A Middle Eastern Solution to Ethnic Conflict? (2005)

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Introduction + Introduction

Mob violence in Sydney against 'persons of Middle Eastern appearance' in December 2005 has brought to a head tensions that have been simmering for years, and that raise complex issues about Australia's cultural practices and policies.

It will be suggested here that the core of these difficulties is that many Muslims feel alienated from Western societies. Dealing with this requires students of the humanities to seriously examine the implications of cultural differences, and close study by Muslims and the broader community of what a 'man of Middle Eastern appearance' revealed about moral legalism.

Many see restoration of 'law and order' as the solution to ethnic conflict - and this seems necessary. However, if it is true that ethnic branch stacking has limited the ability of the NSW government and police to act against ethnic criminal gangs, then methods appropriate to dealing with organized crime may need to be used to achieve this.

Causes and Solutions? Published Views about Causes and Solutions

Typical published assessments of the causes and consequences of, as well as potential solutions to, these problems are outlined below.

Speculation about Causes

Attacks were in retaliation for the assault a week earlier on lifeguards.  Tensions have been rising in recent years, because of anti-Muslim sentiment fuelled by the 2001 attacks in the United States and the bombing on Bali [1]

Gangs of youths embarked on revenge attacks on anyone of Middle Eastern appearance across Sydney's beachside suburbs. [1]

The attacks were racially motivated, and fuelled by alcohol. The two sides have been fighting one another - but have no idea why. Some defended their actions saying that the community had had enough and wasn't going to tolerate unwanted visitors. But there is underlying resentment towards Arabs and Muslims. Government has had a policy of division and fear since 2001. Media coverage of Lebanese gangs has also created a negative image [1]

Trouble has long been brewing. Cronulla area is a white, Anglo-Celtic heartland hemmed in by Middle Eastern melting-pot suburbs. Arabs are seen by locals to have been acting aggressively on beaches. There is also anger about rapes, and about anti-Western preaching by Muslim leaders. Disturbance grew out of attempt to promote peaceful sharing of the beach.[1]

Muslim youths had caused a lot of difficulties for Sutherland locals - and the riots could signal historical shift to challenge the multicultural fabric. Lebanese gangs and Aussie hooligans have not been touched by multiculturalism. [1]

Lebanese Muslims who kidnapped / raped Sydney women saw their victims' culture as significant. The crimes were racist. The problem is not that this is accepted in their culture - but that they failed to assimilate into society. 80,000 came between 1947 and 1998. 73% settled in Sydney. In 1995, 71% were on welfare. Unemployment and official 'multiculturalism' leads to a failure to integrate and to alienation. Angry young men took out their frustrations on women. Anyone who expressed concern about the effect of poor ethnic ghettos was criticized as racist - by elites not exposed to them [1]

Comment: It has also been suggested that gangs who engage in rapes in Sydney are not only of Muslim background, and that the latter direct attacks against Muslim women as well (Duff E. 'Crisis centre says gang rape a problem across all races', Sun Herald, 21/7/02)

NSW liberals condemned police for taking a 'softly, softly' approach to gang violence for too long. [1]

PM is to blame for miring Australia in racism, 'dog-whistling' on immigration as well as for policy neglect (over Tampa, Hansonism, children overboard, WMD and terrorism) which made young people grow to fear one another. Talk-back radio hosts were responsible. Bob Carr focused on the ethnicity of rapists.  [1]

New anti-terrorism laws were partly to blame - creating conditions like early Nazi Germany [1].

Cronulla is a white ghetto compared with other parts of multi-cultural Sydney. Cites with changing populations seek to defend themselves from 'invaders'. There is also a hoon culture, whereby physical force is seen as a sign of being real Australian. [1

Cronulla had been exposed to regular inundation by Muslim men from western suburbs who shoot / intimidate / threaten people. [1] This is due to economic or social exclusion of migrants / their children from well-paid jobs and any sense of community belonging. There is also a glorification of gang culture.  [1]

PM denied that riots in Sydney's southern beachfront suburbs were due to racism [1] - and ascribes them to mob violence / lawbreaking. PM has previously been accused of failing to criticize racist attitudes. He dismissed comparison with riots by unemployed Muslim youth in France - and doubted any link between government's rhetoric on home grown terrorism.  [1]

There was racism at Cronulla - from about 100 neo-Nazis who joined the crowd. [1, 2]

There was poor management / leadership (especially amongst police) in flashpoint areas. [1]

Attitudes to aggression and women are not liberal in the Middle East, and this may have been passed on to children of those who left in 1970s. Issue has been made worse by the crusade against terrorism and the idea of clash of civilizations. Society is permeated with irresponsible / racist statements, so Arabs feel unwanted / resentful. [1

