“Lebos. Wogs. Ninjas. Towel heads. Wogs Terrorists. Osama bin Laden. Stupid Arab. Abos. Bimbo Lebs, Greasy Lebs. Camel-spit. Lebanese Shit. Lebanese are lesbians. Yous are scums, yous are all rats. Go back to your own country.”
This is not a script for an episode of Pizza; it’s real life. These are all terms that young Lebanese-Australians have to endure in their daily life in Sydney. These racist slurs have been reported to researchers from Sydney’s North Shore to its far outer Western Suburbs.
What lies behind such vociferous attacks? Preliminary results from a research project by the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies into the effects of racism on young Lebanese-Australians in Australia has uncovered some alarming findings. The research establishes the origins of this racism and identifies the effects that it has on employment levels and educational achievements of Lebanese-Australian youth in Australia today, as well as on their relations within a wider community. It aims to promote the self-esteem of Lebanese suburban youth and contribute towards breaking the cycles leading to “deviant” behaviour, by identifying pathways to the just resolution of social problems.
The research includes interviews with more than 80 young Lebanese-Australians - across a range of ages and social groups. These young people have overwhelmingly expressed their intense sadness and frustration. The cause most say, is that they believe they are neither respected nor accepted by some other Australians, who are to quick to endorse racist stereotyping.
These youth insist these racist attitudes do not originate with ordinary Australians. Instead, they point to media attitudes, statements and actions by some politicians and senior NSW policemen, all of whom appear too ready to associate them with so-called “Lebanese gangs” and a host of other social evils. Many cited the so-called “Lebanese gangs problem”. This is not new to Sydney. With the media - closely followed by certain State politicians - leading the pack, a growing number of concerns have been voiced in New South Wales regarding an alleged increasing lawlessness in Sydney’s Western and South-Western suburbs since the mid-1990s. Lebanese-Australian youth have been accused of having a perverse predisposition to heinous crimes such as murder and a gang rape.
A great deal of ink has been spilled over the so-called “Telopea Street Boys”, for instance, ever since the shooting of Edward Lee, on 17 October 1998, in Telopea Street Punchbowl. All the Sydney papers have waded into this media frenzy. We have been told that this street is a hub of “Lebanese” criminal activity, from ram-raids to car jacking. One newspaper also refers to the so-called “Telopea Street Boys” as “Muslim males”. This stereotyping leads readers to conclude that Lebanese-Australians, especially young Lebanese-Australians, are somehow collectively responsible for the shooting of Edward Lee.
This same approach runs through the coverage of the shootings of four criminal identities in South-Western Sydney during 2003-2004. Would the ethnic origins of the perpetrator and witnesses of these offences have been mentioned had they been Anglo-Australians living in Maroubra, Manly or Bondi? To ask this question is to answer it. This is evident from the radically different media treatment of Anglo white gangs in Maroubra and of Melbourne’s comparatively chronic gangland killings of recent times.
Maroubra’s “Bra Boys” gang is led by a young man described by one of his peers as a rapist, murderer, drug dealer and “maggot”. This gang and other Maroubra gangs are notorious for their senseless violence - including attacks on police officers and rapes.
In December 2002, the Bra Boys injured at least 30 off-duty police officers, including female officers. At the time of this incident, Commissioner Dick Adams denied the Bra Boys were a sinister gang, merely a collection of board riders with a drunken hooligan element. Lexington Place in Maroubra South has experienced ongoing assaults of Asian shopkeepers, the bashing and robbery of a family of three, racial abuse and other offences, including a murder and a malicious wounding.
Kai Abberton, a Bra Boys founder, was charged in August 2003 with the shooting murder of another local, Anthony Hines. Significantly, the ethnicity of gang members is never mentioned in media reports of their infamous exploits.
Bankstown in Sydney’s South-West is supposedly the home of “Lebanese crime”. Interestingly, Muslim spokesperson Keysar Trad and Bankstown mayor Helen Westwood point out that Bankstown’s crimes statistics are currently the lowest in 30 years. Trad added, “In contrast the crime rate in Bob Carr’s electorate of Maroubra is increasing”.
Sydney’s print media sees nothing wrong with amalgamating insidious accounts of supposed “Lebanese youth gangs” with reports of real crimes. It is therefore noteworthy that Sydney’s media have treated the city’s so-called “gang war” markedly differently than the media’s coverage of Melbourne’s six-year gangland war. Sydney’s so-called “war” has resulted in a grand total of four dead people. Melbourne’s underworld war has resulted in 26 murders since the late 1990s. Despite the obvious Italian ancestry of key players among those allegedly involved (such as Dominic Gatto, Mario Condello), ethnicity is rarely mentioned in coverage of these sensational events.
Based on a talk given by Dr Paul White on September 9, 2004 at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney.
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