Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Cronulla and the Lebanese

An issue in Australia, and elsewhere, is that Muslim migrants do not always adopt life styles considered normal or reasonable in their new host society. Are such people sought-after new citizens as immigrants to Australia?

A particular group of immigrants, Lebanese Muslims (LMs), have posed particular issues. Many have come from a war-torn country as refugees and have generally not settled well into Australian society. They are a large group and constitute a substantial proportion of all of Muslim immigrants.

Some LMs have an involvement in crime and in anti-social behavior that has major social impacts, particularly in NSW. Their involvement in the hideous race-related rapes headed by Bilal Skaf, their contribution to organized crime in Australia and their contribution to the recent Cronulla riots raise the legitimate question of whether ‘we’ (those living in Australia now) should seek to continue this form of immigration.

Two recent articles in People and Place examine Lebanese Muslim settlement in Australia and throw light on this issue.

(i) Kathleen Betts & Ernest Healy (BH) on Lebanese Muslims in Australia identify issues of social disadvantage among LMs. Their average income per household is low compared to that of other nationals and very low relative ‘per family member’ because of large family size – incomes per head are half the Australian average. 39% of first-generation Lebanese Muslims aged 25-44 are unemployed or not in the labour force compared with 16% of all Australians. 65% of LMs aged 45-64 are unemployed or not in the workforce compared to 27% of Australians. Second generation LMs (those of Lebanese Muslim ancestry, but not overseas born) are doing better – but still experience high unemployment with 50% not having any post-school educational qualifications.

Perhaps it is their history, perhaps their social values or perhaps it is because they are subject to prejudice but, for whatever reason, LMs are socially disadvantaged. And, of course, this socially-disadvantaged group does impose obligations on other Australians. 26% of Lebanese borne males receive government pension compared to 12% of the overall male population.

(ii) Ryan Barclay & Peter West (BW) discuss the Cronulla demonstration of 11 December 2005. This is also discussed on Four Corners, and here, here. The beach in Australia is a public good which anyone can utilize – Cronulla has a suburban feel to it as a beach compared to, for example, the more cosmopolitan Bondi. Cronulla users are ‘locals’ (pre-dominantly Anglo-Saxon) and ‘visitors’ (from all over Sydney, including Lebanese). The beach is nominally an open access resource but tends to be regarded as common-property by local users. Certain forms of behavior are tolerated by locals others are not. In a sense the way newcomers interact with locals in this environment reflects the ability of each group to coexist with the other.

Lebanese male users of the beach broke implicit rules or norms that locals saw as reasonable. Males in packs verbally abused female non-Lebanese beach users with sexually-explicit insults (‘you Aussi slut’, ‘you should be raped’ etc) and assaulted local males including a savage attack on two lifesavers as they were leaving the beach. Lifesavers have high social prestige in the Australian beach scene and, even though their attackers could not have identified those assaulted as lifesavers, this attack created more than usual anger. The behavior by the Lebanese males was discussed in what many saw as inflammatory media reports. On December 11 a large demonstration was organized by locals that became highly-emotional and involved consumption of large amounts of alcohol. While initially the demonstration focused on ‘Lebs’, it quickly became focused on any non-white citizen and led to attacks on such people. It became racist. The following day the Lebanese community countered with its own racism, bashing white Australians, vandalizing property and using expressly racist language ‘pigs’, ‘dogs’ directed at white Australians.

BW suggest that part of the local reaction to the Lebanese was fostered by prevailing multicultural attitudes of tolerance that permit it to be accepted to call Australian women ‘sluts’ and to regard the word ‘Aussi’ as an insult. The local reaction was partly nationalistic – locals carried Australian flags and asserted their pride in Australia. Initially, they did not seem to be opposed to individuals asserting their ethnic identity, though alcohol helped transform that pride towards ignorant racism which in turn fueled further ignorant racism by the LMs.

What to do? Apart from trying to screen out nasty types using occupational or educational skill requirements (this would exclude most so-called refugees), Australia has a simple choice in relation to new LMs. It should either
  • Take the effort to address issues of social disadvantage facing LMs in Australia through active social programs that invest in LM skills, or;
  • Find a reason to exclude them. Unless we can change LM attitudes we are under no obligation to accept those who despise us and treat half our citizenry as subhuman.

Issues of straight criminality can be addressed by law. The case of the racist rapes of Australian women by Lebanese men shows that this can be done.

Whatever happens the status quo should not prevail. If further Lebanese Muslim migration to Australia only adds to social discontent and social welfare bills then it does not offer good value to Australia. Muticultural tolerance should not be used to downplay what is an ongoing social expense. LM attitudes to Australiam women are not only a marginal inconvenience. Who wants ongoing, almost nauseating social attitudes in an open, democratic and tolerant society that functions reasonably well?


rabee said...

