« 9 Types of Users: Frying Pan/Fire Tactician | Main | Cisco VPN »

January 09, 2006

Nipping it in the bud

I was going to leave the topic alone but seeing it raised by The Gray Monk has made me wonder if that was the best policy. The alleged racial tension in Sydney before Christmas was disappointing but not unexpected. Australia, by and large, is fairly tolerant BUT there has been a racial edge for as long as I can remember. When I was young the target was Italians and Greeks and then as a uni student, the target was Asians (Chinese not Indians). I was particularly proud of the fact that my alma mater stood up to the government of the day when it came to imposing foreign-student quotas (the only University to do so). As a result, the university was a real melting pot and, despite numerous attempts, National Action (white supremacists) never managed to get a foothold in the student body. I like to think that many of my fellow students helped to influence the more tolerant attitudes seen around today but it is possible that the relaxing of tensions would have happened any way. It is worth remembering that Australia really has a wide mixture of cultures and in general they live together relatively harmoniously.

Having said all that, the actual problem (stated to be 'Lebanese' vs 'Anglo-Saxen') was not really a racial problem - at least as far as I can see it. There were instead, two underlying issues. One was a religious issue and that other was pure stupidity on the part of officaldom.

The initial cause was a conflict between religious teaching and social practice. In Sydney there are many fine beaches and women(1) like to tan themselves wearing fairly skimpy costumes. In some beaches the women may even appear topless. This is accepted as being 'normal'. There is no law that says you have to dress like that on the beach but equally there is no law that says you can't either(2). Some young men of a particular religious affiliation were offended by this state of dress and harangued the young ladies concerned.

At this point, the whole matter could easily have been resolved by a smart cop taking the lads aside and explaining to them that they had two choices: (A) they could ignore the ladies and enjoy the sand and the sun or (B) they could leave the beach and go elsewhere.

Unfortunately that was not done - it might have been offensive or culturally (read: religiously) insensitive. Mind you, it would have nipped the problem in the bud quite neatly.

Instead, the problem escalated. The lads became more aggressive, some other lads who did not subscribe to that particular religion got involved and the whole thing escalated into riots and a media scare campaign.

So what were the underlying problems? Australia is a fairly tolerant place and if you are unhappy about something, there are ways of resolving it - not necessarily quickly but it can be done. As a religious person myself, I regularly come across things that are offensive to me personally. I can protest (peacefully) about, write a letter to my member of parliament or talk about it on the net. I do not directly attack the person responsible for the offence. My right to be offended (or to swing a fist) stops short of attacking someone else (well short of their nose in the case of the fist). If a religion tries to teach its adherents otherwise then that religion is out of place in this culture and should be either amended or removed.

That is not to say that a religion cannot teach particular moral stances or a specific code of behaviour for the individual. It is to say that a religion cannot teach, or condone, a violent response to those who disagree with it. Should a religion teach that women must be covered at all times from head to toe, then that is their business (3) but if it teaches that this covering applies to non-aderants then we have a problem.

The second underlying issue was the fear of giving offence. Right at the beginning, the problem could have been resolved with minimum effort and very little repercussions. Had the behaviour continued, the police could have discussed the matter with the relevant religious authorities and taken further steps against the lads (cautions, fines, court appearance and so on). Instead the situation deteriorated until nobody could be happy with the outcome.

Which religion was involved? I could be mistaken but I believe that most world religions have guidelines for their followers. Only one religion (as far as I know) has guidelines for non-followers that followers are required to enforce.

[1. Men also like to tan themselves but that does not, apparently, offend any religious groups.]

[2. There are laws to which state that you cannot take all your clothes off except at designated nudist beaches.]

[3. But they should not complain if they have a shortage of women volunteers in this climate.]

Posted by Ozguru at January 9, 2006 10:00 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Nipping it in the bud:

» Religious tensions from The Gray Monk
I note that Ozguru has posted a well presented and well thought out piece covering the territory I raised on the subject of the Australian Beach Riots. It is very well put and, coming from someone who is both an... [Read More]

Tracked on January 15, 2006 05:49 PM


Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)