Australia can't explain / meaningfully discuss multiculturalism - and it has become a monster. Events in Sydney reflected confused and fearful people looking for direction. Such events have occurred before, and there is nothing unique about ethnic groups or Muslims. Islamic Council of Queensland said the risks were well known, yet leaders / parents did nothing.  [1]

Problem is failed social policies (inappropriate immigration and multiculturalism that highlights differences, promotes divisiveness and spurns unity in a single national identity). [1]

Cronulla riots had deeper causes than bashing of life-savers. People of Middle Eastern origin have been portrayed as 'others'. Some problems go back to One Nation - whose policies have been taken up by federal government - which promoted race-based populism and ripped apart multiculturalism. Ethnic descriptors implied that those of Middle Eastern appearance were different - stereotyping which shifted blame from social problems onto outsiders. Arabic youth identify as Australians but are treated differently. Lebanese have never been truly accepted. [1]

Politicians and police have ignored Sydney's well armed Lebanese criminal gangs who now number thousands. Sydney is suffering a major crime problem, because of soft policing and lenient magistrates. Police are afraid of the gangs, while the ALP has been unwilling to confront them to keep electoral support [1]

Comment: Not all observers accept that the level of ethnic criminality is as significant a problem as it is popularly assumed to be, while also arguing that perceptions about this are part of the problem (eg see Collins J., Ethnic Minorities and Crime in Australia: Moral Panic or Meaningful Policy Responses, Public Seminar organised by the Office of Multicultural Interest, WA, 8/11/05)

Tensions were magnified by the rhetoric of radio shock jocks  [1]. Riots were motivated by talk-back radio. [1] Violence was bound to happen because of racist rhetoric on talkback radio. [1]

Talk-back radio has been used by PM to bypass hostile media. Multiculturalism is an elitist policy of uncertain meaning. If it means treating all people identically, it is superfluous. If it means classifying people by an ethnic tag, it would be unacceptable to most. But people were never asked. Vigilante action arose because state  government did not acknowledge problems, or ensure law and order. Police were neutered as violent ethnic gangs emerged, and the criminal justice system became biased towards the accused. No-go areas emerged, dominated by criminals / drug dealers. This was discussed on talkback radio for years - yet NSW government did nothing. After Redfern / Macquarie Field's riots, the bashing of lifesavers was the last straw [1]

Global terrorism fears exacerbated tribal tensions - and created uncertainty about the future [1].

The local MP argued that rampage had been building for six years - especially since 9/11 and Bali bombing (in which many locals were killed) and prominent rape cases. Riot started at the memorial to Bali bombings. [1]

Australia has a clash of cultures (a behavioural factor) not a race war. Some strains of Islam sanction patriarchal / repressive attitudes / behaviours. Rapists can believe they have permission from religious authorities, because women can be responsible for their rape [1] . Not all cultures are compatible with a multiracial, multi-ethnic society whose values including racial / gender equity. [1]

Comment:  One observer argued that Islam does promote gender equity (eg see Badawi J., “Gender Equity in Islam” by Dr Jamal), though it is clear that this view is not universally shared within the Muslim community

Riots are the dark side of nationalism, and show that xenophobia lies beneath a multicultural veneer. Attacks on lifesavers were blown out of proportion by shock jocks. Then people were attacked because of skin colour. Cronulla is easily reached as the only beach suburb on railway system. Stories circulated about attacks by gangs of Lebanese men. Cronulla shows benign patriotism can mutate into racist nationalism. Delinquency is now presented in terms of race, not of class. Despite 30 years of official multiculturalism, Anglo-Australians dictate how minorities can express their identities in public. The presence of Arabic-speaking families has been culturally disruptive at Cronulla, and some have been aggressive. But cities are places where one meets strangers, and the true test of cosmopolitan citizenship is to interact with those of different background. [1]

Blainey warned about the effect of indiscriminate immigration and multiculturalism two decades ago. He saw problems with migrants from vastly different backgrounds to Australia fitting in. The result was a witch-hunt against him at the University of Melbourne. [1]

The Left blamed the Cronulla riots on Australian racism (based on universal ignorance, working class frustration and a belief in British superiority), but the rest of the world has not paid much attention to their suggestions that Australia's reputation was damaged. [1]

Further Developments

There is concern that NSW's soft bail laws allowed release of most of those involved in Cronulla riots - even though violence continued  [1]

NSW police will be empowered to crack down on racially motivated attacks by carloads of young men of Middle Eastern backgrounds.  Muslim youths were angry that police would treat them more harshly than others [1]

Violence spilled into a second night as youths drove through beachside suburbs, smashing windows of shops and homes. [1]

Race warfare continued in Sydney with revenge attacks on white Australian males.[1]

Five white supremacists were arrested while carrying material to make petrol bombs. [1]

