Australian politics

Sep 20, 2012

Blowback from Sydney riots: ‘punch her for the police’

Articles by various Muslim writers this week have displayed differing impulses, sometimes within the same article. I'm hedging my bets and trying both.

Shakira Hussein

Writer and academic in multiculturalism

This is what blowback looks like:

In Sydney, a protest against a provocative film ends in scenes of violent clashes between some protesters and the police.

In Canberra, a young woman in a headscarf is confronted by a random stranger who offers to “punch her for the police”.

My smart, quick-witted friend has been taking martial arts classes, so I’m pretty sure that this bigot would have bitten off more than he could chew, had he actually tried to land a punch on her. Luckily for him, my friend told him that she’d prefer to be beaten up by the police rather than by him, and offered to call them on his behalf. He was left confused, but he can console himself that at least he didn’t feel the force of my friend’s Anaconda Choke.

Stories like these generate a range of contradictory responses even within the same individual, never mind an entire community. My most immediate response was pure, undiluted outrage. What the hell makes anyone think that they can treat my friend and other women like her in such a manner? To assume a licence to stand in judgement on a total stranger, and deliver the verdict in such a repulsive manner? Who does he think he is? Are we really supposed to respond to such abuse by showing how friendly and likable and ordinary we can be?

(My friend, by the way, is both friendly and likable, but not ordinary. They broke the mould when they made her. She’s extraordinary.)

And so the next impulse is to try to nuture, to make people see my friend as the likable and funny and extraordinary-in-a-good-way person that she is, if you just take a closer look. To explain her to others, to make them see her as I see her.

And then I’m back to outrage. She has no reason to explain herself, and I ought not to take it upon myself to explain her.

Articles by various Muslim writers this week have displayed both impulses, sometimes within the same article. The immediate impulse by many Muslims to crises like 9/11 and Cronulla was to explain, to issue corrections regarding popular misconceptions, to highlight positive role-models, break stereotypes, win-hearts-and-minds.

And some hearts and minds have been won. The problem is that they belong to people who were never really a threat to us in the first place. They may have held misplaces assumptions that saw women in hijab as passive victims of patriarchy, but they didn’t advocate regulation of Muslim women’s dress, let alone resort to intimidation and harrassment.

And while we focused on explaining ourselves, a generation has come of age watching news footage of the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan and listening to a soundtrack of Muslims being held to a higher standard of behaviour to other Australians. And they’re feeling that yesterday’s young turks are sounding like today’s old farts.

I like both the old farts and the young turks, by the way. We’re all destined to play both roles, after all.  (And yes, kids, I’m fully aware of how boring and cliched and Auntie-ish I’m sounding here.)

My friend tells me “I’d like it to all die down so that punchy bogans can go back to being generically racist rather than having specific context. We’re definitely not going to convince haters that we’re all cuddly care-bears, and I’m not sure that should be our aim. I would like to reserve the right to be an angry protester should I wish to be. I think everyone needs to take a deep breath, a lie down if necessary, and keep on keeping on.”

I can’t sort the blowback from the payback from the backlash from the wood for the trees anymore. At the moment, the atmosphere feels saturated with a poison that will not be dissipated by either explanation or outrage.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m hedging my bets and trying both.

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18 thoughts on “Blowback from Sydney riots: ‘punch her for the police’

  1. JamesH

    Australia has a long and proud tradition of violent rioting against the police. The Eureka Stockade is probably the best known example. I can’t see anything unAustralian in what some aggrieved and aggressive members of the Sydney Muslim community have done.

  2. Hamis Hill

    Where might all this divide and conquer xenophobia originate?
    Try the original infidels, worshippers of Jupiter, destroyers of Judea and killers of Christ (A prophet of Islam).
    “The People of The Book” are to be protected according to the Prophet yet are constantly attacked as “Infidels”.
    Well, as a clue, which religion notoriously suppressed the Bible for a thousand years?
    “People of The Book”?, hardly a convincing record.
    If anyone is looking for the real infidels, Christ said “By their actions shall you know them”.
    A few fakers out there on all sides of the argument?

  3. andersonn ben

    Wow, the press just seems to be constantly generalising that Australians are all racists!! Well…… witnessing what a religious group does and not liking it certainly does not fall under the racism banner now does it. Muslims come from all different countries and now we have home grown Muslims. I really dont need to tell Shakira that we are a tolerant people with a tolerant government for if every time someone made fun of Jesus and we acted like this we would be constantly in civil unrest.
    Islam needs to evolve and learn to be tolerant and have a little humility if it going to be called a peaceful religion. I find extremely annoying that any religious group can cause civil unrest in Australia, especially when we didnt have a thing to do with that film.
    Grow up Islam and you will have some respect from me, I am sure if I as a westerner went to most places in an Islamic area in another country I would be risking my life.
    We accept Islam here if it respects our way of life, but at the moment I do not see too much respect.

  4. Captain Planet

    In case sneaking around the “Australian” firewall is more difficult for you than it is for me, here is the text of the article (apologies for the length of this post) printed in Thursday’s “Australian” (of all publications!)

    ZAKY Mallah, the first Australian jailed under anti-terror laws, has “a new jihad” and a message for fellow Australian Muslims engaged in violent protests, as occurred in Sydney last weekend.

    Go to Syria where your brothers are dying for freedom, democracy and the true Islamic way, rights guaranteed in this lucky country, he says.

    “Spend a couple of weeks on the frontline, as I did, where members of the Free Syrian Army are dying for the very rights and freedoms we enjoy in this country. I guarantee you will come back with a different perspective, you will see Australia for what it is,” he told The Australian.

    Mr Mallah said Australia was the perfect model for the modern Arab world that was emerging through revolution. “They want peace, freedom, democracy and they want Islam, too,” he said.

    Mr Mallah, the first Australian to be charged under anti-terror laws, sold his car so he could travel to the border of Turkey and Syria last month to see the civil war for himself.
    FREE 28 Day Trial last Chance

    Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.
    Recommended Coverage
    Zaky Mallah meets the FSA
    Zaky Mallah on the Syrian front line

    End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

    He had planned to visit refugee camps in Turkey to make videos for his YouTube channel, but ended up crossing the border with members of the Free Syrian Army battling forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

    Mr Mallah, who once vowed he would become a suicide bomber, says that disaffected Muslim youth in Australia should realise that jihad is not just armed struggle but resistance to false doctrine and violence.

    At 29, Mr Mallah says he is a different man to the 20-year-old who made a jihad-style video after being refused a passport to travel to Lebanon. He told a police officer he wanted to kill Foreign Affairs officials and ASIO officers and then commit suicide. He served two years in jail for making the threats, but was acquitted of planning a terrorist act in 2005.

    Mr Mallah says he has “a new jihad” after his Syrian experience where he filmed rebel fighters in combat. The Free Syrian Army gave him an AK-47 rifle and a bullet-proof vest. But he refused to take up arms, beyond posing for a photograph, saying he would be breaching Australian law if he engaged in armed combat overseas.

    He saw in Syria that telling the story of the struggle for freedom at great personal risk was also jihad.

    It was helping people with water, feeding the poor, filling a car with petrol for fighters, helping a 70-year-old man who couldn’t walk. Jihad was a struggle against one’s own desires towards violence or immoral behaviour.

    He had witnessed the death of his guide from the Free Syrian Army, 22-year-old Mohammed Zakoor, who was shot on a balcony in Aleppo.

    “A sniper spotted us and Mohammed copped a bullet to his left side just below his heart and half an hour later he was pronounced dead,” says Mr Mallah. “I told the other boys that I wished it was me who got shot, because it was because of me wanting to film that Mohammed was killed.”

    The rebels told Mr Mallah that Mr Zakoor’s death wasn’t his fault.

    “‘This is in God’s hands, it was His bullet,’ they said.

