Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Judging by appearances ...

The Newcastle Herald has a circulation of around 52,600 in the Newcastle region, some 2 hours drive north of Sydney. It is published by Fairfax.

Someone sent me a copy of an opinion piece authored by one Jeff Corbett titled: “If the descriptor fits …”

The piece concerns a report in the Sydney Morning Herald about a ministerial meeting in New Zealand of national, state and territory ministers of immigration and multicultural affairs.

At that meeting, a number of ministers raised the issue of whether using the descriptor of “Middle Eastern appearance” to identify crime suspects is all that useful.

Why is this so? Is it because there is this nasty and powerful Middle Eastern lobby stacking branches of the ALP (and, after last night’s 4 Corners program, the Libs) to ensure “Middle Eastern thugs” (as Peter Debnam and Carl Scully love calling them) free reign to terrorise our streets?

Jeff Corbett seems to think so. He regards such arguments as “garbage”. His column runs into some 11 sensible paragraphs in which he argues that the whole purpose of a descriptor is to give the best possible available information, not to cast racial aspersions on people.

Corbett’s article would make 100% perfect logical sense if he didn’t follow up these 11 sensible paragraphs with outright racist stupidity of his own.

He commences by suggesting that the Cronulla riots were little more than “young men of Middle Eastern appearance and young men of Caucasian appearance clash[ing] violently over racist insults.”

If he was referring to the riots at various places (both the Cronulla rioting and the reprisal attacks in the Eastern Suburbs), I would agree with him. The problem is that he doesn’t. He just refers to the riots at Cronulla.

Those riots consisted of drunken and stoned white-skinned rioters egged on by neo-Nazis attacking people of various backgrounds including two overseas students from Bangladesh and an Aussie of Afghan parentage.

But given Corbett probably doesn’t know Sydney all that well, we might be prepared to forgive him. However, it is what he says later that really makes Corbett look like a completely conspiratorial goof.

The Middle Eastern lobby wants people of Middle Eastern appearance to be
described simply as “other” … They want NSW to give them that special sporting
advantage over police and the public.

Let’s examine some of the elements of Corbett’s grand Middle Eastern conspiracy:

a. There is such a thing as a Middle Eastern lobby.
b. This lobby engages in criminal activity or represents people engaged in criminal activity.
c. This lobby wants to have a head start on the police and the public so that it can commit its crimes.

Let’s examine the reality of the so-called Middle Eastern lobby. The Australian government has very close relations with Israel. A fair proportion of people from Middle Eastern background (if not a majority) would not be favourably inclined to Israel. These people outnumber Australia’s Jewish community (most of whom are not Middle Eastern and are likely to be much more supportive of Israel) by a ratio of at least 3:1.

Notwithstanding this, Australia continues to have strong and friendly relations with Israel. These relations would remain strong notwithstanding the fact that some 25,000 Australian citizens are currently in Lebanon and are facing grave danger. Israel’s refusal to enable a ceasefire to allow Australians to leave Lebanon would be unlikely to affect that strong relationship.

So this so-called lobby is so ineffectual that it cannot even change Australia’s foreign policy even one iota, even when Australian lives are at risk.

Then there is the suggestion that this lobby is involved in criminal activity and/or covers for people involved in criminal activity. Really? What sort of criminal activity? Do tell.

The typical example frequently cited by the usual suspects is gang-rape. When the Skaf brothers were being tried, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics released figures that showed Maitland to have a much higher level of gang rape than south western Sydney.

As far as I am aware (and I’m sure Mr Corbett could confirm this), Maitland doesn’t have a substantial Lebanese or Middle Eastern community. But can I therefore suggest that Anglo-Irish Australians are habitual sex offenders?

The final paragraph contains some classics.

Regardless of where they come from, people of Middle Eastern appearance look
like Middle Eastern appearance.

Is this a truism? Or has Corbett suddenly changed his tune from his first 11 paragraphs? Or isn’t he aware of an incident in London which showed that persons of South American and those of Middle Eastern appearances can be easily confused?

The real problem is that some of these people seem to believe they have more
rights than people of other appearances.

No, Jeff, the problem is that you haven’t realised that Australia isn’t a milky-bar coloured country anymore. You need to travel beyond Newcastle and visit Lakemba or Bankstown. Then you can meet people with your red-coloured hair and blue/green eyes who will great you with “marhaba” or “asslamau alaykum”.

If describing a suspect as being of “Middle Eastern” appearance assists in catching a criminal, well and good. The reality is that this descriptor actually creates more problems than it solves. It also quite possibly enables more (and not less) crooks of Middle Eastern background to get away.

Corbett has tried to argue in favour of keeping the Middle East descriptor. His argument could have worked had he not descended into paranoia and conspiracy-theorising. If this is the best proponents of comprehensive racial profiling can come up with, is it any wonder that police forces across Australia and New Zealand don’t use it.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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