Sunday, 16 September 2012

Violence at Sydney protest against anti-Islam film

Injured protester detained by police in Sydney.
The shopping precinct in central Sydney erupted in violent protest yesterday as hundreds of Muslim men marched down Pitt Street in the direction of the US consulate. The unauthorised march descended into violence as large cohorts of police, including riot police and dog handlers, confronted the protesters in the shopping mall. Bottles and other missiles were thrown at police, who responded by using capsicum spray. The crowd of protesters surged against the cordon of police, who pushed back en masse. A number of protesters held signs saying "Behead all those who insult the prophet", including a child depicted in one picture, posted on Twitter, where he is shown being photographed by his proud mother as they stand in Hyde Park, to where the protesters resorted after leaving the shopping precinct. Police on horseback arrived at the park. There were reported to be 400 protesters, eight men were arrested and six were charged, with two being taken to hospital for treatment. Two police officers were also injured.

The prime minister, Julia Gillard, the leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and the leader of the Australian Greens, Christine Milne, condemned the violent protest.

On Twitter, the reaction from many people was disgust, with the hashtag #sydneyriot attracting a number of people interested in discussing the protest. Some compared the protest yesterday with the violence that emerged in Cronulla in December 2005 that involved Muslim men being assaulted by crowds of angry ethnically Anglo-Celtic men seeking payback for an event on the beach a few days previously where a lifeguard had been punched. Yesterday's Sydney CBD clash is the largest violent event involving Australian Muslims since the Cronulla events. While those events were racial in nature, yesterday's affray was inspired by religious bigotry, with protesters objecting to the content of a movie trailer that had been posted on YouTube days before.

"Is this Sydney?" asked the Sydney Morning Herald on its website, accurately reflecting the feelings of shocked incredulity that Saturday CBD shoppers must have experienced as they stood around watching events unfold in the usually-peaceful retail mall. Young Muslim men carrying down the street signs exhorting violence in retaliation against the production of a cultural object is a sight very much out of the ordinary, and in multicultural Australia such bigotry traditionally has no place. A hundred years ago Melbourne's Brunswick saw Catholics and Protestants clash on the streets during marches of the kind that you still see today in Northern Ireland, but they were soon discontinued, and the groups involved decided to remove their enthusiasm to indoor venues instead. There were demonstrations against Chinese gold-prospectors 150 years ago, it's true, and immigration restrictions featured strongly in early legislation from the Parliament when it was established upon Federation in 1901. But violent protest is such a rare occurrence in Australia that any sign of it appearing will naturally attract keen community attention.

Australia was an early adopter of multiculturalism, beginning in 1972 under the Labor government of Gough Whitlam. Whitlam attained power in the wake of a period of extended conservative government, and he quickly moved to adopt a policy - multiculturalism - that had just been pioneered in Canada. But tolerance of cultural diversity by individuals and entities must be matched by an acknowledgement of the primacy of the laws of Australia, and recent federal government policy on the matter of multiculturalism reflects this aspect of the arrangement. It is within this framework - keeping in mind a strong, if minority, xenophobic undercurrent in Australia - that the violent protest that took place yesterday in Sydney should be considered. There were no overseas media reports of the protests, but in Australia they are sure to attract the attention of not only the community at large but also those elements in it that resent the burdens of multiculturalism, such as tolerance. For this reason, it is to be hoped for the sake of social cohesion that Muslims in Sydney and other major centres throughout the country adopt a mature attitude to how they express their grievances, and think carefully before bringing to the streets dissatisfactions that have arisen from a fundamental cultural conflict.


Grant said...

Actually Matt, the Immigration Act was the first act passed by the Federal Parliament thus delivering 70 or so years of white Australia. What historians call the 'Australian settlement': restricted immigration for non whites
; high tariffs and industrial arbitration. The good news is that the Sydney free traders got screwed.

Mind you why protest against the country? Putting to one side all the other idiocies. Seems to me to be a category error going on here.

thad said...

Our way of life depends on protecting freedom of speech. Some Muslim groups will have to get used to this because it also means the right to criticize or portray Muslim prophets in a poor light. But Muslims also have a right to protest as does every Australian. The suggestion that the protest was unlawful is itself reflective of the appalling restrictions that we are seeing imposed in our society with police having control over whether protests can go ahead. From the media footage I saw the question needs to be asked - did police incite the protesters with their heavy handedness/dogs/riot squad etc.
There is also a number of other issues that need to be mentioned. Firstly the media will use this protest to push for even more draconian laws against protesting. Your blog refers to the Cronulla riots of Dec.2005 - a good example because of the appalling knee jerk response in legislative form; the NSW Lock Down laws which were driven by the media shock jocks in Sydney, who by the way also incited the riots. The second issue relates to our treatment of Muslims abroad. We cannot hope to have good relations at home if we murder Muslims indiscriminately overseas. That is what we have done in the last decade with the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the continuing subjugation of palestians via the US proxy - Israel.