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Category Archives: racism

Norm, Ahmed, Shafana, Aunt Sarrinah, radicalisation and Australia

The first of the Things to look forward to is now done. It was the world premiere of Alana Valentine’s Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah and a revival of Alex Buzo’s 1969 classic Norm and Ahmed.

pakistanirestaurant shafana-0026-aunt-sarrinah-8low

Left: “Ahmed” takes “Norm” to a Pakistani Restaurant

Right: the opening scene of Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

Pics from the Alex Buzo Company blog linked above.

Of her new play Alana Valentine writes:

I hope Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah will surprise audiences with its portrait of Afghani Muslim women, who are articulate, highly educated, deeply spiritual and enraged by the way Australian and global media paint them as oppressed, meek and silent. To be part of a project where Buzo’s theme and concerns might be reignited through a new work…is genuinely exciting. In effect, it allows the ‘conversation’ to move into a third dimension: not just Buzo speaking anew to the 21st Century, but Buzo reflected and responded to through the voice of a contemporary playwright. It’s a vision of Australian theatre as a historical continuum…

Alana’s plays are always grounded in in depth research and interviews with the groups she is representing; that depth came through in last night’s performance which both Sirdan and I found very thought-provoking. The issue is whether or not Shafana should wear hijab. She eventually decides she will, even if Aunt Sarrinah, whom she dearly loves, is somewhat appalled by that decision. The play takes us beyond our often mind-numbingly dreadful understanding (if that is the right word) of the issues Australian Muslim women face and that we face in our response to them. A valuable exercise well dramatised, if, I thought, just a bit slow off the mark at the beginning.

As for Norm and Ahmed I agree with the woman sitting next to me in the theatre: “the more things change the more they stay the same.”  Sirdan was born in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) but could well relate to Norm and Ahmed – for him it was, unlike for me, as new as Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. He agreed that the contemporary relevance of this forty-year-old play was quite amazing.

A thoroughly good night out.

By coincidence, my mind still on Alana’s play especially, I read a truly excellent article in this morning’s Australian: From a human to a terrorist by Sally Neighbour.

… The perplexing question is: Why? How does a seemingly ordinary young man come to embrace violent extremism? Its corollary, the question that confounds counter-terrorism experts worldwide, is: how can we stop them?

The rapidly morphing nature of global terrorism demands an evolving response. Since 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida has diminished but its ideology has flourished, spawning hundreds of like-minded groups and cells across the world. US terrorism specialist Marc Sageman describes this new phenomenon as a "violent Islamist born-again social movement" straddling the globe. Its fragmented and anarchic nature makes it arguably a bigger threat than al-Qa’ida, according to Britain’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, unveiled in March this year. Unlike the once highly centralised al-Qa’ida, the new grassroots terrorism cannot be fought with border protection measures or military strikes, but must be tackled at its roots.

This reality has spawned a new buzzword in the anti-terrorism fraternity: counter-radicalisation. Its aim, in Sageman’s words, is to "stop the process of radicalisation before it reaches its violent end"…

Sageman, the pre-eminent expert on radicalisation theory, is a former CIA mujaheddin handler in Pakistan, now a psychologist and author of two books, Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad. After studying 165 jihadists, Sageman is adamant that terrorists are not born but made. There is no psychological profile of a terrorist and Sageman believes "root causes" such as socioeconomic deprivation are overrated. The most common factor in the making of a terrorist is alienation. Of the jihadists Sageman studied, he found that "a remarkable 78 per cent were cut off from their cultural and social origins". He concludes "this absence of connection is a necessary condition for a network of people to join the global jihad"…

Sageman adds they are not violent psychopaths but "generally idealistic young people seeking dreams of glory fighting for justice and fairness"…

Much better in its analysis that most of the rants you see. The dynamics of that alienation, though not in a form likely to lead to terrorism, are also seen in Alana Valentine’s play.

Oh – and a footnote. I have always thought taking the French path and “outlawing” the hijab in Australia would be really stupid. Fortunately both John Howard and Kevin Rudd have not been tempted.

* Special thanks to Emma Buzo. 🙂

Update

See the The Australian Stage review.

[On Alana’s play] …This is a powerful night at theatre and a welcome, bold, essential addition to the culturally homogeneous theatre one can expect to see in some of the larger venues around town. I believe this to be an extraordinarily brave and bold double bill containing four very fine performers. Actors who embrace the challenge of new work, with new perspectives are worth their weight in effusive praise and I feel compelled to mention the spectacular performances by Camilla Ah Kin and Sheridan Harbridge who confront this subject with tenderness, fierceness and great compassion – to the extent that I felt stunned and broken by the time the lights dimmed.

