10 years after the racist riot in Cronulla

Issue 
An image of the 2005 Cronulla riot that flashed around the world. Photo: Craig Greenhill/Twitter

In the current world situation — where imperial war and blowback terrorism have fueled a resurgence of racism in West — it is not surprising that Australia's small, far-right, racist Party For Freedom, led by its would-be fuhrer Nick Folkes, has called for a rally to commemorate the racist riot in the Sydney beach suburb of Cronulla ten years ago.

This is a grouplet with neo-Nazi and white supremacist roots that is bent on fanning the flames of Islamophobia. Muslims are their chief target today but if you read the Facebook pages and websites they've set up you will soon see that they also hate Asians, Jews and Aboriginal people. Targeting Muslims is a tactic the group adopted several years ago on the advice from their co-racists in the British National Party.

This little outfit would like to claim the Cronulla race riot as their doing but the fact is that much more powerful and “respectable” forces take the blame.

The spark for the riot may have been a series of brawls between groups of young white men and young men of Middle Eastern background on and around Cronulla beach in 2005. In particular there was one such brawl on December 4, 2005 outside North Cronulla Surf Club. The police broke it up without arrests.

But in the days that followed this and other early altercations were whipped up into a racist campaign with the help of right-wing radio “shock jocks” and the Rupert Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph.

This media amplified racist calls through SMS messages like these: “Aussies: This Sunday every f---ing Aussie in the shire, get down to North Cronulla to help support Leb and Wog bashing day. Bring your mates down and let's show them that this is our beach and their (sic) never welcome back.”

Other SMS messages made clear that other non-white groups would also be targeted.

“Just a reminder that Cronulla's 1st wog bashing day is still on this Sunday. Chinks bashing day is on the 27th and the Jews are booked in for early January.”

December 11, 2005

On December 11, 2005 about 5,000 young white Australians converged on Cronulla beach. Some were draped in Australian flags, singing Waltzing Matilda and Advance Australia Fair and chanting “Kill the Lebs”, “no more Lebs”, “get Lebs off the beach”, “F---k off, Lebs”and “F---k off wogs”.

Police investigations later revealed that more than 270,000 individual text messages were transmitted inciting racial violence on the beach that day.

The images that flashed around the world revealed nasty a side of Australia that decades of tourist authority and other official propaganda had tried hard to hide.

One image showed a young white man who had had painted on his chest: “WE GREW HERE! YOU FLEW HERE!”

Another male youth had this written on his singlet: “Mohammed was a camel raping faggot”.

The crowd started attacking people of Middle Eastern or non-white appearance through the suburb. At one stage the mob rushed into a train carriage to attack non-white passengers. An ambulance bearing injured victims was pelted with beer bottles, smashing its windows and injuring a paramedic.

Later that evening and over the next few days there counter-raids by groups of youth of Middle Eastern background on a number of beach suburbs and there were more clashes and more than a hundred arrests before the situation calmed down.

'I'm the person that's led this charge'

One of the chief inciters of the Cronulla race riot was Radio 2GB shock jock Alan Jones.

As Fairfax journalist David Marr wrote on December 13, 2005, Jones was boasting about his role. “By Thursday last week Alan Jones was screaming like a race caller whose horse was coming home. 'I'm the person that's led this charge here. Nobody wanted to know about North Cronulla, now it's gathered to this.'

“The riot was still three days away and Sydney's highest-rating breakfast radio host had a heap of anonymous emails to whip his 2GB listeners along. 'Alan, it's not just a few Middle Eastern bastards at the weekend, it's thousands. Cronulla is a very long beach and it's been taken over by this scum. It's not a few causing trouble. It's all of them.'

“Sunday's trouble did not come out of the blue. It was brewing all week on talkback radio — particularly on 2GB.

“Radio doesn't get much grimmer than Alan Jones' efforts in the days before the Cronulla riot. He was dead keen for a demo at the beach — 'a rally, a street march, call it what you will. A community show of force.'

“He assured his huge audience he 'understood' why that famous text message went out and he read it right through again on air. 'Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge. This Sunday every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla to support the Leb and wog bashing day …'

“Daily he cautioned his listeners not to take the law into their own hands, but he warmed to listeners who had exactly that on their minds.”

Jones' ritual legal cautions were followed with naked incitement to commit violence. On December 7, for example, he said on air: “It seems the police and the council are impotent here. All rhetoric, no action. My suggestion is to invite one of the biker gangs to be present in numbers at Cronulla Railway Station when these Lebanese thugs arrive ... It'd be worth the price of admission to watch these cowards scurry back onto the train for the return trip to their lairs ... Australians old and new shouldn't have to put up with this scum.”

There were complaints made about Jones and other right-wing radio shock jocks and in 2009 the New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal found Jones “incited hatred, serious contempt and severe ridicule of Lebanese Muslims” during on-air comments in 2005.

But the Radio 2GB appealed this decision and it was only in 2012 that the decision was upheld in substance and Jones was instructed to apologise on air and pay $10,000 in damages. Jones is currently paid a salary of $4.5 million a year.

Howard a bigger culprit

While Jones and other right-wing media hacks did much of the direct incitement of the Cronulla riot, the political atmosphere in which this took place was fostered by the John Howard Liberal-National federal government of the time.

His government fanned racism to justify its decisions to join the US-led wars on Afghanistan and Iraq and whipped it up even further to drive its war on refugees.

He legitimised racism by accusing the opponents of racism of “politically correctness” and led a culture war on historians that sort to tell the truth about the genocidal colonial frontier wars on Aboriginal communities.

“I do not accept there is underlying racism in this country,” PM Howard said the day after the riot.
He refused to “make judgements about Australia on incidents that occur over a period of a few days”.
“I believe yesterday's behaviour was completely unacceptable but I'm not going to put a general tag (of) racism on the Australian community.

“I think it's a term that is flung around sometimes carelessly and I'm simply not going to do so.”

Some lessons for today

There are important lessons from the Cronulla riot for us today and the chief one is to understand both the seriousness of the racist, Islamophobic hate campaign that is raging today and the real drivers of this campaign.

Lydia Shelly from the Islamophobia Register has said that reports of anti-Muslim attacks have grown three-fold this year. Women wearing religious attire have become the main target of these attacks. And these are just the incidents that have been reported.

On social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, far-right groups are openly cheering and inciting anti-Muslim attacks.

However, it's not the tin-pot fuhrers like Nick Folkes or Blair Cottrell of the United Patriots Front who are the real drivers of the racist resurgence. It is the racist, pro-war, anti-refugee and anti-First Nation government policies being implemented by both Labor and Liberal-National parties in government that are driving the hate campaign with a right-wing corporate media cheering them on. The far right is just tagging along for a free ride.

Hence it is politically infantile to hinge an anti-racist response on physically clashing with these small far right groups. Such clashes often make it easier for anti-racists to be branded as “extremists” or just as bad as the far right. They narrow the anti-racist movement down, robbing it of the unity that is needed to give us the strength to defeat the racism.

[Peter Boyle is a member of the Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
">Socialist Alliance National Executive.]

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