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It’s time to think

These talks between big-wave surfing champion Koby Abberton and Lebanese "leader" Keysar Trad to end Sydney′s latest tribal riots will fail, of course. But still they may help -- by showing just some of the hundred troubles that created this disaster and the hundred hard steps we must take to avoid even worse. Yes, it′s that complicated. Things this bad usually are. So ignore the one-issue parrots who screech "We′re all racists", or "End Muslim immigration now". The fools. Abberton is admired as a leader of the surfing tribe at Maroubra known as the Bra Boys, who last week told Middle Eastern gangs to "stay away" from the beach. There is no suggestion he endorsed the appalling violence which followed on Sunday. In fact, he says it was "distressing" and denies reports Bra Boys were involved, but, as a local god, he does perhaps symbolise the local beach gang culture.

On the ABC′s Australian Story, Abberton explained how he came to join his gang. He grew up, he said, in a garage: "My mum was a heroin addict back then and we grew up pretty tough. We all have different dads, all the brothers, me, Sunny, Jai and Dakota. None of us have ever known our dads. But there just wasn′t much love... "When I was about 14 I got kicked out of my house... " No wonder he sought the comfort of a tribe, as so many young men would if they had no job, no father, no real family, no discipline, or no sense of belonging. See how many jobless and broken-homed youths were in the Kelly Gang and Macquarie Fields Boys, which rioted at Sydney′s welfare ghetto in Macquarie Fields last February. See how many Aborigines, ditto, pelted police with rocks, wood and molotov cocktails in the equally tribal riots last year in drug-riddled Redfern, also in Sydney. Or burned down a police station on jobless, booze-soaked Palm Island. See also the rise of ethnic gangs, such as the lethal Telopea Street Boys, drawn largely from Sydney′s Lebanese -- so many without jobs or a sense of home. The we-own-the-beach Bra Boys are not half as dangerous, but are notorious for a riot in 2002 in which they attacked off-duty police at a party and hurt 30. After all, tribes owe their first loyalty to their own and not to us.

Abberton is not a thug himself, but awaits sentencing for telling lies to protect his brother Jai, then charged with killing gangster Tony Hines at Maroubra with three shots to the head. Jai was found not guilty on the grounds of self-defence. ISN′T Abberton′s background only too familiar? That′s just one thing that must change: how much harder must we work to make parents responsible, families strong and children safe, and to put young men in work and traffickers in jail? Abberton′s peace talks this week started with Keysar Trad, whose own background worries me, too. Trad has been adopted as the voice of Sydney′s Muslim Lebanese by a media too timid or incurious to ask whether he really represents them at all, or whether he even should. That careless irresponsibility is another thing that must change. Trad was once head of the Lebanese Muslim Association, but was dumped and now trades as head of a thing he′s called the Islamic Friendship Association. But what friendship does he really offer? Trad was once a translator of the pro-bin Laden Islamic Youth Movement, which ran appeals for violent jihad overseas and which has since been investigated for alleged terrorism-related offences. He himself publicly rejects terrorism, but sneeringly wrote, for instance, that "the criminal dregs of white society colonised this country, and now, they only take the select choice of other societies, and the descendants of these criminal dregs tell us that they are better than us". He was also the spokesman of the radical Mufti of Australia, Sheik Taj el-din El-Hilali, who preaches at Lakemba mosque, Australia′s biggest and dominated by Muslim Lebanese. Hilali, you′ll recall, has praised suicide bombers as heroes and called the September 11 terror attacks "God′s work against oppressors" and "the work of 100 per cent American gangs".

When Lebanese Muslims pack-raped non-Muslim girls, Hilali blamed "Australian society". But again and again Trad defended him. Spin, spin, spin. Trad is one of a generation of Muslim "leaders" who have, in effect, preached an us-against-them rhetoric that has only made tensions worse, which is one more thing to change. The academics and writers who feed such men their lines in anti-American and anti-Western hatred need challenging, too.

What makes a Trad a problem is that well before Sunday′s riot, Australia, like so many Western countries, was already struggling to integrate Middle Eastern immigrants and, more worryingly, their born-here children. For too long, thanks in part to a media often too scared to face ethnic truths, we fooled ourselves into thinking we were actually doing this integrating thing well. We looked at the Muslim riots in France and smirked. If only the French had learned from our multicultural magic. We saw British-born Muslims exploding themselves in trains and a bus and said ... well, too little. True, there were some reasons to think we could more easily embrace Muslims. Hadn′t we taken in wave after wave of people from everywhere without one riot, until Sunday? But this time it′s different. We are different and some of these immigrants are, too. We are different, in part, because we are less sure about ourselves and about what really unites us. Instead of being proud enough to expect immigrants to assimilate, we urge them to stay apart through multiculturalism. Indeed, we pay them to do so, giving three grants even to the jihadists of the Islamic Youth Movement. What′s more, we preach that this is a country that deserves little respect. Hear what is taught in schools, universities, theatres, films, books, galleries and museums: ours is a racist country with a child-stealing and genocidal past, led by a fascist voted in by rednecks. All this, so much of it built on deceits, must change as well.