I learnt a long time ago that when debating I should not be tempted to clarify or make coherent an argument with little apparent substance but which nevertheless I feel uncomfortable with. Typically, I feel uncomfortable with certain arguments because I tend to deduce that they are based on a morality that I find nauseating or because I anticipate consequences that are indistinguishable from those consequences that must normally arise from a repulsive viewpoint. This is even though the offending view is not well articulated and the author has not thought.

In this case, I’ll succumb to the temptation. So let’s organize your views and think about them. I’m going to post my response in three instalments. In the first I will address issues that have little to do with Lebanese Muslims but which motivate the debate. In the second instalment, which I will post tomorrow, I’ll look at the Lebanese Muslim (non) issue. On Thursday I will post a diatribe about the leftist intellectuals in Australia who having absorbed little from international leftist discourse, perpetuate the culture of racism and anti-intellectualism in Australia. I will describe the sorry state of leftist Brahmins in Australia with regards to immigration policy and why I think that there is no leftist intelligentsia in Australia.

The issue that you raise is polyfaceted.

The first has little to do with Lebanese Muslims. A few years ago the same argument revolved about people who happened to be born in East Asia. In generations past anyone who looked different was in the spotlight, and at various points there was concern about people who where born to Catholic parents.

The question here is should immigration policy be conditioned on ethnicity?

That is, should our immigration policy discriminate on the basis of ethnic and religious classifications? Should we condition immigration policy on the characteristics of the average qualities of the community that a person is born into?

The mildest example is if two equally qualified families apply to migrate to Australia one from Finland the other from Nigeria, then should we take into account their place of origin when deciding which of the families we should allow into the country?

My personal values tell me that in this example we should not discriminate. Further, I think that any policy conditioned on ethnicity cannot be reasonably applied. How finely do we categorize people? Should skin colour matter? Should system of beliefs matter? Do we discriminate between Old Catholics that reject the Second Vatican Council and mainstream Roman Catholics? Does city of origin matter?

Should we base our ethnic discrimination on contemporary perception of people living in Australia? Skin color certainly matters to a lot of people now livening in Australia. Should we be more “scientific” in crafting a discriminatory policy?

The second issue also has little to do with Lebanese Muslims.

The question here revolves around whether migration policy should be based exclusively on skills tests.

I haven’t made up my mind on this. My na├»ve preference seems to lean toward a combination of skilled-based schemes, lottery-based schemes, and family reunion schemes.

My main concern is do we really want only those migrants who will potentially produce Professors, Physician, Scientists, and Olympic champions?

I’m uncomfortable with an exclusively skilled based immigration policy, and migration of the elites. I’m worried that such a policy will have serious social consequences within incumbent communities.

hc said...

Rabee, I am not concerned with ethnicity or religion per se at all. I am concerned with avoiding, avoidable social costs. I'll await your further installments before I say more.

conrad said...

If its just social costs you are worried about, then presumably the argument should generalize to almost all refugee groups, and indeed to a fair chunk of the family migration scheme also.

I think LMs are just singled out as a particuarily bad group, but if you look in the 1996 AICS, you should note that there are in fact groups even higher in crime than them (Romanians, for instance, if I remember correctly).

conrad said...

sorry I meant AIC 1996 study on crime and ethnicity.

hc said...

Conrad, I think the AIC provide estimates of a cost of the refugee program. The 5 highest crime rates (in decreasing order) are Romanian, Yugoslav, Soviet, Vietnamese and Lebanese. Crime rates among these groups were 5 times those of other groups such as migrants from the UK. These latter migrants would be a significant part of the family program so I don't think your claim about the family program is clear.

I do not believe crime ciosts are the major social cost though they could be in the future if Australia creates concentrated enclaves of disadvantaged citizens. This is what is now happening to some degree in Sydney.

rabee said...

Part II

In yesterdays post I began explaining that the issues have little to do with Lebanese Muslims and that much of the debate is motivated by an old debate in Australia concerning whether we should discriminate in our immigration policy based on ethnic background. There are people in Australia that remain unhappy about how far we have moved away from the White Australia Policy and would like us to moderate our immigration policies to take this unhappiness into account. Further, I have a feeling, which is yet to be well articulated in my mind, that the skilled-only based immigration policy in Australia, the migration of the elites, will cause and perhaps is already causing social discontent amongst the incumbent Australian’s.

In this post, I will turn to the riots by racist Australians in Cronulla and argue that these riots had nothing to do with Lebanese Muslims. In the next instalment, I will argue that racism in Australia is sustained by the almost total lack of a leftist intelligentsia and about my hope that a sustained non-discriminatory immigration policy will help the emergence of an intelligentsia that has absorbed international discourse.

You have propped up the racist riots in Cronulla to a demonstration, affording them some a measure of political legitimacy. The riots by racists in Cronulla where not political demonstrations they were racist riots. They also had nothing to do with Lebanese Muslims. In fact, I don’t think that there was a single Lebanese Muslim amongst the racist rioters. In Cronulla we saw a dramatic articulation of Australia’s surfer culture, re-enacting the “thrashing of the wog” at the “battle of the Wazza.”

There are ANZAC narratives that celebrate the riots by racist Australian soldiers in the Wasser neighbourhood of Cairo during the first European war. In these riots mobs of apparently drunk Australian soldiers burned and pillaged the Wasser neighbourhood in Cairo and attacked its local residents, who included people from many parts of the Mediterranean, colloquially called wogs (a derogatory term for anyone not considered sufficiently white, e.g., Greeks, Italians, Lebanese). Of the many ANZAC myths, the narrative of the “battle of the Wazza” remains central in various popular conceptions of being an Australian.

Further, surfer culture in Australia has its own foundational narratives in mainstream mythology concerning Australian identity. It is both influenced by the ANZAC narratives and is separate. Surfer culture has always had violent parts that are racist whose imperative is keeping the “wogs” off the beach.

The racist riots in Cronulla should not be glorified into yet another racist “thrashing of the wog” narrative. By moving the debate from the racism of Australian surfer culture to its victims we are paving the way for the evolution yet another racist narrative. Instead, we must address racism in Australian surfer culture. Perhaps the Surf Lifesaver institutions are not doing enough in this regard. Perhaps the racism starts there!

There is a traditional framework for xenophobic advocacy in all cultures. This framework revolves about rhetoric concerning threats posed by foreigners as a group. Historically, effective rhetoric in this regard involves evoking fear concerning central tenants of local culture and much rhetoric about “Our Women” and “Our Children” and “Our Deities.” A lot of the advocacy following the riots by racists in Cronulla fits squarely within this traditional framework. As far as I can tell, there is xenophobic advocacy in Australia trying to convince us of the advantages to discriminatory immigration policy using classical instruments in rhetoric. In this case it is “Our Women” and “Our Beaches” and “Our Surf Lifesavers.”

hc said...

Rabee, I think many of those causing problems now would have been admitted under past refugee programs. Their high crime rates, high unemployment and negative attitudes towards Australian women are costs of this migration.

I didn't prop up the Cronulla event to the status of a 'demonstration' - the second article I refer to in People and Place did. Atr the early stages it was an accurate description but with the addition of alcohol the mob became racist and stupid as I stated. So too was the LM response. As the Four Corners program pointed out they gathered around a Mosque on the assumption that it was going to be attacked - equally paranoid and equally foolish.

I repeat. I am not concerned about ethnicity or religion per se. I haven't mentioned Lebanese Christians who have lower unemployment and less crime (discussed in the first People and Place article) , nor have I mentioned Muslims in general.

I will be interested to read your third post on the role of the 'left'. Australia, the US and Canada all ended racially discriminatory immigration at the end of the 1970s. Its a policy I support. But this does not mean a free-for-all where Australia is obliged to accept anyone as an immigrant. It makes sense to look at the costs associated with allowing certain groups to enter - there is a vast pool of refugees out there seeking settlement somewhere. So we can choose.

Skilled migration makes a lot of sense from the perspective of the 'left'. It is distributionally sensible since it does not harm the job prospects of the resident unskilled and may even improve their job prospects if skilled and unskilled labour are complements. Of course too from a purely selfish perspective you get to grab some expensive human capital without having paid for it.

conrad said...


I don't just mean crime. I think you'll find that refugees have much higher unemployment and other such negative things, which of course isn't really surprising given that most of them speak little English and come from countries with poorer education systems than Australia.

Thus they are considerable social cost, and if you just want to minimize social costs, then you shouldn't let them in. I haven't seen any reports on their children (excluding the figures for Lebanese and Vietnamese recently released, which I'll assume are mainly children of refugees), but I'll bet almost all refugee groups are worse off than the average (excluding WWII Jewish refugees).

Thus the only main difference between LMs and other groups I can see is some cultural attitudes. However, even these attitudes are not so far away from recent attitudes of some parts of mainstrain Australan culture (like misogeny), and I also tend to think that people have a misperception of them caused by an obnoxious vocal minority.

P.A. Coplay said...


I don't know if recent research has changed this but my memory of research on labour market performance recalls two points:

1. For children of migrants was that there was little difference between the incomes of those and children of locals when you control for sex, age, education etc. I don't recall if occupation was controlled for (but it probably was?).

2. The big difference for migrants themselves was english skills - my memory is less precise here but I am pretty sure that the greater the english skills the less the difference in labour market performance (this was in Lou Will's work I think)

This data would not have included the most recent migrants (as was done in the early 1990s using, presumably, older data).


hc said...

Conrad, I am not advocating suspension of the refugee program on the grounds of social costs related to unemployment. But I am suggesting that the costs are a relevant issue when there are desparate people out there seeking resettlement - particularly from the Asian region - who don't impose the same scale of costs.

I worry particularly when the costs continue into the second generation as seems to be the case with LMs. Second-generation migrants from SE Asia do much better.