- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

Police presence will be tripled this weekend in Cronulla, the predominantly white suburb south of Sydney that saw an angry, booze-fueled mob of 5,000 gather last Sunday and chant racist slogans while threatening violence against people who appeared to be of Middle Eastern decent. This rampage was met by a backlash Sunday and Monday nights, when carloads of people, reportedly of Middle Eastern decent, descended on Cronulla, vandalizing cars and houses, and stabbing one man.

This violence should not be construed as a flare up of deep-seated racial hostility in Australia — and it certainly would be unfair to make any comparison to what happened recently in Paris. Australian Without question, the Oct. 12, 2002, bombing of a Bali nightclub, which claimed the lives and injured scores of Australians, has affected relations between Australia and its 300,000 Muslims. But, as in post-September 11 America, racial hostility and racially motivated attacks are the ugly sides of human nature.

The violence in Cronulla beach was sparked in part by a widely circulated text message — reportedly the work of white supremacist groups — that called for retaliation for the beating of two white lifeguards by youths of Lebanese decent. The result: 5,000 hooligans, public drunkenness and blind bigotry. Australian authorities moved quickly to restore law and order. On Thursday, new laws were approved that restrict alcohol consumption, authorize law enforcers to lockdown certain areas, and bolster certain search-and-seizure laws. There also is a push to allow prosecution of those who circulate racist messages, but this is an impingement on the freedom of speech — no matter how hateful — that the Australian government should be reticent to take.

Police have intercepted other text messages, similar to the ones that preceded the events at Cronulla last Sunday, calling for violence at other beach towns. While the police will be out in force this weekend, Australians hope that the episodes of the previous week will not be repeated, and that the calls for calm from members of government and the community continue to be heeded.

Still, the messaging continues, and authorities and shop owners brace for this weekend. Said Police Minister Carl Scully: “If you see some of these emails and texts that have been sent to thousands of people, ‘sons and daughters of ANZACs (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) and the “lions of Lebanon,’ you know, threatening and calling and cajoling people to meet in various places and assault other Australians who don’t have the same skin color, not only disgusts me and the police, but requires — given last Sunday’s events — a very strong and robust and forceful response. There will be lockdown areas, there will be areas where alcohol cannot be consumed or purchased, and there will be road blocks and cars confiscated and people arrested.”

Out of necessity since September 11 and the 2002 bombing in Bali, Australia has hardened its stand against terrorism. It now is necessary for governments to do the same against hooligans who, through their own bloodlust and bigotries in this day of instant messaging — can spark mistargeted vigilantism such as that in Cronulla. Australia is taking a zero-tolerance posture. Other governments should recognize the potential threat and move along the same vein.

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