The Geezers Of Oz

Race riots in Australia continue for a second night. Unlike in Paris, this time it’s the shirtless white guys going apeshit. Interesting how, also unlike in Paris, there are no calls to deport the transgressors. For those who haven’t been keeping score, the riots are supposedly in response to the killing of white lifeguards allegedly by a Lebanese gang.

For the record: prosecute everyone –the Lebanese accused and the rioters. The law must be blind and fair or else there is no civilization.

I’ve always found it odd how North Americans have swallowed a simplistic image of Australia as a laid-back, surf-and-beer-obsessed and good-natured Oz, while the place has been known as a hotbed of racial intolerance for generations. A friend who grew up in Melbourne used to tell me about his public school days, of having the Principal of the school regularly separate the “Australian kids” from “the darkies” for sporting and social functions, using that exact same language. And, as I have already noted, there is a growing movement in that country to dial back the immigration policies to only accept those of white European extraction. Brother Hrab sends us this keen op-ed examining the pervasive racism in Aussie culture.

There is obvious and unsurprising conflation, as well, between “Muslim” and “Arab,” as seen in the rioters’ claim that the Bali bombing partly motivated their actions. The bombers in Bali were Muslim, of course, but were of Austronesian race, not Arab. But, due to the marketing tactics associated with the GWOT (Global War on Terror), embraced and propagated by Bush, Blair and Howard, there is a willful blurring of the racial lines between all Muslim cultures. Thus, the Lebanese are seen as being responsible for a crime committed by a handful of Indonesians.

Yes, right wing pundits, you are reading me correctly: I am looking at Aussie PM John Howard for a bit of culpability here. A nation learns its values from its leadership. It takes its behavioural cues from the policies and practices of its elected government. George Bush willfully and disingenuously blamed Iraqis for the crimes of a handful of Saudis, and thus empowered a nation to villify the entire Arab civilization. His xenophobic and anti-intellectual fervor further celebrated the lumping together of all Muslim peoples, so that Persians, Arabs and Pakistanis are all indistinguishable in the mainstream American eye. Howard has embraced that same path; in Howardland, it goes further to the point where all non-whites –or “wogs”– are potential terrorists. His government fed national xenophobia for political reasons, and that xenophobia has born fruit this week in Sydney.

“The possibility of home-grown terrorism has emerged,” Howard told Australian radio, regarding the GWOT. Just what was he talking about? Irish seperatists fomenting discord in Melbourne pubs? Right-wing Aussie militiamen plotting in the Outback? Spanish ex-pats sending money from Canberra to Basque fighters inEurope? Of course not. He was referring to the sea of brown immigrants filling Australia’s working class, many of whom bear an uncomfortable physical resemblance to 18 dudes who flew planes into New York and Washington back in 2001. Dried tinder, meet match.

Racism has been dripping from Australia’s pores for generations. John Howard didn’t create it. But he fuelled it. And, despite the high prevelance of racist attitudes, Howard certainly has never done anything substantive to quell it. For that, he deserves a bit of scrutiny, don’t you think?