Churches were attacked as Sydney's riots spread from race to religion. Arab Christian / Muslim communities called for curfew on Lebanese youth. Arab Christians believe that church attack was to shame them into supporting Lebanese Muslims. Police said situation was being managed as for a terror attack. Muslim leader said attacks were by extremist element in Muslim community. If they and their beliefs were known, others could engage with them. [1]

A race war between white surfie culture and those from Middle East, now has Christian vs Muslim overtone. Many Lebanese victims of Cronulla riots were not Muslims. Churches attacked had mainly Chinese / Tongan congregations. Lebanese who gathered to defend a mosque were both Christian and Muslim - groups often at odds with one another. This unity could raise the heat on their identity tensions. Youths at core of trouble are disowned by some Lebanese leaders. [1]

There has been an escalation of Lebanese civil war politics - and tensions are about loss of status of Lebanese from old country. A civil war in Lebanon is seen to overturn the reputation of successful migrants. Lebanese parents blamed uneducated thugs for exploiting Cronulla riots to justify further attacks. The situation could become like the civil war in Lebanon .[1]

NSW premier encouraged people approached by gangs not to deny that they were Australian, even if this meant they would be bashed. [1]

Far right groups have been investigated by police in relation to riots [1]

Suggestions about Solutions

There is no clear solution, though strong police action may help [1]

Radio shock jocks should be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred [1]

PM identified a need to discourage tribalism and the emergence of ethnic gangs  [1]. 

There should be more multiculturalism. PM and Opposition will not describe Cronulla events as racism. A few Lebanese Muslim youth in Sydney have resentments against Australia and make racist attacks. But Lebanese have come for a long time, and many have citizenship. PM (who favours assimilation) gave a good description of multiculturalism - ie people should retain affection for their culture and honour it while becoming part of integrated community. Multiculturalism should include exploring the alienation of Lebanese men. Many Muslim families have low expectations due to their place in Lebanese society, and don't emphasize education for their children. [1]

Authorities must adopt a zero tolerance approach. [1]

There is a need to enforce tolerance / civility - as this is easier to achieve than changes in attitudes. [1]

For 30 years Australia has officially been multicultural (ie no ethnic, racial or religious group can call itself Australian at the exclusion of others). However some do not accept this. Multiculturalism has been preached to the converted. Official multiculturalism has  not looked into evidence of prejudice, social disadvantage and exclusion. There won't be social harmony as long as many think that only persons of a particular descent or culture are real Australians. Multiculturalism won't work until it is at the centre of national policy. Racist groups must be crushed with the force of law. Public figures must come out against racism and exclusion [1

Qld Ethnic Communities Council suggested Australians must learn lessons about multiculturalism - and that it is supposed to be about people being equal under law. British Commission for Racial Equality sparked outrage by suggesting multiculturalism be scrapped. But many thinkers, when asked to define it, offered different definitions. CRE argued for a framework for individuals / communities to interact, and for society to hold to its core values.  Australia's National Multiculturalism Advisory Taskforce argued 10 years ago that word multiculturalism had run its course. [1]

It is now a law and order problem. Community leaders also need to act on causes of tribal violence (complex issues related to cultural values, educational failure and social dysfunction) [1]

It is best not to blame either racism or cultural problems in a single community, but to treat the problem as lawlessness not as related to ethnicity. [1]

There should be a review of how children are educated about Australian culture and responsibilities as members of society. [1]

Policy makers need to defuse tensions by quiet diplomacy, and to replenish the public domain - to open up the possibility of civic exchanges and inter-cultural engagement. [1]

Local MP is to sponsor meeting between community and Islamic leaders to try to settle differences. [1]



The media is to be congratulated for surfacing diverse viewpoints concerning this issue to provide a starting point for analysis and discussion. However as is obvious from the above, there is a need to confirm whether popularly accepted 'facts' are indeed factual.

On the surface the problem involves the growing power in Sydney's criminal underworld of armed gangs of Lebanese Muslims, attacks against the general Sydney community by gangs of Muslim youth, blind 'retribution' by some from the broader community against anyone of Middle Eastern appearance and the potential for the violence to escalate.

However behind these events lie deeper issues.

Available reports suggest that there is some racism involved, by and against persons of Middle Eastern origin, and that disadvantage and alienation were factors in the emergence of Lebanese Muslim gangs. Moreover attacks by those gangs have not gained an adequate police / judicial response (perhaps because the issue has been mired in 'cultural' politics and affected by ethnic branch-stacking?). 

The response by authorities to ethnic violence in Sydney has been in terms of ensuring 'law and order', while ignoring the cultural and political dimensions of the problem which limit the effectiveness of 'law and order' action.

The core of the problem is that very significant cultural differences make it difficult for many Muslims to integrate into Western societies (in Europe / UK arguably much more than in Australia), and are thus left with poor job prospects and a sense of alienation.