Do I exaggerate this culture of contempt? Here, for instance, is part of a jeering email sent to me on Saturday by an employee of the rabidly anti-American and Leftist SBS: "Fact: migrants would rather die than assimilate to Australian culture. Why would anybody willingly assimilate to a culture that the entire world considers uncouth and un-cultured?" You can imagine how the children react to this vision of Australia. Many would give their loyalty instead to something stronger: some ethnic tribe, perhaps, or they might revolt against the insult and, feeling threatened, chant Aussie Aussie Aussie and strike out. But, as I said, the immigrants have changed, too. Middle Eastern immigrants have brought with them a religion that too often preaches rejection of the very society they′ve joined and too often glorifies violence. They also brought with them radical preachers, such as the Egyptian Hilali, the Lebanese Sheik Abdul Salam Zoud, the Jordanian Sheik Mohammed Omran and the Algerian Abdul Nacer Benbrika, the last now arrested, who spoke little English, but much hate. That, too, must change. Many Muslims from Lebanon, in particular, were allowed in, even though some lacked the skills, let alone the culture, to fit in easily. That policy at least has been changed. But enough? You can read the inevitable result in the statistics, with Muslim Lebanese at least twice as likely to be jailed, or jobless. No wonder the gangs had so many recruits. Or you can measure the trouble in anecdotes.

As long ago as 1999 (before the September 11 attacks, or Iraq war, on which so much is blamed) Lebanese gangs were harassing and attacking locals at Bondi beach. It took four years of hard policing to tame them. In 2001 came the pack rapes, by mainly Lebanese men of girls still in their early teens and selected because they were "skips". And a few Muslims, many Lebanese, drifted into extremist movements linked to terrorism. One is now in jail in Lebanon on terrorism-related charges, another in custody in Iraq and yet others face charges here. As if that wasn′t enough, Middle Eastern gangs become feared as drug traffickers and standover men.

Sadly for us all, their rise to power came just as police found it harder to uphold the law and their authority, or felt less inclined to. Just think how police at the Redfern riots stood for hours under a barrage of missiles without making arrests. More to change. And so, two years ago, prominent whistleblower and retired detective Tim Priest warned that police had become too intimidated by these gangs and too exhausted by the poor-us complaints of ethnic "spokesmen" to uphold the law. "In hundreds upon hundreds of incidents, police have backed down to Middle Eastern thugs and taken no action and allowed incidents to go unpunished," he said. "Again, I stress the unbelievable influence that local politicians and religious leaders played in covering up the real state of play..." Here is more that needs changing. All this and more needs to be known to understand last Sunday′s riot, which is too easily dismissed by the usual sloganeers as just a belch of white racism. We must understand also that Lebanese gangs or groups had invaded the beaches of Cronulla for some time, with many locals reporting punch-ups, foul abuse and sexual harassment of women. Two lifeguards were last week attacked by up to a dozen Muslim men, one punched unconscious, forcing a nippers′ carnival to be cancelled.

Despite many credible claims of gang strife at the beaches, claims backed by the local state MP, police reportedly arrested just one man all this year. When Premier Morris Iemma went to Maroubra last week to promise action to the TV cameras, locals heckled him, one calling: "The locals respect police. The gangs do not." Yet one more thing to change. SO it all came together on a hot Sunday. A hot and thirsty Sunday and how many other beer-fuelled riots have we seen in these coarsened days, like the huge and boozy Australia Day brawl in Perth last year? Add the elements. A local surfing tribe. Beach invasions by another, more violent tribe. Weak policing. Handwringing politicians. A lookaway media. Feeble loyalties to authority. Beer. A particularly outrageous bashing. Fear. Don′t forget that fear and how much the locals had to be scared of.

The reprisal attacks since Sunday show how dangerous the Lebanese gangs truly are. A man has been stabbed, a woman hit in the face with a baseball bat, another woman attacked in a pizza shop, a dozen other people hurt, more than 100 cars trashed, shop windows smashed in, women terrorised, police pelted with bottles and stones, guns brandished and reportedly fired, and it isn′t over. At all. So does Sunday′s riot add up to a simple case of damn-us white racism, or to something far more complex and human? Oh, yes, the rioting was cowardly, vile and disgusting. Pack attacks are, which is why we must not merely condemn, but understand. To prevent. Best start now. There will be more riots before we spruce up this home of ours and only quiet thinking, not screaming, will help us.

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