Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Terra Cronullius

A news cycle has passed. Now, let the wanking commence.

"Examination of root causes" has - justifiably, in my view - been mercilessly lampooned by right-leaning types in recent years. 9/11, the London bombings, the riots in France, etc, all have provoked frantic introspection from their left-leaning counterparts. Except in the hands of a very good writer, this kind of frantic introspection can easily devolve into outright apologetics, tasteless hand-wringing, and miscellaneous appalling bollocks. Post-Sydney riot, I think it would be a mistake to go down this road. Yes, the riot didn't happen in a vacuum. No, a bunch of Lebanese thugs terrorizing a neighborhood does not in any sense justify a group of non-Lebanese thugs attacking random - to use the media nomenclature - "people of Middle Eastern appearence".

On the other hand, a lot of the "nuanced" analysis has been particularly bad and shows no sign of getting better. I get that writers like the guy I picked at random to link to above don't want to seem to be singling out immigrants, or anything like that. I get that white journalists understandably feel more comfortable picking targets that don't leave them open to charges of white supremacy. But doing what's comfortable isn't the same thing as doing what's correct, and a professional writer should be able to clearly distinguish between describing the actions of people who belong to a particular ethnic/religious group (be they Lebanese street thugs or white beach vigilantes) and condemning everyone from that group. Apart from the fact that it's basically ego-driven, this journalistic hypersensitivity reinforces divisions between ethnic groups (make no mistake, in a liberal society with a free media, to be considered beyond criticism is to be excluded from an important part of the public discourse) and leads to stuff like this:
...most of the 10,000 who gathered on the Cronulla foreshore had been unconsciously affected by the stream of negative stories from the Middle East and Bali. It coloured their own experiences of seeing young Lebanese Australians daring to treat their beach like they owned it.
"Daring to treat the beach like they owned it" is, in this context, a marvellously sensitive euphemism. "Threatening to rape women on the beach" might have changed the sense of the paragraph somewhat, as well as adding a dash of that extra reportorial je ne sais quoi. There are serious and ongoing gang problems underlying this story, which the writer linked above completely ignores in his haste to interview gender studies faculty at the University of Sydney. For bonus points, see if you can guess what the gender studies lecturer has to say on the subject.

And then there are the people on (for want of a better word) the right who seem determined to treat the aforementioned Lebanese street thugs as somehow representative of Islam, complete with mocking references to "the religion of peace" and so forth. This is a meme that I find distressing: it's every bit as stupid as declaring (and God knows there have been a lot of people declaring it) that a bunch of flag-waving white guys attacking random non-white folks at the beach are somehow representative of the rest of the damn country.