Islamic protest in Sydney
Below is a transcript of my ABC Radio National interview (aired this morning) on the Islamic rally in Sydney on Saturday, September 15:
GERALDINE DOOGUE: As we’ve heard this morning, violent Islamic protests on the weekend in Sydney have been universally condemned but not just by political figures, also by Muslim community leaders.
The New South Wales police say there’ll be more arrests and they are investigating the source of the text message that apparently led to the riot.
As Premier of New South Wales for a decade, Bob Carr had to manage ethnic tensions and community anger over a series of gang rapes against European women led by a group of Lebanese Australians who were subsequently jailed.
Now our Foreign Minister, Bob Carr says most Muslim Australians would be horrified by the actions of a tiny minority. He spoke with political editor Alison Carabine yesterday ahead of travelling to Europe.
BOB CARR: The essence of it is that these people were provocateurs who want to hear hatred and extremism in the air and their presence with those messages chill the bones of the 99.9 per cent of Australian Muslims who would never be associated with such activity and such sentiment.
REPORTER: This wasn’t the ugliest, most violent protest that we’ve ever seen in this country. Do you think that what set it apart, what made it so disturbing, were the signs that were being carried including by children calling for those who insult Islam to be beheaded?
BOB CARR: That confirms my view that this is the work of provocateurs who want to achieve an extreme clash, who want to see hostility between two sides, a clash of civilisations, a clash of cultures and it’s precisely because of that that the rest of us should not be provoked but should insist on thinking of those Australians of Islamic faith, proud of their Arabic or other heritage, who are loyal to this country, have made a commitment to this country.
This is a community that overwhelmingly is committed to Australia and it’s a tragedy for them that extremists have got the attention they have.
REPORTER: Barry O’Farrell says it’s the unacceptable face of multiculturalism. Do you worry that the end result could be that we become less tolerant towards other cultures? Could this protest backfire on the Muslim community?
BOB CARR: A predecessor of Barry O’Farrell’s, Nick Greiner, used to say multiculturalism is simply a fact of life. It is. Twenty-five per cent of the population was born overseas. It is simply the way we are now. It’s pointless to resist it. I think it’s pointless to complain about it. It’s the way we are and the obligation to make it work resides with all of us.
REPORTER: It is easy to stigmatise ethnic communities. Do you fear that some politicians and some commentators will pounce on this protest to whip up irrational fears about Muslim people?
BOB CARR: Of course I fear that and hence the nature of my intervention in this debate. We should not be provoked by a small group of extremists because that is what they want. They are provocateurs. They’re at the edge. They’re hoping to produce a conflict. They want – they want split skulls and they want ugly arguments, they want to move the extreme forward all the time. We should not be provoked by them.
REPORTER: Bob Carr, when you were Premier of New South Wales you had to deal with some very difficult situations, in particular the gang rapes of European Australian women by Lebanese Australian men, led by Bilal Skaf, by some reports south-west Sydney was a powder keg. What strategies did you employ to try and defuse such an inflammatory situation?
BOB CARR: First of all to insist that you couldn’t judge the Islamic community or the Lebanese community by the action of this handful.
I remember in one interview being asked does the community bear – that community bear a responsibility for the behaviour of this handful and I said no, absolutely not. It’s not their responsibility.
They are not representative of the community and it shouldn’t be – responsibility for them and their behaviour should not be sheeted home to the wider community.
The good thing is that we’ve got beyond that. That’s a long way behind us now and the scars, apart from the burden borne by the victims, the scars have healed.
REPORTER: There appeared to be a lack of Muslim community leadership back in 2000. Do you think much has changed?
BOB CARR: I think since then Australians have got more used to working side by side with a citizen, a co-worker who happens to be of the Islamic faith. I think more Muslims have been speaking out and putting their case. Dr Jamal Rifi in western Sydney has organised young Muslims to join surf clubs and do do at Cronulla, the scene of those terrible riots. He and others have walked the Kokoda Trail. I think these are very strong messages and they more accurately reflect what’s happening in Australian suburbs than that very ugly demonstration we saw on Saturday.
REPORTER: Over the weekend there were protests in more than 20 countries throughout the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia. Is America in any part to blame for this violence?
BOB CARR: Not remotely. I welcome that very bold statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said simple this has got nothing to do with America. Under this administration the President has reached out to the Muslim world. That speech he gave in Cairo in June 2009 called for a new beginning between the US and the Muslim world.
He went to Turkey. I think it was his second bilateral visit after Canada. He chose Turkey to say that he wanted to build a model partnership between a majority Christian and a majority Muslim country.
He and his administration have worked very, very hard at this and Islamophobia is not a factor in contemporary America.
REPORTER: You referenced the great clash of civilisations. Are you optimistic at all that there ever will be peace and harmony?
BOB CARR: These – the way these demonstrations flared makes me a little apprehensive but I do hope, and I think there’s a chance of this, that they could recede every bit as fast and they came in – came into being and the agenda which reflects what King Abdullah of Jordan summed up when he used that expression: we want an overlap of cultures not a clash of civilisations.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: And that’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr speaking with Alison Carabine in Canberra just before he headed off overseas.
And I notice in today’s Fairfax press Paulo Totaro, the foundation chairman of the New South Wales Ethnic Affairs Commission has written a letter to the editor suggesting that street violence is the negation of multiculturalism not its unacceptable face. If we have children in the streets calling for beheadings, he writes, the fault is not of multiculturalism but of those, all of us, who have not taught in enough depth the democratic values of multiculturalism. We are sleeping at the wheel if these aberrations are being taught to children in our midst, aberrations such as fanaticism from all sources.
More interviews on the protest: