'Sydney riots' less about religion more about democracy

Several protesters were injured. Photo by Josh Lee/Socialist Alternative.

You don't have to be a clairvoyant to see what is to come in the aftermath of the so-called “Sydney riots” that occurred on September 15.

Media will show images of “Violent religious fundamentalist thugs” taking over streets. “Shocking images” of protesters holding up placards with slogans like “Behead all those who insult the Prophet”.

Shock jocks will immediately declare that “they all should be sent back” — meaning all Muslims. We didn't have to wait long for the first example — Andrew Bolt wrote a response almost straight away on his Herald Sun blog under the title “We let them in. Now they threaten”.

Conservative intellectuals will declare it is time to “rethink multiculturalism” — though it always appears it is that time with them.

Liberals will show concern, but say isn't it all a little bit of an overreaction. Evangelical Christians and Dawkinsite Atheists will unite to declare: “See what we've been saying about Islam.”

Politicians of all stripes will unite to congratulate the police on their restraint.

But a few things seem clear already that directly goes against these narratives.

The truth is, the police created the situation. They knew about the deep anger felt by some Muslims, fundamentalist or otherwise, about the film. The sensible thing to do in this situation is to not inflame things further. But that is precisely what they did.

More than 100 police were sent in against a protest reported as about 200 strong. Police kettled the protesters, they used pepper spray, they hit and knocked people to the ground. This was not in response to anything in particular, except for the fact that the protest was occurring.

People's democratic rights, though, aren't curtailed because just because they are religious fundamentalists.

People will discuss the irony of protesters complaining about their free speech being curtailed at a protest calling for a certain curtailing of free speech. But surely the question should be turned around to say, isn't there an “irony” in those celebrating a crackdown on free speech while at the same time complaining about those who are against free speech?

Democratic rights are just that. They aren't a tap to be turned on and off. Everyone should expect to be able to hold a protest and not be beaten up by the cops.

What you think of the rally should be irrelevant when it comes to the question of whether it is repressed or not. Those who celebrate the crackdown are willing to put faith in the police and the state in general to determine what is a legitimate protest or not. That is a very worrying precedent.

What we also know is that just about every Muslim will feel the racist backlash that has already begun (not just Muslims either, many other immigrants too).

Someone on twitter posted: “It's so hard not to be racist in Australia these days." But it is probably accurate to say it will be “harder” to be an anti-racist. Those who don't buy the mainstream bullshit will face “surely you condemn the violence, surely you condemn the beheading sign, surely you must say there is a particular problem with Islam”.

I am happy to condemn violence, but I propose we start by condemning the multiple invasions of countries under the guise of the war on terror that has led to millions dying, killed by our governments. I am also happy to condemn violence of the police force against protesters. Only when the media and politicians are prepared to do that, is the point where we can take their adherence to non-violence seriously.

The same hypocrisy is seen in the condemnation of a placard at the rally calling for “infidels” to be beheaded. Our government may not practise beheadings, but they lock-up innocent, desperate people in prison camps in conditions that lead to high rates of suicide and self-harm attempts. The government also sends the military to help occupy another (predominantly Muslim) nation, with one study estimating the 11-year-long war has caused more than five million deaths.

Our government and mainstream media are involved in inciting or carrying out violence all the time, yet they have the gall to show outrage when it has its reflections in other spheres of life.

It is precisely a context that they don't want to speak about, because it points to something much deeper. They want it to be seen as a violent religious overreaction to an amateur YouTube video.

Everything occurs in a context. This isn't just a YouTube video, it is a propaganda film directed and ran by the Christian right in the United States as part of their war against Islam.

We've just been through a decade where largely Muslim countries have been destroyed by Western nations, including Australia, who then lock up those who escape the warzones and direct racist abuse towards them.

It is no surprise, in that context, that there would be a strong identification among Muslim peoples with their religion — including, in some cases, to fundamentalist politics.

It is precisely in this context that this blatantly insulting film was produced. One of the associates of the film has said that the point of the film was to create violence to “expose Islam”.

Precisely because the next period will be harder for anti-racists due to the backlash that is sure to follow, it is crucial everyone who is against racism stands up stronger than ever right now. Regardless of your views on the actual protest in question, unless we do, the only outcome will be deeper and widespread racial hatred and violence.

