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.
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?