Skip to main content

Two tribes go to war

With supremacist 'Anglos' battling it out with 'bloody Lebs' on Cronulla beach, it looks like being a long, hot summer down under. But the reality is that Australia is no more racist than Britain, argues Germaine Greer

Thursday December 15, 2005
The Guardian

"We are the Sons and Daughters of the Anzacs. We cannot expect our treasonous government to protect us in these times, they are the ones that bought us to this very place. With 150,000 Arabs entering our nation 'legally' each year, it is time Australians stood up and were counted. For we are the Sons and Daughters of the Anzacs, the men who protected us from threat and invasion in years gone by. Now it is your turn, OUR turn, the guard has changed, the times have changed, but true patriots shall never be silenced."

So runs the latest communique of the commanders-in-chief of the "Anglo" side in the south Sydney beach wars, summoning me and other "Australians" to Cronulla next Sunday to do battle with the foreign invader. Under freshly invoked emergency powers, the Australian who sent it to me could incur a fine of A$5,000 (£2,130). Meanwhile, Arab-Christian and Arab-Muslim organisations are desperately trying to impose a curfew on their communities; Lebanese mothers are being asked to use their authority in the family to keep their sons at home next weekend.

The "can-Australia-really-be-racist?" approach of the British media to reportage of the battle of Cronulla is gratuitous and silly. Australia is as racist as Britain, no more, no less. Australian racism derives from the same bottomless source as British racism - from universal ignorance and working-class frustration, reinforced by an unshakeable conviction of British superiority over all other nations on earth, especially the swarthy ones. If Australia had been colonised by any other nation but the British, it would be less racist. As it is, it is dying hard.

The governor of New South Wales, Marie Baashir, is Lebanese; her husband is Sir Nick Shehadie, Lebanese hero of Australian rugby union, while rugby league's greatest-ever points scorer is another Lebanese, Hazem El Masri. Christian Lebanese have done particularly well in multicultural Australia, dividing the expatriate Lebanese community along class lines. One troubling aspect of the present friction is that shots have been fired by the ubiquitous "men of Middle-Eastern appearance" during a carol service at the Catholic primary school of St Joseph the Worker in genuinely multicultural Auburn. The school is attended by many Catholic Lebanese children. But it wouldn't really matter if the Queen herself was Lebanese: nothing is going to change the mindset of the new Anzacs.

Beach wars are nothing new. Australian satirists have been deriding moronic surfie culture for 50 years. The best beaches are territories that must be defended against all-comers, especially car-loads of "greasers". For seven years, according to some observers, gangs of "bloody Lebs" have been descending on Cronulla beach, mainly because neighbouring Maroubra Beach was barred to them by the multicultural surf gang "the Bra Boys". Then, on Sunday December 3, two young men, said to be surf lifeguards but not, in fact, identified or acknowledged by the Cronulla Life-Saving Club, were bashed to insensibility by four "men of Middle-Eastern appearance", who summoned others by mobile phone. What provoked the attack is not known, but a few days later, people chatting on the beach, referring casually to the trouble caused by "bloody Lebs", were overheard and narrowly escaped a bashing of their own.

The latest events might be no more than skirmishes in the usual beach wars. But it does seem that Australian-born Muslim teenagers have finally had enough. Antagonism towards them has been mounting for years, so that even the most presentable middle-class young men of Middle-Eastern appearance find themselves routinely turned away from clubs and effectively ostracised from mainstream youth culture.

One case in particular has become a lightning rod for racial tensions. In 2002, Lebanese Muslim Bilal Skaf was convicted of organising gang rapes of Australian girls on three separate occasions. The crimes were horrible, and had been daily described throughout the tortuous proceedings in salacious and inflammatory detail by the Australian media. In what seems a knee-jerk reaction, Skaf was sentenced to an astonishing 55 years. This was widely denounced by redneck commentators as not enough. With Skaf and his brother in prison, the media dogged the rest of the family. When one of the three verdicts was overturned on a technicality, nine years of Skaf's sentence had to be set aside. The redneck media howled in rage and disbelief, and continue to howl, keeping the issue alive. The Bali bombings and Australian involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq have only reinforced the image of the universal enemy, the agent of evil, as the "man of Middle-Eastern appearance".

