After a second night of violent rioting in suburban Sydney, Australian Prime Minister John Howard has stated to the media, "I think it's important that we do not rush to judgement about these events," and "I do not accept there is underlying racism in this country. I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people."
I accept the fact that the leader of any country must present an optimistic view of political events - we see evidence of that in all kinds of instances, and, on occasion, we see the benefits of it, do we not? Nevertheless, shouldn't leaders also exhibit more of a sense of realism than Mr. Howard has displayed in the above statements, given the fact that riots appear to be worsening, and spreading throughout vast areas of suburban Sydney? After all, it's clear that there are serious problems right now in Australia, just as there are problems in any country that has large groups of immigrants trying to create new lives for themselves in established communities.
Here's the basis of my objection and the reason for writing this. Racism is not new in Australia. Indeed, it's no newer than it is in France or the US or Britain. Racism, even in subtle forms, seems to exist everywhere. If we pay attention, it's amazing what we see. Look, for example, at The Sydney Morning Herald's report on the riots this morning:
Sydney erupted in a second night of racial violence last night as Middle Eastern mobs fired shots into the air, attacked women and smashed shops around Cronulla, while up to 600 young men - armed with guns and crowbars - prepared for a battle.
Note that the Middle Easterners are described as mobs and the others - presumably Anglo men (and possibly women) - are described as "young men." Since they arrived in dozens of cars, armed with baseball bats, I'm not quite sure just how gentlemanly these young men were! This, by the way, is Sydney's premier newspaper and that is its lead story. May I say that, as an almost fifty year-old woman, who is partly of Italian descent and who spent my first twenty-eight years in Australia, none of this comes as a total surprise.
That's why I was astonished to read the following, from the latest AP report:
Australia has long prided itself on accepting immigrants — from Italians and Greeks after World War II to families fleeing political strife in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In the last census in 2001, nearly a quarter of Australia's 20 million people said they were born overseas.