Published Views on Issues in Integration

Lebanese community started with the migration of Lebanese Christians over 100 years ago - and they gained a place in society. Then Muslim migration started as refugees from civil war in 1975. Some Lebanese Muslims see Lebanese Christians as traitors. [1]

Young Muslims feel that they do not belong in Australia [1]

Young Muslims need to get out of ghettos and interact with society they live in as they are otherwise in danger of becoming alienated and thus targets for extremists to recruit. Muslims face major problem with alienation - and must fight against it.  [1]

Poll suggested underlying racism in Australia - yet Australia has settled millions from many different countries, and most support multicultural ideal. Migrants rate Australians as tolerant. But Australians are concerned about people fitting in. Race is a proxy for culture in concern this. [1]

Multiculturalism traps students who are children of immigrants in their own culture and prevents them from appreciating Australia [1]

Former high Court judge argued against racial discrimination, but suggested that it was foolish to allow immigration of persons unlikely to fit in and likely to create alien section of society (as in UK). A solution would be: abandon multiculturalism; halt Muslim immigration; make citizenship hard to gain, and subject to tests; and emphasize English. World's problem is that Islam is a failed culture - having turned inward for 500 years. Frustration about loss of status is a cause of attacks. Most Muslims, are law abiding. But only Islam can reform itself, and at present moderates are losing to Saudi financed fundamentalists. [1]

Terrorism has been used to justify scrapping ethnic policies - while others doubt that there has ever been popular support for them. [1]

Multiculturalism could be the problem not the solution in environment of Islamic terrorism (eg because of its emphasis on diversity rather than integration and Australia's history) [1]. 

Real question is whether multiculturalism is better than assimilationist policies. US endeavours to ensure citizens have sense of national identity (despite multicultural population). Australia doesn't. [1]

There has been too much concern with cultures, and not enough with values of those cultures (eg rule of law; acceptance of democracy; individual rights). [1]

Australian multiculturalism is in trouble because it failed to anticipate that immigrants might oppose key tenets of Western society - as it was assumed that there would be diversity involving all pro-Western groups. Borrie made a case for migrant selection based on compatibility in 1974 - but was howled down. An architect of multiculturalism stated that there was no expectation that cultural diversity policy could welcome hardline groups antagonistic to Western values - though multiculturalism allowed many groups to be absorbed without difficulties. Some management of Australia's immigration and diverse population is needed. [1]

A 1999 report Australian Multiculturalism for a New Century was buried. Council for Multicultural Australia is shadow of what is needed. [1]

Violence and civil disorder in southern Sydney has been predictable. Some see deep seated racism - though this is contrary to all significant indicators. Others, however, see ethnically related tensions as evidence of a failure of a vaguely defined multiculturalism to create unity. But ethnic unrest is common in multi-ethnic communities regardless of their political approach to this. Despite calls to integrate, migrants will always do a cultural balancing act. [1]

There has been some unease between Muslims and others - but most want to hold onto general principles of inclusiveness. Muslims are only 2% of population - cf 15% in France. There are no Muslim ghettos as there are in London. However 20 were arrested as terrorist suspects. The problem is cultural (not economic or social) - because of a lack of anything to believe in when stranded between two cultures. It would be hard to polarize Australia on civilization grounds. There is a decline in use of 'multicultural' language and a re-assertion of Western principles - as a culture that promotes jihad is not its equal, or tolerable. [1]

Sydney has a Lebanese - not an Arab / Muslim problem - due to type of people who migrated after 1975 civil war. Some youth have rampant anti-social character due to poor child rearing.  Muslim youth have unique problems in coming to terms with their identity - if there is conflict between value systems at school and at home. [1]

Lebanese youth leader noted that work was under way to build bridges - but this always results in rejection. Australians are not willing to give them a fair go. [1]

A Muslim youth leader accused the old guard of contributing to alienation, violence and crime rate amongst Muslim youth. Leading Imams are opposing change - and want to run community on their terms [1]

In the Mediterranean region there is also an orientation to the sea, but this has been harmoniously shared for centuries.  [1]

[Comment: what about ethnic conflicts in Bosnia, constant tensions between Greece and Turkey, Israel / Palestine conflict, riots in France? ]

Sydney style riots were less likely elsewhere, though possible because similar risk factors existed Australia wide. Sydney was larger and more divided, though bombing of a Mosque in Brisbane in 2001 showed what could happen.  After the Bali bombing and other terror attacks Muslims and other ethnic groups could be targeted. [1]

Australians are terrified of Muslims because of the belief that they will organize terror attacks [1]

The war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israeli-Palestine conflict, and war-against terror are problem because Muslims see them as war against Islam. [1].