That is the major issue at play here. Standing up against racism and a defence of democratic rights, even if those using those democratic rights wish for undemocratic ends.


I find it interesting you try and predict the reaction of the right and conservatives well I must say your reaction to this is equally predictable. It's so obvious you have taken a side. Poor journalism.
The police provoked the riot? If anything these protestors holding up violent placards and shouting "we love osama" is surely a form provocation (both of the police and the public) and given the experience with the cronulla riots years ago (with both sides calling for backup), I'm very thankful the police were there in force to deter what may have been an escalation of violence. Don't get me started on your false equivalency between a private citizen threatening religious violence with a complicated war.
serious hypocrisy from anonymous here anonymous: "these protestors holding up violent placards and shouting "we love osama" is surely a form provocation" me: no, it's the exercise of free speech. You know how you keep lecturing Muslims about how its the Australian way to tolerate views you find objectionable? What's good for the goose obviously isn't good for the gander in racist Australia. anonymous: "given the experience with the cronulla riots years ago" me: funny you should mention Cronulla. on Saturday none of the Muslims attacked passers by. sure they may have made some motorists feel uncomfortable, but compare that with Cronulla where we got to see packs of young white Aussie men chasing down elderly women and kicking the shit out of them. And of course the establishment rallied round the instigator of that violent pogrom, Alan Jones, potecting his right to free speech so that he can now pollute the airwaves calling for others to be denied free speech. anonymous: "Don't get me started on your false equivalency between a private citizen threatening religious violence with a complicated war." me: don't get me started on those who crap on about the West's liberal values but can't stand any talk of what the diggers are actually doing in Afghanistan, most recently the summarary execution of an innocent 70-year-old peasant and his son. http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/52195 It's not that complicated. Our side are the bad guys, devestating another country to fuel corpoate profits and geopolitical power plays.
I find it interesting that you think that I tried to hide the fact I was taking sides and that you think taking sides is poor journalism. It is clear that the press generally has made it clear they have chosen a side and that is on the side of the police and the state. Isn't it funny, though, how an actual violent riot in Cronulla, was met with no tear gas or police dogs? Why would that be, you think? But you sure seem to have a funny idea of freedom of speech, that slogans you don't like or holding up violent placards, justifies actual violence against those people. Hypothetical violence from a Muslim is more of a danger and outrage than actual police violence to you. As for "equivalency", There is no equivalence, the so-called "complicated war" is much, much worse than any placard, violent or otherwise. Tim Dobson
I think this was a good article to read, but I agree it would be better served as an analysis piece instead of a news article. Also I would have liked to hear more examples of evidence or specific incidents to back these statements up...? (eg claim that someone behind the screening of the film said it was intended to incite a Muslim reaction?) Gotta go find this video...
Aha my bad I just realised it was under comment and analysis! :S
What everyone is overlooking is that Australia is a country of free speech and freedom of thought, we're entitled to love Osama bin Laden, Hezebollah, Kim Jong-un or whatever his name is in North Korea. But what if it was Christians carrying on like that except they were saying,' Behead all gay people', or,' all gay people are in hell'. Would you be defending their right to protest like you are now. I doubt it. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying hypothetically if that was to happen those people'd be the 1% and those Muslims were. The 99% of Christians and Muslims condemn violence and love their country and are progressive. I'd love to see some rally this weekend where the 99% come to Hyde Park and stand in solidarity against hate.
………You are asking do we defend something that is not under attack. Christian extremists in this country are continually making violent invectives against gay people. And they never get pepper sprayed and attacked by police dogs for doing so. A few elections back, a Family First candidate called for lesbians to be burned at the stake. Instead of being attacked by police dogs, Family First were given major party preferences. Why should we defend the freedom of speech of those who already have disproportionate access to the media and public discourse? It would be like campaigning for Gina Rinehart's right to a living wage. In a democratic country the peoples' will should determine policy. Yet Australian troops remain in Afghanistan. Tonight the Australian parliament voted not to legalise gay marriage — in direct defiance of the Australian people's will. The debate was graced by plenty of homophobic speeches: references to bestiality, descriptions of homosexuality as "against nature" etc, etc We don't oppose politicians' right to spew hate speech, we just oppose their undemocratic imposition of their prejudices on the rest of us. But it is impossible to take seriously those who accuse us of hypocrisy because we don't make the focus of our campaigning similar speech when made by marginalised and oppressed people. Finally, whenever we oppose racist, religiously prejudiced, misogynist or homophobic statements from secular and Christian sources we are accused of attacking free speech. Yet our opposition takes the form of polemics or peaceful protests, not pepper spray, riot shields, police dogs and horses.