    “They said, ‘Congratulations to him, we now have another martyr.’ That was their approach to someone being shot but, as an Australian, I was in tears that I had lost someone,” he says. At that moment Mr Mallah realised how misguided his anger towards Australian society had been.

    “Syrian Muslims can’t even practice their religion properly. They can’t grow their beards. My beard wasn’t even long and I was told that I should take it off or at least trim it down.

    “They can’t go to the mosque more than twice a day or the government militia sees them as radicalised. Even going to morning prayers is being seen as radicalised,” he says.

    Mr Mallah showed the rebels images of Sydney on the internet. “They said, ‘You are so lucky to be in Australia’.

    “We do have religious freedom here in Australia, there’s no doubt about that. Anyone who disrespects freedom doesn’t deserve to live in a country where there is freedom.

    “This hit me in the head while in Syria. We Muslims have so much freedom here yet we are causing so much trouble.”

    But his experience had showed hate and violence were self-defeating. “The more you fight, the more you lose. The more you have this hatred, this anger, the more you feel victimised, the less people listen to you. People will look down on you as always being angry, frustrated. No one wants to listen to you because they get scared of you,” Mr Mallah said.

    Life became easier when he learned to appreciate his struggles rather than responding with rage and violence.

    “We live in a very comfortable, secure environment. In Syria, you see a helicopter and you run for cover.

    “It’s just a terrifying situation every minute. You don’t know what day it is, you don’t know what time it is. All you know is that you have to survive and you have to run.”

    Mr Mallah understands the anger that the film Innocence of Muslims has provoked around the world, but said violence was “un-Islamic and un-Australian”.

    He suggests that if Muslims want to protest the video “they should go to the city, tape their mouths up and hold signs saying that we will not retaliate . . . Then Australia will take young Muslim men more seriously.”

  5. Captain Planet

    Hi Sancho,

    Sure, I’d love to.

    You have to have access past the “Australian” firewall to access the article, but if you type the following into Google you can easily bypass the firewall:-

    Zaky Mallah, the first Australian jailed under anti-terror laws

    This will bring up an article which pretty much refutes your claims.

  6. shepherdmarilyn

    Anyone who seriously think the problem was just the film needs to have their heads read.

    How about our two illegal wars and many massacres, profiling and abuse of muslims here and so on.

  7. Sancho

    No one does view this differently, Captain Planet.

    It’s not that an extremist minority of Muslims went on a violent riot because their religion was offended, but that no moderate Muslim community even exists to condemns it.

    I’m perfectly happy to stand by the words of my original post, and I’d like to be proven wrong, so please post some links to any comments by Muslims that unequivocally condemn the violence of the Sydney rioters and argue that it’s unacceptable to attack people merely for insulting a religion.

  8. Captain Planet

    Steve said,

    There is absolutely no reason why Australia’s 450,000 Muslims should feel guilt by association or that they need to apologise because of the actions of a few idiots among the couple of hundred of their number who demonstrated in Sydney on the weekend.


    Nor is there any reason at all why Australia’s 20 million or so non – muslims should feel guilt by association, or the need to apologise, because of the actions of a few idiotic racist bogan fools such as the punchy protagonist of Shakira’s story.

    People are people, wherever you go. No race, religion, creed, sex or genotype has a monopoly on tolerance, bigotry, likeability, detestability, selfishness, generosity, arrogance or humility.

    In my experience, one is likely to encounter these traits in approximately the same proportions in all demographic groups in the world. Nobody should ever be held to account for the actions of a minority with whom we share arbitrary characteristics such as race, sex, religion or whatever.

    It still perplexes me that anyone views this differently.

  9. shepherdmarilyn

    So a 20 year old is arrested for inciting violence but Alan Jones was not even investigated.

  10. Steve777

    Right wingers love disorderly demonstrations by members of any group they don’t consider to be part of mainstream Australia. It gives them a chance to reach fro the dogwhistle. There is absolutely no reason why Australia’s 450,000 Muslims should feel guilt by association or that they need to apologise because of the actions of a few idiots among the couple of hundred of their number who demonstrated in Sydney on the weekend.

