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<nettime> The Twilight of the Anglosaxon Model (by Brett Neilson)
Ned Rossiter on Fri, 30 Dec 2005 05:35:45 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Twilight of the Anglosaxon Model (by Brett Neilson)

via: < B.Neilson {AT} uws.edu.au>

The following is an English language version (slightly longer) of an 
article published in the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto yesterday.


Thanks to Ange, Ben and others who helped me shape these observations.

The Twilight of the Anglosaxon Model
by Brett Neilson

There are those who declared, at the height of the revolts in the 
French banlieues, that the time had come to recognise that the 
Anglosaxon model of multiculturalism has delivered greater peace and 
stability than the French model of republican integrationalism. By 
now, the course of events has overtaken such proclamations. For 
anyone with doubts, the violence that occurred at Sydney's Cronulla 
Beach earlier this month must shatter the illusion that communitarian 
models of racial tolerance have been more effective than 
integrationalist logics in reconciling the complexities of life in 
diverse societies with the identitarian demands of the modern nation-
state. The situations in Paris and Sydney have to do with a wider 
global conflict that has levelled the distinction between the civil 
and the foreign war and insinuated itself in the daily rituals of 
metropolitan life.

Symbol of the affinities between the conflicts in these cities is the 
detritus that both have left behind: suburban streets lined with cars 
burned or smashed to pieces with baseball bats. For those who have 
not followed the events in Australia, these were acts of Middle 
Eastern youth following the pogrom perpetrated against them by a 
crowd of 5,000 angry whites gathered at Cronulla Beach, a popular 
seaside resort in the city's southeast. Part of the Sutherland Shire, 
one of the whitest and racially homogeneous areas of Sydney, 
Cronulla, unlike other city beaches, is served by the railroad, 
making it for many years a popular picnic destination for Lebanese 
and other Mediterranean families that live predominantly in the 
city's west. In more recent times, with the construction of bridges 
and freeways that make car travel from the Western suburbs more 
feasible, it has also become a gathering spot for young Arabs who 
cruise the city in modified cars, listen to U.S. gangsta rap, and 
engage in occasional scuffles with the white surfers who claim the 
beach as their own. To be sure, this racial violence has acquired a 
sexual dynamic, partly as a result of a gang rape that became a cause 
celebre of tabloid racism and amplified the fiction that Muslim men 
harass white women more than their Anglo counterparts. Thus, it is no 
surprise that the white backlash rally of 11 December, organised by 
SMS that were subsequently read out on talk radio and published in 
the mainstream press, should announce itself as a defense of white 
women, even as its ostensible cause was a fight between Lebanese 
youth and two off-duty lifeguards. What occurred that Sunday 
afternoon will go down as a heavy chapter in Australia's racial 
history: white youths draped in Australian flags, tearing the veil 
from Muslim women and pulverising the male 'lebs' and 'wogs' who 
happened to get in their way.

While the images from this event were quickly relayed around the 
world, the local response was an official attempt to talk down the 
racial dimensions of the rampage and the passage of emergency laws 
granting police powers to 'lockdown' suburbs and randomly search 
cars. The following weekend, the beaches of Sydney were heavily 
patrolled and accessible only to residents of the beachside suburbs, 
a situation long desired by the racist elements who orchestrated and 
participated in the progrom. Importantly, the beach has long provided 
the ground for egalitarian fantasies of public access in Australia, 
not least among the white intellectual classes. But it is also the 
space where the otherly complexioned are apt to feel the least 

It is worthwhile to remember that the Australian coastline is legally 
designated as Crown land, a peculiar juridical category of the 
settler colonies that at once extinguishes Indigenous territorial 
claims and grants the sovereign the right to control private rights 
and interests over landed property. In this sense, the presence of 
the Union Jack on the national flag brandished by the white ramapgers 
demonstrates that their claim on the beach was not a result of some 
neo-Nazi infiltration but precisely an action in the name of the 
public or the sovereignty of the people, the very basis of Australian 
democratic expression. Perhaps this is why the New South Wales 
Commissioner of Police could describe the rampage as 'a legitimate 
protest and expression of disatisfaction.' And perhaps this also 
explains why conservatives from the Prime Minister and Leader of the 
Oppostion down have scrupuously disavowed the racial dynamic that 
fueled the violence.

To be sure, there are dangers in assuming a stance that denounces the 
racism of the Cronulla rampagers as vulgar and unbefitting of a 
nation that prides itself on its multiculturalism. Such a position 
seeks merely to absolve the national elites from responsibility in 
the situation, indirectly justifying the populist claim that it is 
not their business to interfere with expressions of the people. It 
also fails to ponder the complexities of multicultural tolerance, not 
least the way in which it leaves unchecked the capacity of those with
social power to act intolerantly. By the same token, it is dangerous, 
given the public disavowal of the episode's racial aspects, to skirt 
or complicate the question of race too much. Certainly, it is 
necessary to point to the sexual dynamics that fuel this and, as we 
know from Fanon, all other instances of racial violence. Equally, it 
is crucial to understand the elements of social class, the history of
beach subcultures, mateship, or the participation of white women in 
this anti-Muslim rampage. But to draw the discussion away from race 
is to risk foreclosing an analysis of how the Australian model of 
multiculturalism, particularly in the context of global war, fails to 
deactivate the confluence of racial and nationalist feelings that 
culminates in episodes like Cronulla.

It is a well-known paradox of Australian multiculturalism that it is 
the same government department that organises events such as Harmony 
Day in schools that is responsible for the administration of the 
nation's notorious migration detention camps. Under the current war 
conditions (Australia has been a willing participant in both 
Afghanistan and Iraq), the presence of internal Muslim communities, 
particularly those who refuse, often with stridency, to accept their 
proletarianisation or crimilisation through racist law and order 
agendas, has posed a consistent problem for the white political 
classes. Indeed, in the wake of Cronulla, the local conservative 
member of parliament went as far as to characterise the rampage as 
revenge for the 911 attacks and the Bali bombings. While Morris 
Iemma, the recently appointed Premier of New South Wales, wasted no 
time in describing the police response as a war.

More frightening is the rapidity with which the state of seige has 
been normalised, at once pushing Muslim and ethnic groups away from 
the beaches while, for the sake of seaside businesses, compelling 
Sydney-siders to return to their usual patterns of summer 
consumption. As we know from cities like Sarajevo, it is often in 
contexts where the intimacy between cultural groups has been 
strongest that racial violence assumes its most shocking and 
vivisectionist forms. For this reason, it is safest not to assume 
that the thick cultural mixing that one finds in parts of Sydney 
provides any guarantee against the escalation of the situation. What 
the city faces now is nothing less than civil war, one which, like 
the foreign wars we see (or rather don't see) nightly on our 
television screens, all too quickly become part of metropolitan life. 

It is likely, under the current global conditions, that these urban 
conflagrations will not limit themselves to Paris and Sydney, but 
flare up with increasing frequency here and there around the globe. 
Who knows, Rome or Milan may be next.

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