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Sub-typing El-Masri and the denial of police racism

By Ryan Al-Natour - posted Thursday, 26 April 2007

I usually try and forget a racist joke when I hear it. What could appear to be only a harmful sentence could have massive implications on a social level. If patriarchal and terrorist jokes were continually made about Race X, and alcoholism and welfare-dependency jokes were common regarding Race Y, then it should not surprise that we find Race X and Y have been stereotyped negatively and excluded on a social level. Words operate as actions holding influential power over the social conscience.

In my high-school years, I remember feeling extremely isolated when I would hear racial jokes and would see other people laughing in hysteria while my blood would boil.

“There’s a Lebo and an Aboriginal in a car. Guess who’s driving? The Cops!”


It isn’t rocket science to figure out which racial groups are being vilified here. The climax of the joke addresses specific issues regarding crime in Middle Eastern and Aboriginal communities. It communicates a position on ethnicity and Aboriginality, and upholds stereotypes that Lebanese and black Australians have an inherently criminal characteristic and are constantly clashing with police.

Racist jokes benefit the race who aren’t the victim, as it offers personal relief and assurance that their own racial identity has nothing in common with the inferior racial identity for the sake of humour. What could appear to be ordinary, everyday discourse has significant harm on a social level. Yet they reflect social attitudes which should be addressed.

We only need to consult statistics to find Aboriginal people have unacceptably high incarceration rates when compared to mainstream Australia. And we only need to consult the mainstream media to hear the utterance “of Middle Eastern appearance” used to the point where the reporting of crime has taken ownership of the term. That in itself is enough to witness the attachment of racial profiling in crime.

The correlation between racial identity and crime manifests itself within social cognition. Examples of these are found in the stereotypical images of Redfern, Bankstown, and Cabramatta. In each of these three suburbs, fear and crime are themes within popular constructions of racial identity.

However, we should now move to Regent’s Park. Here, we have a serious accusation put forward that racially motivated policing was practised towards three men “of Middle Eastern appearance”. But hang on, the popular media had abandoned a term which it cherishes so much when reporting this issue. For this predicament includes Bulldogs player Hasem El-Masri and Sydney Lawyer Adam Houda on a Thursday night at around 11pm outside a café in Sydney’s southwest.

While the pair assert they were told by police that they were responding to a noise complaint, the New South Wales Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Frank Mennilli has claimed that police were responding to reported break-ins within the area.


According to the testimony of El-Masri and Houda, the situation was of police harassment which had escalated to the point where police on scene felt it was necessary to call for back-up. Consequently, this back-up constituted five police cars and nine police officers. Yet the acting Commissioner had labelled this process as appropriate, dismissing accusations that the policing practice was racially motivated.

Hazem El-Masri himself destroys the popular distorted views that plague Arabic-Muslim communities in Australia: in a context where we have 9-11, Bali Bombings, moral panic over “Lebanese” gangs, asylum seekers, the gang raping cases and the Cronulla Riots - all of which have been used to demonise people “of Middle Eastern appearance” and origin.

Amid these dilemmas, El-Masri stands out and offers mainstream Australia a positive, alternative image. While Australia’s Middle Eastern community is getting used to the idea of being racially vilified by the media, public commentary and politicians, El-Masri offers the community hope that such negative images will one day be deconstructed and Arabic and Muslim people in Australia would be able to share the same social standing as the mainstream community.

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About the Author

Ryan J Al-Natour has just completed an honours year in Political Science at the University of New South Wales. His honours thesis regarded the Redfern, Macquarie Fields and Cronulla riots.

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