Australia has absorbed people of many ethnic and racial origins - yet riots show that multiculturalism faces challenges (eg suspicion due to Islamist terrorism; Lebanese gangs; crisis of family / authority within middle Eastern community; problems facing boys; white racism; and failures to address these). A 'unity in diversity' model is now harder to hold together. Success depended on: intermarriage and good school results by migrant's children. Most support multiculturalism, but there is confusion about it. Official definition involves mutual obligation - recognition of cultural heritage in return for commitment to Australian norms. Current PM has overseen rapid immigration - which increased Australia's multicultural character. Tribal violence is new feature - driven by failure of ethnic integration [1]

3/4 of those polled in a national survey believed there was underlying racism in Australia. [1]

Sydney's riots were called a race war. But multiculturalism is to blame. Lebanese were defined as an ethnic group by those who wanted ethnic communities. Earlier Lebanese migrants became indistinguishable from others in two generations. Lebanese Muslims came after 1975, when multiculturalism policy was being introduced. This built an ALP constituency. Those in charge of welfare and housing policy encouraged ethnic communities. Multicultural policy assumes that Australia's xenophobia is the problem. Racial stereotyping is criticized - except of Anglo Australia. Multiculturalism is incompatible with rights attaching to individuals, and is a reversion to tribalism. It has bred ethnic ghettos in Sydney - with high unemployment, welfare dependency / abuse, crime and violence. For most migrant groups there is a high level of intermarriage across ethnic boundaries, but not for Lebanese Muslims - and this has been disastrous for their relationships with rest of society [1]

Australians have a 'them and us' attitude towards refuges, Arabs and aborigines. It is believed that Anglo-Celtic Christian Australia would be worse off if rights were extended to the poor, culturally distinct and historically marginalised [1]

Muslims seek freedom of speech, but have used the law to put limits on others' freedom to speak [1]

Multicultural industry uncritically promoted diversity, denigrated mainstream Anglo-Celtic tradition and taught that society is riddled with racism. Students are taught to deconstruct dominant views. There are contradictions in multiculturalism. Tolerance, commitment to common good are needed to live peacefully. Cultural relativism denies such values - and leads to Balkanisation. Australia's legal and political system (derived from Anglo-Celtic culture and Judeo-Christian tradition) safeguards those values. Defining society as unjust promotes victim mentality. Approach taken to multiculturalism nourishes prejudice, magnifies differences and stirs antagonism .[1]

David Goodhart (Prospect) has speculated in relation to similar problems in UK that individualism and diversity create problems. Multiculturalism can only work behind a core set of values - but it has become a foundation for cultural relativism. Culture has been used as an excuse for rape by Muslim men. [1]

Cultural diversity can be attractive, but poses risks. Nation has to foster good life for citizens and also protect them. Celebrating diversity (which has produced large inward looking Muslim enclaves) is a recent Western experiment. It may be globally valuable in long term - but in a crisis ethnic / cultural diversity can be explosive [1]

Multiculturalism should be replaced by a statement of values. In 1970s multiculturalism was to head off latent racism. Now enemy is external fanatics. Multiculturalism should not endorse difference as an end in itself. Solution is to look to values that unite Australians, ie democracy; equality of all people; religious tolerance and rule of law - freedoms that are basis for fair and compassionate society. Mateship is fifth central Australian value. Government should move beyond multiculturalism and make a Statement of National Values - after public debate. If they stick with multiculturalism - they are responsible for resulting conflicts. [1]

To save Australia's multicultural society it is essential to abandon multiculturalism, as it has support separateness rather than allowing immigrants to retain cultural links as they assimilate. [1]

Integration in Europe: Parallels and Differences

There are problems with integration of Muslim migrants into Europe [1]

Europe had demonstrations over banning of Muslim headscarves in schools. This is part of struggle over Europe's cultural identity. Muslims are mainly responsible for increasing anti-Semitism. French seek to appease Muslim influences. 911 showed that assimilation was not working as terrorists came from Europe. British Muslims go to Holy Land as martyrs. France always sought assimilation - but is now confronting the real problem. There is a correlation between immigrants and crime, that only extremist politicians acknowledge. Marrying outside group speeds assimilation - and without this groups remain distinct for generations. The US long valued assimilation - but in 1960-70s favoured multiculturalism, which has now lost favour. Assimilation of culturally distinct immigrants will be main future challenge to developed democracies [1].

Flaws are developing in France's social fabric (rising racism and anti-Semitic violence). The ideals of French state (that loyalty to state overrides loyalties to religion, tribe etc) have been undermined by rise of Muslim community. France has been subject to terror threats by Islamist extremists. Anti-Semitism has become widespread - as a result of Arab Israeli conflict and France's failure to assimilate large Arab émigré population. [1]

Issue of terrorism, race and immigration has become explosive in Europe as governments struggle to maintain social cohesion in face of fear and suspicion arising from war on terrorism. There is spreading radicalism amongst young Muslims - and leaders struggle to understand their alienation. [1].

