When the NSW police minister condemned magistrate Pat O'Shane two weeks ago for throwing out a case involving spitting at traffic cops, her response was: "There is an election coming up". The same answer could well be given for the bipartisan barrage of Muslim-bashing from senior NSW politicians in the countdown to the March state election.
On January 24, Labor Premier Morris Iemma and several of his senior ministers, as well as Liberal opposition leader Peter Debnam, descended into a farce after they discovered a homemade video had been posted on YouTube.com last November.
The three-minute video, which glorifies racial violence, includes footage of the convicted gang rapist Bilal Skaf and shows a map of Australia in the colours of the Lebanese flag with the words "under new management". It was apparently made by former pupils at Granville Boys High School. YouTube removed it from its website, along with some others that same day. But the equally vile white supremist videos, including those glorifying attacks on Muslims during the 2005 Cronulla riots, were not removed. They haven't garnered outrage from politicians.
Joining the NSW ministers was PM John Howard. In the midst of a manufactured debate over the Australian flag in the lead-up to the Sydney Big Day Out concert on January 25, the politicians ramped up their racist credentials by pushing on an anti-Muslim scare campaign.
Iemma asked police to investigate whether one of the videos removed by YouTube, "lebo thugs", included images of any current Sydney school students to see if any charges could be laid. The Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad and the Counter Terrorist Unit have also been brought into the inquiry.
NSW Police Minister John Watkins said any students at Granville Boys High School who were involved in making "lebo thugs" could face suspension or expulsion, and possible criminal charges. Even the education minister Carmel Tebbutt joined in, announcing that she would be contacting the federal attorney-general to see if there was any action that could be taken against YouTube. This is despite the NSW education department regional director of South Western Sydney, Tom Urry, saying on January 25 that his department had no proof there were any links to Granville Boys High.
Nevertheless, the principal of Granville Boys High told the media that she was "very disturbed" by the reports of the videos. "I am very proud of the school and its great achievements and I know that the school community fully supports us", she was quoted as saying in the January 25 Daily Telegraph.
Equally disturbed about the race hate videos are Muslim community leaders in Sydney. Keysar Trad, from the Islamic Friendship Association, told Green Left Weekly that the videos were abhorrent, and that they did not represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Several other Muslim leaders have said the same.
But that doesn't appear to be of much interest to the NSW government, intent on outdoing the Liberal opposition in the Muslim-bashing stakes.
So far, none have said anything about the white supremist material on YouTube. No media conferences. No demands on YouTube. No threats to charge the makers of the "Hail Cronulla victory" video, which has received 4000-plus viewings. No promises to hunt down people who have posted such comments as: "Muslims are dumb fucks — the whole world knows this …", or "Kick those terrorist Muslim filth out of your country and when you are done … come to England and do the Pakis for us! White Pride! Yeah!"
Inciting race hatred is already a criminal offence. Introducing more laws is not going to solve the problem. Neither will censorship of websites or videos — even if that were possible in this internet age.
Race hatred is not, at the moment, socially acceptable. But it could become so if politicians continue to promote the idea that it is acceptable to target one section of the community, as is being done right now in NSW. There is a growing, and unjustified, fear about Muslims and people of Middle Eastern backgrounds. This is because the federal and state governments have gone out of their way to generate this fear, in part to justify their new so-called anti-terrorism laws.
Politicians could, if they wanted to, work to combat such anti-social attitudes by vigorously denouncing racism in all its forms. This is unlikely to happen, however, while there is bipartisan agreement that inciting fear and loathing against one section of the community is an important vote spinner. It also happens to be a convenient deflection from other intractable social problems, which the government isn't interested in solving. The best way of isolating racism to marginalise it politically.