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Racism is not the main story: Four Corners last night

Last night Four Corners ran an expose on the scams run by certain private vocational training colleges and some immigration and education agents. I emphasise some because there are very many such agents who are totally ethical, and ditto for the better established private colleges. In fact one of the principal whistle blowers is himself an immigration and education agent.

According to ABC this morning the Indian press has reacted by invoking racism: ‘It’s racism’: Indian media seizes on student scam report.

Another storm of controversy has broken out in India over revelations that Indian students are being ripped off by unscrupulous operators in Australia.

Last night’s Four Corners program on ABC1 detailed how students had paid tens of thousands of dollars for services they claim they never received, and how allegations were made to the relevant government authorities but their complaints were ignored.

An Indian journalist, working undercover for the program, was also attacked after investigating alleged corruption by immigration agents.

The latest incident has seen the Indian media slip into tabloid high gear.

I am not for a moment denying there are racist elements in the story but would still say Australia is no more racist than anywhere else. I have addressed that before: More on “Racism? Yes and no” and here and here. It is true that the Flying School singled out in the Four Corners story is alleged to have behaved in a racist manner, but the other examples were of Indians here and in India exploiting both the system in Australia and their Indian clients.

Reporter Wendy Carlisle reveals how dodgy business practices are being used to rip off foreign students seeking legitimate qualifications in Australia. At the same time she also shows how vocational training for foreign students has become an immigration scam allowing thousands of foreigners to come to, and then remain in, Australia under false pretences.

For ten years now Australia’s foreign student education sector has been on a massive growth spurt. First it was foreign students seeking university degrees. More recently it’s the vocational education sector that’s been expanding.

Last year more than 70,000 Indian students came here to buy an education. Egged on by immigration and education agents, many were told if they enrolled in cooking, hairdressing and accounting courses they would not only get a diploma but they could also qualify for permanent residency in Australia.

Now a major Four Corners investigation reveals that foreign students in this country have been targeted by unscrupulous businessmen, who have set up training schools that supply qualifications that sometimes aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

"It is a fraud because we were shown so many rosy pictures about the school and it is not what it was really… it was just a scam." – Parent of Indian student

"We all know that they have sardine type cooking classes where there’s sixteen students to a frypan." (Corruption investigator)

Bogus courses though are not the only scam going on. If a student wants to apply for permanent residency they must pass an English language test. Four Corners has found clear evidence that unscrupulous immigration and education agents are offering English language tests for a price. In some cases the exam paper is worth up to $5,000…

In this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald we read that “Students have been dealt a major blow after a Sydney college went into administration on Monday night.”

More than 500 students have had their courses halted and face the loss of thousands of dollars in fees. All 35 college staff have been sacked.

"Late on Monday afternoon Dr Dharmappa Hagare, the sole director of Sterling College Pty Ltd, which operates the group’s Sydney training facilities, made a decision to appoint Quentin Olde and Matt Adams of Corporate Recovery Specialists, Taylor Woodings, as voluntary administrators," the administrator said in a statement.

Taylor Woodings said the college’s Brisbane campuses, part-owned by Dr Hagare, would remain open for the time being.

The Sydney campuses specialised in teaching IT, language and hospitality courses.

"Students have unfortunately been severely impacted by the failure of Sterling College and have had not only their education process suddenly halted, they also face the prospect of a financial loss as most of their tuition fees have been paid in advance," Taylor Woodings said…

So the story is primarily one about corruption, greed, exploitation, and government inaction. The cash cow was devised (unwittingly perhaps) by the Howard government, but the Rudd government has also sat on its hands rather too much, to the great detriment of Australia’s reputation in what is in fact one of its greatest export earners, greater than wool and wheat combined in fact. As Four Corners noted:

For some time now the Federal Government has boasted about the growth in the foreign education sector. But some experts now believe the time has come for the government to stop the corruption. The question is: does it have the will?

"Well basically they’ve been bedazzled by the dollars …they could proudly say this is a $15 billion industry, more than wheat, wool and meat put together, there’s perhaps an understandable reluctance to look at the foundation of the industry." – Bob Birrell, from the Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research

If the government refuses to clean up the scams and the corruption many believe it could destroy the $15 billion industry. As one young student told the program why would you pay for a service that is not provided?

