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Racist attacks grip Australia

Published Dec 21, 2005 7:42 AM

A racist lynch mob numbering about 5,000, punched, beat, and stomped people who looked Middle Eastern or Muslim on a beach in Sydney, Australia, on Dec. 11. A woman had her head scarf torn off and had to flee down the beach to escape the frenzy. Some of the mob screamed to one young man, “Watch out, he’s got a bomb, he might blow himself up.”

In response to the attacks, 1,500 anti-racist protesters marched through central Melbourne Dec. 16, and on Dec. 17, 3,000 marched through Sydney in a demonstration organized by the National Union of Students. “Racist violence won’t be tolerated,” said student organizer Osmond Chiu.

The bigoted mob had been summoned to Cronulla Beach for a “bashing day” by cell-phone text messages, the tabloid press, and shock-jocks like radio station 2GB’s Alan Jones and Brian Wilshire, who helped advertise the “Aussie Pride” rally. “They are fueling racial division,” said Lebanese-Australian spokesman Keysar Trad about the shock-jocks.

Cronulla is located in Sutherland Shire, a white enclave surrounded by water. “The Shire” as it is known, has long had a reputation amongst Sydney-siders for the insularity and racism of some locals. Knowing this, neo-fascist groups like the Australia First Party and its youth wing, the Patriotic Youth League, mobilized for the day, turning out at least 100 provocateurs who helped whip up the mob.

Neo-fascist flyers called for a crackdown on “refugees, contract labour, overseas students and illegals,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Even though they had been forewarned of the violent gathering, the police kept a relatively low profile, giving the mob virtually free rein.

The next night, when Lakemba Mosque was threatened with attack, 500 people came out to defend it. The mosque is the symbolic heart of Sydney’s Muslim community.

Cops impose police state

State parliament was then called into emergency session to pass legislation that led to the imposition of a virtual police state in the Sydney area. The cops locked down most beaches in a 125-mile stretch north and south of Sydney. They had complete discretion to seize vehicles and cell phones, close businesses, particularly pubs, and conduct mass arrests. They didn’t go after the neo-fascists, however, as of this writing. Not one leader was known to have been arrested. It was later announced that the measures would be extended through the summer.

The beach communities in Sydney are mostly white, and like Cronulla have a reputation of being hostile to people of color. The Middle Eastern community is concentrated in Sydney’s southwest. On Sundays, people wanting to escape the summer heat drive or catch the bus east to the ocean. It was this movement of people that the police sought to stop, keeping the beaches almost entirely white. Thirty-five hundred extra cops were mobilized for Dec. 17 and 18.

Even this was not enough for State Premier Morris Iemma, who threatened to call another special parliamentary session to abolish bail. Not to be outdone, at least four other states with major metropolitan areas announced similar measures, though on a smaller scale.

Role of the federal government

The federal government of Prime Minister John Howard has created a poisonous environment, attacking immigrants, especially from the Middle East, Indigenous people and Muslims. Howard, who sent troops to Iraq to support Bush’s war, has a history of creating or manipulating events to push his reactionary, pro-war agenda. With opposition growing to his racist, anti-refugee policies during the 2001 election, he invented a story about immigrants on a ship throwing their children into the ocean in order to gain entry into Australia.

More recently, Howard announced an “anti-terrorism” alert, saying the government had specific information that an attack was about to occur. Five days later, 850 police mounted raids in Sydney and Melbourne and arrested 17 Muslim men on vague charges. It was later revealed that the police had been watching the men for 18 months.

The federal government just passed an anti-sedition law, misnamed the “Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005.” According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “the laws were so wide they could be used to prosecute the ACTU secretary, Greg Combet, for his remarks urging opposition to the new industrial laws, and could be applied to those who had supported resistance movements including Fretilin { in East Timor—WW} and Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.”

The new laws allow the authorities to detain someone for a week of questioning, followed by 14 days of “preventative detention” and a year or more of house arrest. Any organization that “advocates”, “praises” or “counsels” a so-called terrorist act can be outlawed.

The Howard government is also proposing to ease restrictions on calling out the military. According to the World Socialist Web Site, the changes “could permit the armed forces to be called against many traditional forms of political protest, such as mass demonstrations, blockades and picket lines.”

Considered together, these actions by the various governmental bodies amount to a considerable strengthening of the repressive state apparatus, both the military and the police. They come as a resurgent union movement recently organized the biggest workers’ protest in Australian history, with over half a million hitting the streets to protest Howard’s changes in the industrial relations system, in favor of big business. The “war on terrorism” and the war in Iraq also remain deeply unpopular with broad masses of the population.

The events in Cronulla and the police response must be seen in this light. Whatever the role of the government in the racist attacks is ultimately shown to be and only an independent investigation can determine this, the authorities have used them to establish police state-like conditions in wide areas of the country. If there were a general strike or some other form of militant mass protest, would the Howard government seek the imposition of martial law in Australia? The movement there will need to be on guard against this possibility.