British government did not contribute to London bombings by participation in Iraq, but by muticulturalist  belief that a country can be built on separate but equal cultures. [1]

European nations are abandoning doctrines of diversity in the face of Islamism. There have been demonstrations about violence against women - led by Muslim women. Islamism is seen as incompatible with liberal European values. More is needed to integrate 13m Muslims and to combat creeds that breed extremists. Muslim leaders are being co-opted to promote a moderate Islam. The multiculturalism ideal has fallen apart - because of belief that Islam is more fanatical than other religions. The Left (whose tolerance allowed Islamic intolerance to spread) now denounces 'totalitarianism, anti-feminism, and-Semitism'. [1].

It is vital to consider the effect of multiculturalism and liberal immigration policies. Yet those who do so are criticized. In European countries this is giving rise to extreme right wing political groups. Australia defused the problem by breaking down the political correctness that prevented debate (and adopted a tough immigration policy). In France this was not done and rising crime, in which the Muslim community was heavily involved, was not debated until raised by Le Pen [1]

Rioters in France were mainly teenage boys angry about police harassment and the French state which they believed ignored their immigrant families [1]

Muslim riots in Europe are not due to problems in multiculturalism (which France resisted) but rather in failed integration / assimilation policies.  Despite media emphasis on including Muslims, the problem is that Islam is an exclusive culture, not an inclusive one. It only welcomes others on its own terms. The problem is cultural incompatibility between French and large numbers of Islamic migrants who are rapidly turning France into an Islamic society. British bombings show that multiculturalism policies don't work, while French situation shows that integration doesn't work either. [1].

A European counter-terrorism official accused UK of tolerating intolerance too long - in reference to support for free speech, civil liberties when some Islamic clerics preached hate. [1]

Muslim riots in France have several causes. French culture glorifies victimhood and rebellion. So when some people are actually victimized, there will be rebellion. Also the situation shows that can't run large scale immigration program without deregulated labour market and with generous welfare state. France, like most European societies, has not been as successful as the new world in integrating migrants - because it links citizenship and ethnicity [1].

Rioting by Muslim youth in France may change European history. Muslim presence is now a key issue. Issues include: decline in Christian faith and demographic collapse; welfare system that lures migrants while sapping economic strength; alienation from historic customs in favour of lifestyle experiments and multi-culturalism; inability to control borders or assimilate migrants; criminality that makes European cities more violent than those in US; and a surge in Islam and radical Islam. Media presents rioters as victims of the system and deny that it has anything to do with Islam - which has vicious anti-French attitudes and an ambition to dominate the country with Islamic civilization. [1].

Moreover, Muslim dominated societies tend to experience economic failure and alienation from the globalization of Western style political and economic systems - and it will be suggested below that this has similar causes. If so, ethnic violence in Sydney has inescapable links with factors that have led Islamist extremists to terrorist attacks worldwide and the associated 'war against terror'.

Feedback: In response to the above comments about cultural differences leading to difficulties in integrating and poor job prospects, a prominent Australian Muslim pointed out that Muslims in Australia tend to have above average educational qualifications (noting evidence in “Muslim in Australia”). [Unfortunately high levels of education do not prove that integration is automatic - noting that senior leadership in Al Qaida is said to be highly educated]

Many see a stronger emphasis on law and order as the key to overcoming problems of ethnic conflict. However it will be suggested below that (a) directly addressing cultural issues that lead to Muslim alienation is likely to have greater impact and (b) strengthening policing may not be easy.

Evaluating Culture

Looking Deeper at Culture

Eliminating ethnic violence requires fundamental re-evaluation of the relationship between cultures in Australia.

The official policy has been one of 'multiculturalism' but there is clearly dispute and misunderstanding about this. For example:

  • the official definition of multiculturalism involves mutual obligation - ie a recognition of cultural heritage in return for commitment to Australian norms
  • other supporters of multiculturalism described it similarly, ie as having respect for one's cultural heritage while being integrated into the community [1]. This was also seen as a useful way of managing a harmonious transition to a unified Australia, because it allowed minorities to lower their defenses and assimilate? [1]. Another supporter suggested that multiculturalism is not a recipe for separateness provided all are united in an over-riding commitment to shared future, nation, democratic institutions and values, rule of law and English language [1]
  • an opponent of multiculturalism implied that the concept had come to involve dividing the community into different groups on the basis of labels. Another implied that it has come to support separateness rather than allowing immigrants to retain cultural links as they assimilate [1];
  • a supporter of multiculturalism argued that it meant that no culture could claim that it was the only true Australian culture to the exclusion of others;
  • another supporter suggested (an essentially incompatible view) that it is supposed to be about people being equal under law [1].