"Obviously I am very angry. I’ve like taken a loan. It’s a big loan and I paid the money to the school. I came here for a purpose… I haven’t got anything." – Indian student.

One of the Australian Indian figures exposed on Four Corners has now become the object of Federal Police attention, we were informed in a note at the end of Four Corners.

Certainly this industry needs to have the cleaners put through it.

 

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Two rather different experiences: book and dvd review

star30 star30star30star30star30  The Tracker (Rolf De Heer 2002)

This truly magnificent movie — so resonant, so beautifully made and acted — came out when Australia was lost in Howard’s Great Stony Desert. As Margaret Pomerantz said at the time:

The film opens with a painted landscape – and this is signficant because paintings by Adelaide artist Peter Coad are integrated into the action of the film to historify events and to move the violence from realistic representation. Into this landscape come four men – four archetypal characters. They are the Fanatic, Gary Sweet, a government trooper who is heading an expedition to find an Aboriginal man accused of murdering a white woman. Others in the expedition are the Follower, Damon Gameau, a greenhorn trooper, the Veteran, Grant Page and the Tracker, David Gulpilil. Like a tapestry unfolding the film charts the attitudes, the shifts and balances of power within the group as if it were the history of white settlement here. Along the way are confronting scenes of violence. But at the heart of every scene is the Tracker. Graham Tardif composed and Archie Roach sings on the soundtrack and it was one of the most emotional film experiences of my life to see The Tracker with Roach performing live at the opening of the Adelaide Festival. De Heer’s use of Coad’s paintings adds an uncanny power to the film, strangely making the violence more meaningful, more tragic, taking away any notion that’s it’s only a movie. David Gulpilil brings important heart to the film. De Heer’s screenplay and direction has extraordinary compassion despite the violence. It’s actually a film that’s important not to miss.

It still is important not to miss. For more reviews and a synopsis see Rolf De Heer’s The Tracker.

star30star30star30star30star30 Alexander McCall Smith, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones (Edinburgh, Polygon 2008)

This is the sixth in the 44 Scotland Street series; I reviewed the fifth here. Again I was delighted. What was true of the fifth is true of the sixth:

The thrust is gently conservative, with a folk wisdom that has much to commend it. I see that captured in a quotation I planned to use myself, but fortunately Kerryn Goldsworthy has used it in a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, thus saving me some typing:

For the most part, we treat others in a matter-of-fact way; we have to, in order to get on with our lives. But every so often, in a moment of insight that can be very nearly mystical in its intensity, we see others in their real humanity, in a way that makes us want to cherish them as joint pilgrims, almost, on a perilous journey.

Po-faced indeed would be any reader who is not drawn in and delighted, even if at the expense of an odd cringe or two — the latter probably being therapeutic.

One issue that runs through the novel is the discomfort some (perhaps many) Scots experience about social change, particularly relating to immigration, though it would be silly to accuse McCall Smith of racism. I can understand the discomfort, as Scotland has been until recently an exporter rather than an importer of migrants: I am part Scot myself! Even if quite a lot of what passes for Scottish tradition was invented by or after Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th century, I do sympathise with the sense of loss. At the same time McCall Smith skewers ultra-romanticism with his very funny Pretender travelling across Scotland in a motorcycle sidecar attempting to replicate the saga of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

A lovely book, with much wisdom to offer.

 

Indian students, racism, theatre news

Given recent concern over attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney it is fitting that Sydney’s newest theatre company, The Alex Buzo Company, is mounting two plays in August at The Seymour Centre: Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed (1968) and Alana Valentine’s Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. The first Sydney production of Norm and Ahmed made history. Not long before his untimely death in 2006 Alex Buzo told ABC what happened.

