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Sons of beaches: a land girt by bigots

Before we get into the blame game over what went so awfully wrong at Cronulla, it is important to recognise how much Australians stand to lose collectively.

In the iconography of this country, it is the beach culture, perhaps more than any other phenomenon, that symbolises all that is breezy, open and inclusive about the nation′s character. Just as John O′Grady′s Nino Culotta took that first exhilarating plunge into the waves at Bondi, rejoicing in the freedom of sun and surf has been a rite of passage for all Australians, new or old.

Today, a tidal surge of intolerance is threatening that ethos.

Although the word is much used and abused, what is happening at Cronulla could not be more un-Australian. Two tribes who presume it as their right to attack others who look, speak or think differently have turned a beach playground into a battlefield: on the one hand, Lebanese youths asserting a separate cultural identity, and seeking to rule by fear the streets of their adopted home; on the other, a baying pack of drunken boofheads, susceptible to the worst excesses of phony patriotism and yabbering on mindlessly about teaching "the Lebs" a lesson.

In the awkward interplay between Western society, and Islamic or Arabic cultural traditions, it has become the practice of social commentators to look for root causes to explain acts of violence and savagery. But poverty, unemployment or alienation cannot and should not be used as excuses for either side in the Cronulla turf war.

This is about bigotry, plain and simple; two warped narratives feeding off each other.

The questions to be asked of political leaders, and law-enforcement chiefs, are these: how was it that community relations in Sydney′s south degenerated to the point where young toughs of Middle Eastern origin felt entitled to harass girls on the Cronulla beachfront, only to beat unconscious a volunteer lifesaver who sought to restore some decorum?

And how was it that a large and brooding mob of vigilantes, incited by the mad dogs of the far right, was able to launch this crude, senseless act of revenge, assaulting anyone who looked vaguely Middle Eastern, before turning their anger on paramedics and police?

Sydney′s Islamic community has blamed rabble-rousing by irresponsible radio shock-jocks for the mob violence at the weekend. Yes, but surely that′s only part of the story.

Nobody would deny trace elements of racism exist in this, as in any other society. But before it becomes conventional wisdom that what this incident reveals most about Australians is a rampant redneck mentality, it is worth exploring why and how the ugly jingoism on display at Cronulla came to the surface.

Here, the NSW police may well have a case to answer.

Clearly, there has been much anxiety and tension in this part of Sydney for some years. Allegations in 2001 that Lebanese youths had specifically targeted Anglo-Australian girls for gang rape became a white-hot issue after a local Islamic leader argued the young women ought to accept some blame for their attitudes and dress sense.

This may have been the genesis of the so-called "cultural misunderstanding".

Then came the Bali bombings of 2002, which claimed the lives of six women from Maroubra. Next, a series of counter-terrorism raids on Middle Eastern families in the city′s south-west. All of which coincided with the increasing menace of Lebanese crime gangs in Sydney′s underworld, muscling in on narcotics, gun-running, car theft and extortion.

In November 2003, a retired NSW police detective, Tim Priest, delivered a scathing presentation to a dinner hosted by Quadrant magazine. Having worked on two National Crime Authority taskforces on organised crime, Priest warned of the risk of parts of Sydney degenerating into Los Angeles-style gang warfare unless police chiefs recanted the "softly-softly" approach adopted since the mid-1990s to ethnically based criminal gangs.

"The Middle Eastern crime groups and their associates number in the thousands," Priest went on to say, adding, controversially, that much of their violence was racially motivated. "That these groups of males can roam a city and assault, rob and intimidate at will can no longer be denied or excused. Even more alarming is that the violence is directed mainly against young Australian men or women … victims … because they are Australian."

The Lebanese gangs, he said, were ruthless in the extreme: "They intimidated not only innocent witnesses but even the police that attempted to arrest them. As these crime groups encountered less resistance in terms of police operations and enforcement, their power grew not only within their own communities, but also all around Sydney."

Priest drew a comparison with the no-go zones of inner-suburban Paris. "Police began to use selective law enforcement," he said. "In hundreds upon hundreds of incidents, police have backed down to Middle Eastern thugs, taken no action and allowed incidents to go unpunished. Again, I stress the unbelievable influence that local politicians and religious leaders played in covering up the real state of play."

In the flip side to the contentious policy of racial profiling, Priest asserted that police in NSW have tended to prosecute those who were less likely to use their ethnic background, or cultural beliefs, to hinder investigations. This kept the police out of trouble with the Anti-Discrimination Board, the Privacy Council and the internal investigations unit. But one effect, argued Priest, was to give Lebanese crime gangs the run of the streets.

Priest has been attacked as a nutter, a racist and a liar, for raising these confronting questions about cultural sensitivity in NSW policing. Pity is, his grim prophecy might now have to be taken far more seriously. And not just on the beach.


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Original piece is http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/a-land-girt-by-bigots/2005/12/12/1134235999284.html


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News

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Eight people have been killed and at least 11 injured in an "act of terror" after a man drove a pick-up truck onto a path for cyclists in New York city.

The 29-year-old driver of the truck was shot by police in the abdomen and taken into custody after he crashed the truck into a school bus and fled his vehicle, according to New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill.

Speaking at a press conference, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the attack was "a particularly cowardly act of terror". 

The mayor said: "It's a very painful day in our city. Horrible tragedy on the West Side.

"Let me be clear, based on the information we have at this moment, this was an act of terror and a particularly cowardly act of terror. Aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them.

"We at this moment based on the information we have, we know of eight innocent people who have lost their lives. And over a dozen more injured."

Mr O'Neill said the driver was armed with a paintball gun and a pellet gun.

The driver hit a school bus, injuring two children and two adults on board before exiting the pick-up truck.

The man was shot in the abdomen by a uniformed officer before being taken into custody.

The commissioner said a statement made by the suspect when he exited the vehicle was "consistent" with a terrorist attack.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said there was no evidence to suggest a wider plot or wider scheme.

US President Donald Trump said the attacker was "very sick" and a "deranged person".

British Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted: "Appalled by this cowardly attack, my thoughts are with all affected. Together we will defeat the evil of terrorism. UK stands with #NYC."

A police spokesman posted a photo showing a white pick-up truck on the bike path with its front end mangled and the hood crumpled.

The rented truck had logos of the Home Depot hardware store chain.

Mangled and flattened bicycles littered the bike path, which runs parallel to the West Side Highway on the western edge of Manhattan along the Hudson River.

One witness told reporters at the scene that he heard about five gunshots before seeing a large man being taken into custody.

"He seemed very calm," the witness said. "He was not putting up a fight."

A witness told ABC Channel 7 that he saw a white pick-up truck drive south on the bike path at full speed and hit several people.

A video apparently filmed at the scene and circulated online showed scattered bikes on the bike path and at least two people lying on the ground.

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