middle Eastern grubs."
Then there's the widely circulated text messages that are believed to have instigated the gathering at Cronulla on December 11, the day of the riot.
"This Sunday every Fucking Aussie in the shire, get down to North Cronulla to help support Leb and wog bashing day...Bring your mates down and let’s show them this is our beach and they’re never welcome back"
"Just a reminder that Cronulla’s 1st wog bashing day is still on this Sunday. Chinks bashing day is on the 27th and the Jews are booked for early January"
If you read the above comments and failed to identify the racist remarks, or how they could fuel violent acts, I'm afraid there's little hope for you.
Not suprisingly though, some people are still of the opinion that racism and intolerance were not the main contributors to the riots.
Writing in Online Opinion last week, +Peter West argued: "The media encouraged violence and gave people permission to express their anger. Then, when people gathered in some kind of demonstration, the media were there, eager to record any hostility."
Mr West went on to say:
"The idea that Australia is a nation of outstanding racism is a view held by leftist academics and mindlessly encouraged by the silliest people in the media. And it was the media who were most of all responsible for its most extreme manifestation at Cronulla in 2005. And who were happy to show it on TV, while pretending to be horrified."
"I happen to love Australia. Show a foreign visitor around, and they will tell you we are the envy of many other countries. A land full of nasty racists? I don't think so."
Fair enough Peter. I also love Australia and agree we are the envy of many other countries. And while I respect your opinion that we are not a nation of outstanding racism and that the media encouraged the riots, I can't agree with you.
First, it would seem the riots would have taken place with or without the presence of the media; in fact police had been recording racial and ethnic tensions in and around Cronulla since October 2005. It would seem the December 11 riots were simply a very public demonstration of these tensions. You say the media encouraged the riots? The media encouraged people to act on their racist feelings? I would certainly hope not. This event was widely reported across all of Australia's media. If it was the media's doing, it would have to be one of the biggest cover-ups/fabrications in Australian media history.
You also ask why the media didn't report on the "friendly" scenes between locals and police earlier in the day? Any media student can answer that one. The friendly banter wasn't as newsworthy as the riots. Friendly banter or assaults and racial vitriol to fill the evening bulletin... hmm... tough one.
Second, while we may not be a nation of "outstanding" racism, we are a multiracial nation that fosters many forms of racism. In fact, I can't think of any multiracial society that exists without the presence of some form of racism? None. One cannot exist without the other.
No matter what type of Australian you are, whether you be Indigenous-Australian, Anglo-Australian, Asian-Australian, African-Australian, European-Australian or Middle-Eastern Australian, you're always going to feel differently about Australians of a different culture or ethnicity to your own. It's human nature. While science may prove that humanity, although diverse, is one family and one people, sadly our common experience also shows that racism, hatred or dislike of others simply because of their origin or culture is a common human failing. And the more racially diverse Australia becomes, the more obvious it gets.
For the record, I'm not a leftist academic, I don't consider myself "silly" and I don't identify as a racist. I try to be as tolerant and understanding of different cultures and people of different ethnicity as possible. But I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been racist at times. I challenge any Australian to identify a point in their life where they hadn't had a racist thought or laughed at a racist joke.
A multiracial Australia without racism? Yeah right!