Well, things have certainly hotted up in old Sydney town.
Before Christmas we witnessed riots in the suburbs on a level that certainly surpassed anything that has taken place in living memory for me.
Some 5,000 people converged on Cronulla beach on a recent Sunday - mainly testosterone-filled young men - sparking violence that spread across Sydney’s southern suburbs. It even made its mark on peaceful villages such as Dulwich Hill. And it’s all very racial. It’s black against white, Lebanese against European, Moslem against Christian.
“Just let the Lebs get their revenge”, was the plea from one of the young teenagers in our youth centre this week. “Revenge for what?” was our question to him. He wasn’t sure.
Meanwhile, the “war against terror” intensifies in this country, with 17 men now awaiting trial as “terror suspects” - charges that could land them in gaol for 25 years, though it appears that the evidence against them is pretty feeble.
In case that weren’t enough, one of our local church buildings has been burned to the ground by arsonists this week - presumably anti-Christian arsonists. And to top it all off, I keep hearing reports on the radio of assaults and attempted rapes being carried out by a man “of Middle Eastern appearance”.
I’m not sure what this man “of Middle Eastern appearance” is supposed to look like exactly. Should I assume he looks like my Israeli friend, Morde? No. I think the description is meant to depict a more swarthy skinned soul from one of the oil-producing nations, or perhaps someone who is Lebanese?
Now, while all these disturbing scenes are holding our attention in the foreground, the Federal Government has been beavering away in the background, constructing new laws designed to curb the “reign of terror”.
Sweeping new powers for police were rushed through parliament in a special sitting. The laws allow police to “lock down” troublespots, search people and cars, and confiscate vehicles and mobile phones. The presumption of bail has been removed for offences of rioting and affray and the penalties for those offences have been increased to maximum jail terms of 15 and 10 years respectively.
Add these new laws to the other “reforms” that have been rushed through recently - allowing police to arrest without charge for 14 days, and increasing the rights for the government to “monitor” suspected terrorists - and you quickly get the feeling that life in this country is never going to be the same again.
Now I’d be the first to say that police in this city often have a very tough time of it - especially when dealing with the type of young people who are currently engaged in rioting and racial violence. Having said that, the sudden surge of sweeping new powers worries me deeply, and I’m wondering if that isn’t the scent of burning Reichstag that I can smell in the background.
You should remember the incident from your history books if not from living memory. On February 27 1933, the Reichstag (the German parliamentary building) was the subject of an arson attack. Hitler blamed the Communists. The Communists blamed the Nazis. A mentally-retarded Dutch immigrant was eventually tortured and beheaded for the crime.
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