  11. shepherdmarilyn

    Paddy, there is no such thing, who are you bigots?

    I remember a time not too long ago when Catholics were abused the way we abuse muslims.

    Now the catholics are the worst bigots of all.

  12. Sancho

    American evangelicals aren’t burning witches and stoning adulterers only because they don’t have the social or political power.

    The annoying side-effect of Muslim intolerance is that Australians who, for example, defend the Vatican’s carefully managed child-raping program system use it as a benchmark to grant themselves moral superiority.

  13. Paddy Forsayeth

    Right on Sancho. I have recently read a book on Muslim history and halfway through a book on the Muslim ‘honour and clanship’ way of existing. I have to admit to the belief that the intolerance shown to any infidel is imbued in their religion, which is virtually indistinguishable from their society. I don’t think that the word ‘secular’ has any meaning for them. Yes, we did go through an awful historic period while we prised the hands of the clerics from the control of society. The Arabs, in my view must do the same but they are a long way from doing this. Incidentally, the clerics are returning…look at the influence of the religious cults in the USA.

  14. shepherdmarilyn

    As far as riots go this was a tiddler with just a few people arrested.

    You fucking bigots ought to get a life.

    And Sancho, where is the evidence that suggests muslims can’t live here.

  15. Sancho

    Have to disagree, Scott.

    My belief in moderate Muslims began to drift away when I was studying a course with a couple of Muslim women in their mid-twenties.

    They were absolutely lovely, generous, outgoing people who cared about their families and community.

    They were also very clear about Australia being an infidel society that has to convert to Islam or face the wrath of Allah and his servants.

    My experience with Muslim neighbours, teachers, co-workers, classmates and teammates is that they believe in the destruction of western society in a pedestrian and boring way that isn’t fanatical, but still goes completely without question.

    After a long and bitter fight, secularism cut the balls off Christianity, and now it needs to do the same to Islam. We’ve tried tolerance and waiting patiently for integration, and it isn’t happening.

  16. Scott

    Ignorance is the fuel of prejudice and fear. The most effective way to change the islam’s long term perception is for islamic people to be visible and intergrated into the community.
    When your neighbour, friend, teacher, co-worker, spouse, classmate or sporting team mate is islamic (especially if they are as exceptional as your friend), it is a lot harder to taint an entire group with the actions of a few militant or misguided individuals.
    But it does require openess on both sides.

  17. Sancho

    With the exception of Waleed Ali, I haven’t encountered any outright condemnation of the rioting from Muslim commentators. Instead, we get these meandering excuses that end with the clear implication that if people don’t want to be attacked, they shouldn’t insult Islam, and any violence they receive for mocking Mohammed is all their own fault because they knew the consequences.

    It doesn’t work. Violence isn’t on. There are no excuses.

    The path to reconciliation begins with unconditional apology and the clear censure of the rioters, not with mealy-mouthed attempts at tu quoque on the basis of secularism that most Australians support and wars that most of them don’t.

  18. JamesK

    “I’d like it to all die down so that punchy bogans can go back to being generically racist rather than having specific context. We’re definitely not going to convince haters that we’re all cuddly care-bears, and I’m not sure that should be our aim. I would like to reserve the right to be an angry protester should I wish to be. I think everyone needs to take a deep breath, a lie down if necessary, and keep on keeping on” presumably pretending we don’t actually have real racists and bigots in our midst who loathe our values and culture and who threaten us with violence and beheadings unless we curb free speech/blasphemy?

    Those damn ultra violent “punchy bogans” again, eh?

    Why are those “punchy bogans” are always out in violent protests month in month out, punching and wrecking other peoples’ property and shi1t?

    No wonder Australia is such a disgracefully racist bigoted country Shakira, eh?

    Presumably if there’s much more of this bigotry and you might have to emigrate in disgust?

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