Not quite so 'clear and simple'

You can't make a racist omelette without egged whites.

sydney roadblock 298ap (photo credit: )
sydney roadblock 298ap
(photo credit: )
What's the deal with these riots in Sydney? You switch on the TV and there are scenes of urban conflagration and you think, "Hang on, I saw this story last month." But no. They were French riots. These are Australian riots. Entirely different. The French riots were perpetrated by - what's the word? - "youths." The Australian riots were perpetrated by "white youths." Same age cohort, but adjectivally enhanced. And, being "white youths,"they thus offered "a chilling glimpse into the darker corners of Australian society," as Nick Squires put it in Britain's Daily Telegraph last week, "with thousands of white youths rampaging through a well-known beach suburb, attacking people of Middle Eastern background. They were egged on by white supremacists and neo-Nazis." Gotcha. White youths egged on by white supremacists. You can't make a racist omelette without egged whites. Cate Blanchett also subscribes to Squire's line and, no disrespect to the Telegraph's man down under, but she does it rather more fetchingly. I'm goo-goo for Miss Blanchett in just about every movie she's made and I'd cut her an awful lot of slack. But on Friday she toddled along to Dolphin Point on Coogee Beach wearing a white T-shirt showing the outline of Australia with the single word "THINK" inside and stood in front of a banner calling for "a wave of tolerance" to sweep the country (which sounds more like a tsunami of tolerance). And, even as I was still drooling like a schoolboy, I could feel myself starting to roll my eyes. At that point, the lovely Cate unburdened herself of this great insight: "It's actually very clear and simple. Violence and racism are bad." Thank God somebody had the courage to say it, eh? But isn't the problem, in Australia and elsewhere, that it's not quite that "clear and simple"? TAKE "TOLERANCE," for example. Wave-of-tolerance-wise, Australia for years has looked like New Orleans the day after Katrina hit. The broader Blanchett-Squires culture has been tolerant to a fault. In Sydney in 2002, the leader of a group of Lebanese-Australian Muslim gang-rapists was sentenced to 55 years in jail (halved on appeal). The lads liked to tell the lucky lady that she was about to be "f---ed Leb style" and that she deserved it because she was an "Australian pig." Needless to say, it was the sentence that was "controversial." As Monroe Reimers wrote to The Sydney Morning Herald: "As terrible as the crime was, we must not confuse justice with revenge. We need answers. Where has this hatred come from? How have we contributed to it? Perhaps it's time to take a good hard look at the racism by exclusion practiced with such a vengeance by our community and cultural institutions." After 9/11, a friend in London said to me she couldn't stand all the America-needs-to-ask-itself-what-it-did-to-provoke-this-anger stuff because she used to work at a rape crisis center and she had heard this blame-the-victim routine far too often: the Great Satan, like the dolly bird in the low-cut top and mini-skirt, was asking for it. Even so, it's still a surprise to hear the multiculti apologists apply the argument to actual rape victims. So suppose we do as Mr Reimers suggests and "take a good hard look" at "racism by exclusion." As Monday's Australian reported: "Sydney's western suburbs remained quiet yesterday after a call for a full day's curfew by Lebanese community leaders. Mohammed Elriche, 19, said he and his friends would have enjoyed nothing more than their regular swim at Cronulla Beach but their parents had asked him to stay at home. His parents, Eddy and Samira, who have lived in Australia since 1972, said their five children would be allowed to go to the beach again only when the conflict is resolved and peace is restored‚ in the Sutherland shire region. "If there's no more conflict, I will let him (Mohammed) go, Samira, 42, told The Australian in Arabic." In Arabic? Let's suppose that Cate Blanchett got her wish and a tidal wave of tolerance washed into all those "dark corners of Australian society" taking the chill off the chilling glimpse Nick Squires got. How exactly are even the most impeccably diverse multicultural types supposed to welcome into the bosom of their boundlessly tolerant family a woman who in middle age prefers to speak the language of the land she left at nine years old? When it comes to "racism by exclusion," who's excluding whom? THERE ARE no doubt "white racists" in Sydney, but as an explanation of what's going on it's almost quaintly absurd. "People of Middle Eastern background" have prospered in Australia. The Governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir, is Lebanese, as is her husband, Sir Nicholas Shehadie, as is the Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks. Likewise, in my own state of New Hampshire, one of the least racially diverse jurisdictions in North America, the last Senate race was nevertheless fought between a Republican, John Sununu, and a Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen, both from Lebanese families. All these successful politicians are of Lebanese Christian stock: that's to say, after a third of a century in their new countries, they weren't conversing with reporters in Arabic. It's not racial, it's cultural. And the cries of "Racist!" are intended to make any discussion of that cultural problem beyond the pale. In that sense, Sydney's beach riots are a logical sequel to what happened in France. At opposite ends of the planet, there are nevertheless many similarities: non-Muslim women are hectored and insulted in the streets of both Clichy-sous-Bois and Brighton-le-Sands. The only difference is that in Oz the "white youths" decided to have a go back. These days, whenever something goofy turns up on the news, chances are it involves some fellow called Mohammed. A plane flies into the World Trade Center? Mohammed Atta. A gunman shoots up the El Al counter at Los Angeles airport? Hesham Mohamed Hedayet. A sniper starts killing gas-station customers around Washington, DC? John Allen Muhammed. A guy fatally stabs a Dutch movie director? Mohammed Bouyeri. A terrorist slaughters dozens in Bali? Noordin Mohamed. A British subject from Hounslow, West London, self-detonates in a Tel Aviv bar? Asif Mohammed Hanif. A gang rapist preys on the women of Sydney? Mohammed Skaf. Maybe all these Mohammeds are victims of Australian white racists and American white racists and Dutch white racists and Israeli white racists and Balinese white racists and Beslan schoolgirl white racists. But the eagerness of the Aussie and British and Canadian and European media, week in, week out, to attribute each outbreak of an apparently universal phenomenon to strictly local factors is starting to look pathological. "Violence and racism are bad," but so is self-delusion. The writer is senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group.