In the week that followed the first attack on Cronulla beach, redneck broadcaster Alan Jones encouraged his listeners to ring in and relieve themselves freely of their load of racist hatred. He also broadcast the text message that summoned people of like sentiments to "support the leb and wog bashing day", which was the following Sunday, when drunken "Anglo" gangs armed with beer bottles turned up to get a beating from the police, who laid about them like madmen. The "bloody Lebs" then retaliated, coming in car-loads, armed with clubs, metal bars and anything else that would split a skull, even guns. Peaceable residents caught in their onrush were bashed.

The place where all this happened is not a multicultural area, being entrenched white lower-middle-class, but Cronulla was one place where Lebanese families could reach the seaside. They did not surf, but they picnicked with their families and their hubble-bubble pipes in Guanamatta Park. The Anglo population had mostly accepted their weekly incursions - except for the moronic surfie fringe, who resented their very presence.

Even if the police manage to lock Cronulla down, the new Anzacs will regroup in the time that it takes to send a text message, faster than the police can reorganise to intercept them, and Lebanese Muslim youths, inspired by rap, ablaze with bling, armed to the teeth in their customised cars, will race to meet them. Already "patriotic" troops are massing on the Gold Coast and in the suburbs of Perth. This looks like being a bloody summer in Australia.

* * * * *

The impulsive, fatally naive diva of feminism
________made the world a better place in spite of herself.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Laura Miller

June 22, 1999 | There's a remarkable moment late in Christine Wallace's new biography "Germaine Greer: Untamed Shrew." At 50, Greer has just published a memoir about her father ("Daddy"), and an old schoolmate from the all-girl Catholic academy that Greer attended during her teens in Australia is telling the school's principal, Mother Eymard Temby, how dismayed she is to find that Greer is still brooding over her childhood. She offers to lend the nun a copy of Greer's book. "'Don't lend it to me,' Eymard replied emphatically. 'I couldn't bear to think that Germaine is so sad. I couldn't bear to read that that wonderful girl is so sad.'"

Greer, now 60, had been a rebellious if bright student who went on to become an intellectual celebrity who renounced the church, advocated rampant sexual freedom for women, trashed marriage and the family and fulminated against the imposition of Western values on indigenous peasant cultures throughout the world. In short, Greer had repudiated every value Mother Eymard had lived by and attempted to instill in her, but the nun nevertheless remembered her as "that wonderful girl." Likewise, Gloria Steinem recalls her with warmth, shrugging off the way Greer disparaged feminist activists in her fabulously successful 1970 book "The Female Eunuch" and despite the dismissive account Greer wrote for Harper's of the National Women's Political Caucus Steinem had fought to send to the 1972 Democratic Convention. Steinem reminisces about dining with Greer at a restaurant as the Australian loudly extolled the importance of vaginal secretions to the scandalized delight and fascination of a table of women. "I remember thinking it was a very valuable piece of information, being very grateful to her and wonderfully entertained at the same time," Steinem told Wallace. "She was terrific."

Clearly, Germaine Greer is one of those individuals to whom the ordinary rules of good conduct don't apply; that is, she hasn't been held to them by the rest of us, so powerful is her charisma, so winning her good looks. This charm, though, only imperfectly protects her work. Greer's latest opus, "The Whole Woman" -- trumpeted as her follow-up to "The Female Eunuch" -- is a bestseller in England, where the memory of Greer's first book has lingered longer than it has in the United States, but most critics, like the New Republic's Margaret Talbot (who calls Greer "the female misogynist"), are exasperated by Greer's disorganized, self-contradictory diatribe and disgusted by her positions on such issues as female circumcision (pro) and pap smears (con).