The official definition can be interpreted to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean, and both those who endorse and oppose multiculturalism could happily use that definition - while no one has any idea about whether it means that all people or all cultures are supposed to be legally equal.

Unfortunately underpinning this confusion is a grossly oversimplified view of the nature and implications of culture.

Culture is not simply a label applied to groups, as a result of some arbitrary preference. Culture is, in fact, a major determinant of the government and economic institutions that societies maintain and of people's ability to be materially successful (eg because change is critical to economic productivity, and not all cultures facilitate this).

Firstly cultural assumptions impact on the style of social and political order that is considered appropriate. For example:

It is thus invalid to suggest, for example, that multiculturalism can mean that no one culture can claim to be more 'Australian' than others - because Australia's political and economic institutions depend on cultural assumptions that are not universally shared.

Moreover it is logically impossible to simultaneously treat all people equally and all cultures as equally valid, because some cultures endorse social inequality.

Secondly cultural assumptions make a huge practical difference to the life prospects of individuals / communities (see Competing Civilizations) and the disadvantage that some suffer from poor cultural assumptions can lead to social problems and a tendency to blame others. For example:

Multiculturalism is not in trouble (as one observer suggested) because of preaching to the converted or a failure to notice prejudice / disadvantage / exclusion.

Rather multiculturalism is in trouble because of the failure of students of the humanities to evaluate the practical consequences that may flow from specific cultural assumptions (see Competing Civilizations).

The latter document suggests that this failure is also largely the cause of conflicts associated with the so-called 'clash of civilizations' because this:

  • makes it essentially impossible for others to help communities who are disadvantaged by their cultural assumptions; and
  • leaves the disadvantaged with few ways to understand the cause of their problems, other than in terms of presumed plots by malicious outsiders.

Even more generally, the failure to consider practical implications of culture contributes to conflicts by concealing the implications which different ways of thinking affect different society's perceptions and thus create an obstacle to cross-cultural communication (see The Second Failure of Globalization?)

Other observers have suggested that developing a Statement of National Values (focused on: democracy; equality of all people; religious tolerance; rule of law; mate-ship) should be considered as an alternative to multiculturalism. However this alternative would seem likely to compromise the values it espouses. [1]

The issue is not straight forward because:

  • the values stated are by no means accepted as self-evidently desirable by all of the world's cultures (and may be controversial and viewed as 'cultural imperialism' if imposed on those who do not already share them). Thus there is a need not only to state values but to provide a rationale for them. Some comments on how alternative values are rationalized in other contexts and about some pragmatic consequences of Australia's mainstream values are outlined in What does tolerance mean? and Spiritual and Philosophical Programs must be Compatible with Australia's Institutions;
  • values can't be properly rationalized separately from the world view / religion from which they emerged [1]. For example, the development of legal and governance institutions that support freedom are not separable from Australia's 'Christ-ian' heritage - because liberty depends on a separation between religion and governance that is impossible unless moral interpersonal relations are driven internally by individual consciences (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty);
  • developing a Statement of National Values would imply the adoption of an official state 'religion', and break the separation between church and state. Unfortunately (as the latter reference notes) doing this would require the state to enforce the values it endorses and thus probably eliminate the basis for individual freedom which is a key part of the values Australians espouse.
Reducing Muslim Alienation

Reducing Muslim Alienation: A 'Middle Eastern' Solution

In order to reduce Muslim alienation in Western societies (and some conflicts associated with the so-called 'clash of civilizations'), it seems necessary to publicly resolve questions about specific cultural assumptions that contribute to alienation such as:

  • whether religion can realistically determine every aspect of life - an assumption that appears to be part of the world-view constructed around the religion of Islam; 
  • whether it is scientifically reasonable to assume that God 'micro-manages' every aspect of reality. That assumption, which appears to be accepted as a foundation for Islamic concepts of science, encourages complementary political and religious authoritarianism (eg the ideal ruler might be one who imposes sharia law on a community without any regard to their wishes), and also sustains a fatalism and an economic rigidity that is incompatible with increasing prosperity.

Because of such assumptions it appears that many Muslims believe that their religion has to be the central element around which society is organized, and this in turn leads to an unwillingness to take part in communities that are not governed by Islamic moral legalism.

If so, then the primary source of Muslim alienation may be an unwillingness to tolerate the moral 'tolerance' that is built into legal and government institutions in Western societies.

Can Islam tolerate tolerance?