ALEX BUZO: Those words, I mean sorry, the first word, had been used in a lot of overseas plays and so I just assumed it was OK, it was legal.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: It had been said on stage?
ALEX BUZO: Yeah, it had been said on stage. But because it happened in an Australian play, there was a double standard and they thought it was shocking and the actor was arrested and eventually exonerated.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yes indeed, the whole matter was actually quashed by the Attorney-General. But there was some… there was a bit of a drama to go through until that happened, when the charges were laid and Graeme Blundell and Lindsay Smith were charged with obscenity. There was a great deal of discussion about it in the press.
[VT] Did it dishearten you?
ALEX BUZO: Well, I had actually been boasting in private that my aim as a writer was to put Australian drama on the front page. I didn’t anticipate this sort of front page treatment but, I thought it did have a good result in the sense that people knew that Australian drama was alive and well, whereas up until that point it had no publicity whatsoever, so it did have positive things. On the other hand it was very draining for the actors to go to the Magistrates Court and then the Supreme Court and then it went eventually to the High Court in Canberra. So, it certainly was a wearing process but it did have its upside.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: In a sense looking back on it, it’s a little disheartening, I guess, that the fight all the way through the courts had to be about two words, had to be about a swear word, rather than something a heck of a lot more important than that. I mean, you can imagine going to the courts in defence of art, but something much more important than just those words.
ALEX BUZO: Yes, I mean, I’d be disappointed if people didn’t think the play had something to say about racism and generational envy. But it is a literary play, it is an art play, it’s meant to be humorous and imaginative, it’s meant to have other things going for it other than the final two words.

I was fortunate enough to meet Alex Buzo on several occasions, most memorably when I played a Rugby League commentator in his The Roy Murphy Show for the Balmain Theatre Group in 1978.

I also see Alana Valentine quite frequently as we have some common interests. I shall go to this double bill if I can possibly do so.

Meanwhile around 4 am on Sunday a couple of Indian students were bashed on Bathurst Street near George Street Sydney. This isn’t surprising, unfortunately, as parts of George Street are notorious for this kind of thing especially in the small hours of Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. I would hesitate to wander there myself. The assailants were respectively 16 and 17.

It is pleasing to note The Times of India reporting on 28 June Indians in Australia are safe.

Australian scientist Jose (Jimmy) Botella, who is attending a three-day international conference hosted by Vinoba Bhave University in Hazaribag, on Sunday said that Indian students in Australia are safe and that reports about repeated attacks on them in Melbourne and Sydney have been blown out of proportion by the Indian media. Botella said that Melbourne and Sydney are cities like Delhi and Mumbai in India where criminal activities are no exception. "This does not mean that Australians are indulging in a hatred war against Indians. In fact, Indian students are very bright and intelligent and Australians like them for this quality."…

True enough. See also Delegation tries to allay ‘racist’ attack fears.

There is, however, another basis for complaint. Some of the “private colleges” students might be lured to are store-front operations of dubious pedigree. Students should conduct careful checks preferably with recognised education sites and the Australian Government before enrolling.

 
Comments Off on Indian students, racism, theatre news

Posted by on June 29, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, current affairs, education, events, friends, OzLit, racism, South Asian

 

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And even more, I’m afraid…

Curious, isn’t it? Here I am in this country which has allegedly taken up “curry bashing” as a sport extending beyond the Cricket field and I bought my Sydney Morning Herald this morning, several of the lead stories in which are by one Arjun Ramachandran, from the Indian newsagent to see that Miranda Devine has returned to the theme. I even agree with some of what she says, insofar as the people actually doing the bashing tend to come from a pool of thugs fairly well known for a similar interest in targeting gays, not that Miranda mentions that. (Lord Malcolm was once on the receiving end.) Jim Belshaw’s term “underclass” is another that Miranda eschews. Instead her King Charles’ Head leads her down a slippery slope – no racial profiling intended – where I would rather not follow. She accuses Kevin Rudd of hypocrisy for advocating that vigilante action really is not a good idea, and rather commends the good folk of Cronulla 2005.

…In a strange twist of fate, Superintendent Robert Redfern, the Parramatta local area commander who was hard at work at the Harris Park protests at midnight on Tuesday, was also police commander at Cronulla during the 2005 race riots. We saw then the dangers of vigilantism.

Back then, Cronulla locals had been complaining for months that police were playing down assaults and menacing behaviour by what they described as "Middle Eastern" youths from south-western Sydney. There was a protest, which turned into an ugly riot with racist violence against anyone who looked Middle Eastern, followed by revenge attacks as young men from the south-west drove to Cronulla damaging property and assaulting people, with police nowhere to be seen.

In Harris Park, the script is familiar. Police play down crime problems, victims lose faith in the authorities to protect them, start to protest, take matters into their own hands, attack innocent passers-by. So far there have been no revenge attacks but it’s unlikely police can guarantee they won’t occur.

