|CPDS Home Contact|
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
Suggestions about Solutions
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.
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'.
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.
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 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).
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:
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. 
|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:
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.
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:
|Reducing Policing Constraints||
Reducing Political Constraints on Policing - if they
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: