WAS it revenge or racism? Was it a local response to a local problem or the expression of the less tolerant, more ugly country Australia has become since September 11? Was it spontaneous or fuelled by a week-long media build-up and a text message imploring patriots to reclaim their beach? Truth is, the violence that engulfed Cronulla on Sunday was all of those things. It was the explosion Cronulla locals insist they had to have and the wake-up call the wider community will ignore at its peril.
Exactly as the recent violence in France demonstrated, these are complicated events that simple answers won't fix in the long term. More police on the streets this Sunday might stem any immediate repeat of violence, but there are underlying social issues and cultural divides that need to be addressed for a long, long time after that. The rhetoric, though, is something that can be addressed now. Think about these last few quotes from Gordon's article:
The result was the corruption of John Howard's 2001 pre-election slogan that "we decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come". Here were locals, declaring they would decide who would be allowed to visit their beach and on what terms.
Does it mean that Australia is a racist country? Mr Howard thinks not. "I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country," he said, stressing the issue was first and foremost a question of applying the law to those who had broken it.
Labor leader Kim Beazley agreed, insisting multiculturalism was alive and well. "This is just criminal behaviour. That's what it is."
But the response needs to go beyond heeding the call of locals for a stronger police presence. This was recognised yesterday by the calling of meetings with community leaders.
Bruce Baird, the federal Liberal MP who was born in Cronulla, says there needs to be more focus on promoting the values of tolerance among both groups of young men: young alienated Muslims with bad attitudes to women, and locals who have grown up in an overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic environment with little exposure to other cultures.
"I think it shows multiculturalism still has got a way to go in Australia," he told The Age.
Our politicians have been leading the way deploying irresponsibly narrow rhetoric, labelling some citizens of Australia as "unAustralian" to the point that the word is now one of Australia's favourite insults. And tolerance? What is tolerance? I've never found the word tolerance adequate to describe a situation of ethnic or racial harmony because the word presumes we can never understand, never embrace and never accept difference. We simply have to learn to deal with it, "tolerate it". Tolerance is not enough; acceptance has to be the way forward. And to accept one has to at least try to understand and therein lies the jobs of Australians to educate each other, not just from the ivory towers of academia or the school system, but everyone has to take some responsibility for talking about these issues and trying to accept each other as human beings and Australians. Sadly, we need to look for better leaders in our conversations that many of our politicians.
(Oh, and the fact that Australia even has a
[Tags: tolerance | acceptance | sydney | australia | violence | racism | cronulla | politics | ethics]