Members of the media, who once found Greer's long legs, bawdy braggadocio and paeans to group sex irresistible (Life magazine dubbed her a "saucy feminist that even men like"), are crestfallen to learn that she has recanted the doctrine of free love and now condemns all men as brutal, lazy sperm factories incapable of offering women emotional or sexual satisfaction. The bold liberationist who once scolded women for not stepping up to the plate and claiming the professional opportunities offered to them now bemoans weekly food shopping at the supermarket as "exhausting" and soul-killing work foisted upon victimized women by male authorities.

What changed? Not all that much, actually. Greer insists that she hasn't done an about-face on any of her earlier positions, and in a weird way, she's right. She's simply followed her premises to the conclusions implicit in them from the very beginning. And her writing hasn't evolved much, either. It's rather that we -- her readers, her world -- have transformed around her. To be disappointed in "The Whole Woman" and to then go back and re-read "The Female Eunuch" in search of the Germaine Greer who fired up so many women in the 1970s is as disconcerting as seeing a horror movie that terrified you as a child only to realize that it's pitifully tame.

I can remember discovering "The Female Eunuch" in my early teens and finding it exhilarating and galvanic -- so much so that I held onto my copy of it for years. Wallace's sources tell her that when the book first came out it provoked knock-down, drag-out fights over dinner tables, that copies of it were thrown across rooms at unsuspecting husbands, that one woman kept the book wrapped in brown paper and hidden among her shoes because her spouse forbade her to read it.

Nevertheless, and to my dismay, when revisited, "The Female Eunuch" turns out to be almost as thin a gruel as "The Whole Woman." Its occasional passages of stirring rhetoric or (more rarely) perceptive analysis float in a miasma of supposition, dubious research, trendy "revolutionary" posturing, the patent settling of personal grudges, strategic vagueness, U-turns in logic and arguments that are Potemkin Villages built out of sheer, unadulterated bravado. Greer can be flabbergastingly categorical, especially when she's wrong, whether she's attributing homosexuality to "the inability of the person to adapt to his given sex role" or noting that ovaries and wombs almost always "go wrong." Worse, the book isn't anywhere near as fun as I remember it being, mostly because it lacks any sustained idea or vision, because it doesn't expertly track and stalk a conclusion the way all top-notch polemical writing does. Greer hasn't got the attention span to pull that off. "The Female Eunuch" is a fitful, passionate, scattered text, not cohesive enough to qualify as a manifesto. It's all over the place, impulsive and fatally naive -- which is to say it is the quintessential product of its time.


Popular posts from this blog

Arundhati Roy: The 2004 Sydney Peace Prize lecture

The 2004 Sydney Peace Prize lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy, at the Seymour Theatre Centre, University of Sydney.

Peace & The New Corporate Liberation Theology

It's official now. The Sydney Peace Foundation is neck deep in the business of gambling and calculated risk. Last year, very courageously, it chose Dr Hanan Ashrawi of Palestine for the Sydney Peace Prize. And, as if that were not enough, this year - of all the people in the world - it goes and chooses me!

However I'd like to make a complaint. My sources inform me that Dr Ashrawi had a picket all to herself. This is discriminatory. I demand equal treatment for all Peace Prizees. May I formally request the Foundation to organize a picket against me after the lecture? From what I've heard, it shouldn't be hard to organize. If this is insufficient notice, then tomorrow will suit me just as well.

When this year's Sydney Peace Prize was announced, I was subjected to some pretty arch remarks from those who k…

Where the People Voted Against Fear

by Eduardo Galeano; Inter Press Service; November 18, 2004

A few days before the election of the President of the planet in North America, in South America elections and a plebiscite were held in a little-known, almost secret country called Uruguay. In these elections, for the first time in the country's history, the left won. And in the plebiscite, for the first time in world history, the privatization of water was rejected by popular vote, asserting that water is the right of all people.

* * *

The movement headed by President-elect Tabare Vazquez ended the monopoly of the two traditional parties--the Blanco and the Colorado parties--which governed Uruguay since the creation of the universe.

And after each election you would hear this exclamation: 'I thought that we Blancos won but it turns out we Colorados did"--or the other way around. Out of opportunism, yes, but also because after so many years of ruling together, the two parties had fused into one, disguised as two.