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Sydney riots: how do we fix this?

By Rafa McNulty - posted Tuesday, 20 December 2005


I am proud to be an Australian. I have called this land home since 1983. My children were born here. They too are proud Australians. I can’t think of a more accepting and welcoming country on the face of this planet.

Australia has long been a shining example of multiculturalism at its best. Australia is a melting pot of people from all walks of life, hailing from a diverse spectrum of cultural backgrounds. It is a culmination of many generations of people (Indigenous and migrants) coming together to create a uniquely rich culture. That is what defines Australia.

So nothing saddens me more than to see Australian against Australian.

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I would in a heart beat fight to defend my country should it ever come under attack. But what happened last weekend was not a show of patriotism or love of country. It was Anglo-Celtic Australian against Middle Eastern Australian. Two vital parts of a whole: self-destructing, displaying bad manners to an all-too-eager global audience. Shame on us for allowing our nation's reputable image to be compromised. Shame on us for stooping to such primitive lows.

But the question must be asked. What has happened to allow such a rapid degeneration of our humanity? How could something so despicable happen within our shores?

I believe the media has a lot to answer for. The demonisation and dehumanisation of Arabs in the media over recent years has created barriers and an air of suspicion and distrust within the community at large. The sentiments voiced at Cronulla on the weekend are clear evidence of this. Some Anglo Australians now view Arab Australians as a threat to the “Australian way of life”. Arab Australians on the other hand, particularly young men, are finding it increasingly difficult to create a real Australian identity when they are marginalised by a media that paints them as the “other”. Unless you are extremely thick-skinned or media-savvy it can be a real challenge to see beyond such exclusionary dialogue.

Saying that, it would be naive of me to think that media representation alone is to blame for this problem. There are other equally significant factors, like lack of education and a lack of cultural awareness. I don’t know how far the NSW DET history curriculum has come since the 1980s, but back then we were briefly taught about Indigenous culture and the early British settlements but it seemed to trail off at around the year of federation. There wasn’t much attention given to later migrants and certainly no real focus given to their cultural contributions. I suppose it helps to explain some of the ignorance of the 20-somethings today.

We are all taught about the importance of political correctness but what good is political correctness when it masks misconceptions and misinformation? That’s why on one level these recent events were an eye-opener. We got to see and hear some of the more extreme but nevertheless real underlying attitudes which otherwise might not have been outed and addressed for a long time to come. The radical fringes of both Anglo-Celtic and Arab Australians bared all, using the media to fertilise their extreme attitudes, and putting them into practice over recent days. But they are not mainstream Australia. Neither side is representative of either group.

So how do we fix this?

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It is all too easy to throw our hands up in despair, but if we don’t try to find workable solutions now, we might be looking at a far more grim and shameful future. I have already had to address the issue with my curious 8-year-old who can’t quite comprehend why grown adults are being so “stupid and rude” as she puts it. The last thing I want to be broaching with her at her tender age is bigotry and hate.

We need to begin by giving equal responsibility to all sections of the community to rebuild the bridges of harmony and acceptance. Local media should be more responsible in their news coverage avoiding unnecessary racial profiling and inflammatory prose. Arab Australians need to take greater initiative in clarifying misconceptions and playing a more proactive role in creating a positive image. Anglo Australians need to keep a more open mind and not take everything they see and hear at face value. There needs to be more inclusive ventures that extend unbiased invitations to all in order to facilitate working together as one.

More important, we as Australians need to openly condemn bigoted sentiments that only work to divide this nation of ours. There is no excuse for what happened this weekend and the onus is on each and every one of us to ensure that it doesn’t continue. Politicians, community leaders, school teachers, parents and citizens need to stand together to guide our children to the right path, a path where the Australia that we know and love is not jeopardised.

Advance Australia Fair.

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About the Author

Rafa McNulty is an Australian citizen and a Muslim of Syrian heritage. She has a BA in English and Gender Studies from the University of Sydney and is currently a Community Development Officer on maternity leave.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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