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A Lebanese 'problem'?

By Tanveer Ahmed - posted Thursday, 15 December 2005

As the wave of violence spreads from the Cronulla chaos, we must resist efforts from our leaders, the Prime Minister included, to downplay the social significance of the events.

It is impossible to deny the significance of race this time, as the Left did after the gang rapes in 2002 or when the Lakemba police station was attacked in 1999.

For once people were able to say the word Lebs in polite, bourgeois circles. The word now rings loudly in mainstream Australia. It can take its place in the global vernacular of racial marginalisation, along with Paki in the United Kingdom and nigger in the United States.


While the immediate cause of the riots may have been heat, alcohol and a territorial stoush between two groups of hyper-masculine but socially powerless youth, it was still the outward eruption of a simmering problem.

The behaviour of some of the drunken louts was a national disgrace. There is no argument there. But, there is a Lebanese problem. It is not an Arab problem, nor is it really a Muslim one.

The Lebanese community come from many shades and migrated from all social classes. There are more than a few outstanding citizens like the NSW Governor Marie Bashir or the Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, Their contribution to Australian life has been great.

In fact, it is a fairly specific segment of the Lebanese community and a result of the particular migration of poorer farmers and lower class Lebanese Muslims after the civil war in 1975. Their numbers and concentration are greatest in south-western Sydney.

There is a rampant anti-social character to some of the youth from this segment which stems from unsuccessful child rearing.

They quickly had large families. The fathers were often absent while they worked multiple, unskilled jobs trying to provide. The mothers lacked the extended family support they may have had at home. Parenting was often focused on the daughters, for in the world the mothers knew women needed more discipline and attention if opportunity and marriage was to beckon. The men were often placed upon a pedestal and few behavioural limits were set. A relatively absent father in many families compounded the problems.


There are bad kids from all walks of life, but this group is producing a disproportionately higher number.

It is obvious to anyone who has worked in public education, the health sector or the police in south-western Sydney. I have seen it working in hospitals where children as young as five regularly abuse and swear at staff with minimal retribution from parents. In mental health, young Lebanese boys make up a disproportionate number of those who present in a drug induced or chaotic, violent state. Once the possibility of a psychiatric disorder is ruled out, the patients are inevitably referred to the police.

An experienced detective like Tim Priest has said as much for a number of years.

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About the Author

Dr Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist, author and local councillor. His first book is a migration memoir called The Exotic Rissole. He is a former SBS journalist, Fairfax columnist and writes for a wide range of local and international publications.
He was elected to Canada Bay Council in 2012. He practises in western Sydney and rural NSW.

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