Are Christian extremists taking to the streets then turning to violence when the police show up, injuring 8 police officers? Was that Family First candidate nut-job throwing glass bottles at police or trying to hit them with metal poles? Maybe the lack of pepper spraying of Christian extremists has something to do with the fact that they usually don’t assault the police and I remember a report on GLW demanding that a Christian protest be broken up because of their homophobic and hateful message so there is a bit of truth when people here say that your opinions on the matter would be different if it were Christian nut-jobs instead of Muslim nut-jobs actually come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever read a article on GLW defending the rights of Christian extremists only condemning them and making the point that their abusing those rights of speech to spread hate so it’s ok to suppress their freedom of speech when they display it in the public in the form of protests.
When did glw EVER support police breaking up a protest. I think you are making this up. The point made by previous speakers is that there have been many right-wing , sometimes Christian, protests that have had rhetoric as violent as this BUT not faced the heavy police response. We aren't saying that Christian extremist are worse, we are saying that they aren't treated like the security threat that any muslim protest is. Take some of the Carbon Tax protests in Canberra. Very similar rhetoric - bugger all police response. If you would like to argue against our points, argue against our points - don;t make up your own.
…………so don't think that because your lies serve the powerful they won't be challenged. 1. The violence in Sydney was initiated by the police, not protesters. 2. Green Left Weekly has never called for any non-violent protest to be suppressed or anyone's freedom of speech to curtailed. On the subject of nut-jobs, if you learn how to use full stops and proper sentance structure you'd come over as less of one.
Why does GLW have a comments section? It obviously just going to be abused by idiotic trolls. Turn it off and just urge people to read widely and come to their own conclusions. Keep this trolling nonsense off this news site. GLW looses integrity by having these utterly irrelevant debates played out in the comments section. Social change does not come via the comments section.
the analysis in this article is spot on. first off, look at the perspective of the media. i am not the state, i am not the police yet through the media i see through these eyes. fortunately though i have been on the other side of the police lines enough times to know that it is the police who have the guns, and that the state is not our friend, but the friend of the 1%. and violence, yes... what is it about uncontrolled and unpredictable "violence" (assuming there was any, which i doubt) that is so grating to us vis a vis the controlled, foreign, invisible violence of wars? on violence we need some perspective. thanks for the clear words.
Don't get me wrong but if you believe freedom of speech is an omnipotent thing or something used up to the point of endangering others then you have missed the golden rule of the principle. If you think these guys merely are expressing their thoughts & feelings in such a way that is incomprehensible to others then why do you end up being chased by the police? at the end of the day, freedom of speech, for these guys, is nothing but a lame excuse....
Muslims should educate no Muslims about Islam. Non Muslim should stop stirring the pot and minority group of Muslims have to calm down and learn to communicate effectively without making it worse for themselves and others. The media can really play on it. I see the Muslims point , they want to be heard. Not with anger. Even if you feel angry it can be heard diplomatically. Non muslim don't understand what the fuss is, because they don't understand or educated in islam teaching. Non Muslim need to know why they can't show the prophet videos or pictures depicting the prophet. Christians depict Jesus and don't find it a problem. Non Christians and even christians mock him. Non Moslems don't understand what the fuss is. More education needed. Making a big fuss on the so called video has just advertised it to everyone around the world. Everyone now wants to see what the fuss is about. I have a YouTube video and I have only 200 hits in the last 5 years. With all the fuss Moslem and the media have probably got now millions of hits on you tube This would have only generated a small group hitting the site.
The police initiated the violence because Australia has a racist régime.