In response to issues raised here it was suggested by prominent Australian Muslims that:

Islam "provides a positive impact to its adherents in raising their level of tolerance of difference and of others (... though ...) extremists can be insular and blinkered"

A significant source of Muslim alienation is racism and victimization (noting Dreher T., “Targeted – Experiences of racism in NSW after S11”)

There is a valid Islamic basis on which Muslims could live harmoniously in Australia (Matthews Z. 'Muslim Relations with Non-Muslims', 17/1/06)

Another suggested publicly that Muslims are no less likely to assimilate than others, as Islam is a tolerant religion and Muslim children are taught to share Australia's values [1]. It was also argued that Islam encourages freedom of speech in the same way that others do - though they do have a right to be offended by some of the results of irresponsible use of such freedom [1]

However the question of whether Islam endorses tolerance (and Muslims are thus not intrinsically alienated from liberal Western societies) is not so easily answered because:

  • it appears that there are significant elements under Islam who favour a coercive (rather than a tolerant) approach to religion. For example:
    • core assumptions of traditional Arabic thought (which probably both influenced and reflects the world-view constructed around Islam) seem to imply that an absence of free will is both natural and desirable;
    • some believe that the ideal ruler imposes sharia law, irrespective of the people's wishes [1];
    • some radicals claim there is evidence in the Quran and Hadeeth that Muhammad advocated and personally practiced violence to advance his religion, and rejected peaceful discussion as an alternative [1]
    • a radical Islamic cleric suggested to the Pope in 2004 that Muslims should invite others to submit, and kill them if they refuse (see No Dialogue, only Dawa);
    • some observers argue that some influential Muslim leaders are extremely intolerant [1];
    • some see  Western societies as disgusting because of lesbians, single mothers and adoptive parents. [1];
    • critics have suggested that Muslims tend to favour tolerance when they are in the minority (and tolerance is thus an advantage), but when a majority are Muslims this pretence is abandoned;
  • there seem to be significant and unresolved differences in attitudes to tolerance amongst competing factions who are seeking ways to revive Islam [1, 2] - eg between 'Islamic reformists' who interpret jihad in terms of tolerance and 'Islamists' who interpret jihad in terms of combat [1]
  • coercive elements in religion are probably a significant factor in the political / economic failure of most Muslim dominated societies in the modern era (because coercive practices inhibit the learning and economic change which is vital for prosperity). Yet the coercive elements blame outsiders for oppressing Muslim societies - even, in the case of Islamist extremists, to the point of attacking them;
  • the Muslim majority do not tend to speak out against / openly oppose those who advocate religious 'coercion' (a fact which one Indonesian president described as a failure of leadership). One possible explanation could be that the majority are afraid of an aggressive minority. However another possibility is that majority believe that they and others need to be coerced into religious compliance.

Clear evidence of general support for tolerance by Australia's Muslim community could easily be provided by developing a culturally informed case for civil liberties in Muslim dominated countries - a step that would seem likely to make a useful contribution to eliminating the risks of terrorism by Islamist extremists (see Combating Terrorism with Civil Liberties).

An alternative to moral legalism was developed nearly 2000 years ago by Jesus of Nazareth (also called Isa, undoubtedly a 'person of Middle Eastern appearance', who Islam regards as a great - perhaps the greatest - prophet).  He stated that: superhuman moral standards were expected; and help is available in meeting them - while also emphasizing the key importance of compliance with the spirit of moral laws and criticizing as hypocrites those who merely adhere to the letter of moral laws.

Jesus' teachings resulted in moral responsibility to God and to others being seen to reside in individual consciences responsible to God, rather than in the imposition of detailed moral laws by either family / community pressure or by secular or religious authorities. This created the foundation for the legal and government institutions that presume individual liberty that eventually and uniquely emerged in Western societies.

A serious study of what Jesus of Nazareth said about moral law should do more to eliminate ethnic conflict than emphasis on 'law and order' by secular authorities, because it should liberate Muslim communities generally from a self-imposed oppression and reduce their sense of alienation from Western societies, because:

  • despite Jesus'  / Isa's importance to Muslims, there has been a decided reluctance to study eye-witness accounts of his life - and explore the alternative to moral legalism that he revealed;
  • his teachings expose the hypocrisy of those who comply with the letter of moral laws while ignoring their spirit (eg by attacking others);
  • behavioural standards in Western societies have become a source of alienation for Muslims (and also for the 'new Christendom'), because many in Western societies have abused their freedom (eg by leading self-focused lives). Ironically by drifting away from their moral moorings they are also tending to destroy liberal legal and government arrangements, as 'authorities' come under pressure to regulate interpersonal relationships to counter growing social dysfunctions.
Reducing Policing Constraints Reducing Political Constraints on Policing - if they exist

It has been alleged that: Lebanese Muslim gangs have gained substantial power in Sydney's criminal underworld; are so heavily armed and organized that police are afraid to act against them; and that government action is constrained by ethnic branch stacking [1 , 2].

If so, then it would be possible that:

  • a substantial beefing-up of police and judicial systems would be required to even achieve the 'law and order' that many see as the basis of a solution to ethnic conflict; and
  • methods appropriate to dealing with organized crime could need to be used to achieve this.