I sincerely hope Miranda isn’t hoping… And I should add, as a Shire boy myself originally, that the openly racist nut who attempted to be elected to Sutherland Council last year failed miserably.

You see, I brought the first Indian into The Shire myself, or perhaps I did. It was back in 1957 when I brought one of my best school friends, Ashok, home to Kirrawee. That of course was when institutional racism was alive and well in Australia. There was the White Australia policy, generally supported by the Left partly on the grounds that it protected Australian working conditions and kept the “Yellow Peril” at bay, and there was our Aboriginal policy, though that was beginning to be questioned. There the Left had a better track record. Mind you, hindsight is all very well, isn’t it?

My father was a bit worried about the prospect of meeting Ashok. He wanted to know how black he was, and warned me about the strange things some folks did when the moon was full. On meeting him, though, it was almost love at first sight, and over thirty years later, when my father was unfortunately quite gaga, he would ask me how Ashok was, though it was thirty years since Ashok had gone on to higher fields at St Paul’s School in London. His father, you see, was Assistant Indian Trade Commissioner, which explains why Ashok and Anand were in Australia at that time. My mother thought Ashok’s mum’s saris were really beautiful, and Ashok’s manners were at times a contrast to my own.

The local Kirrawee boys were just disappointed that Ashok didn’t have feathers and a bow and arrow…

Forty years on and The Mine had more subcontinentals – who tended to call themselves “curries”—than you could poke a stick at. Not that we did. We did rely on them to keep up the school’s cricketing reputation though.

 

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More on “Racism? Yes and no”

Rarely does a post of mine excite much discussion, though I have to say that is partly because I don’t really foster massive comment threads. After a couple of weeks I usually close comment. So I have been fascinated by the turn taken in my post Racism? Yes and no….

Comments have been sidetracked a little by Antony Shen, but it’s not a bad sidetrack: after all, what constitutes humour in “making fun” of second language speakers and what constitutes superciliousness or even racism is a good topic, even if it arguably has little to do with the current issue between India and Australia about their students here.

Meanwhile the stories of attack and counter-attack on the subject of Indian students in Australia goes on. There are very serious implications, as Ramana, a delightful gentleman in India and a regular reader, notes in that comment thread.

The focus just lately has been on the western Sydney suburb of Harris Park.

Indian students have protested for a second night in Sydney’s west, calling for greater police protection.

Around 70 young men blocked off an intersection at Harris Park just after 8:00pm, demonstrating against what some claim is racially-motivated attacks against Indian students perpetrated by members of the Lebanese community.

Two men were arrested and taken to Parramatta Police Station. One was released without charge and the other was served a notice to appear in court later this month.

Rippon Singh, a student at the protest, believes they are being targeted.

"We are contributing to the real community, we are paying the taxes, we are doing everything that is possible and we are getting bashed up," he said…

In a speech to India’s Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh slammed the attacks as senseless violence, saying some of them are racist in nature.

Australian High Commissioner to India John McCarthy says there are not any systemic racist attacks going on.

"Some of the crimes committed against them have had a racial element in them and I think there has been increased concern among the Indian student community as a whole in Australia," he said. "That’s understandable."

India’s Foreign minister, SM Krishna, has urged Indian students to stay calm in the wake of the attacks on them.

"I would like all Indian students to be patient," he said. "They should be restrained. They have gone there to pursue higher studies and they should concentrate on that, rather than retaliate."…

Jim Belshaw makes a useful contribution on the demographics of Harris Park.

I am still “yes and no” on this, and that is not to sit on the fence but to recognise that “racism” is too broad a brush, too much of a catch-all here. While as strongly anti-racist as ever, I also recognise the ease with which this emotive term can blur lines, can indeed be one of those concepts that make us “white folk” (though I am not myself entirely white) feel righteous: see the wonderful satirical blog Stuff White People Like, a great prophylactic.

One of the nastiest racist incidents I have ever seen here in Surry Hills (some years ago) was an Aboriginal man spitting on some passing Chinese. Racism isn’t exclusively a white preoccupation.

Today in The Sydney Morning Herald Paul Sheehan (whose Waiting for the Barbarians in the late 1990s was a singularly inflammatory and unhelpful analysis of our being “swamped by Asians” leading to my regarding him ever since as a thinking person’s Pauline Hanson) does have a point. See Brutal truth about attacks.

…the distorted story of white racism has been helped along by the prevailing sensibilities of reporting of crime in Australia, with skittishness about detailing the gritty reality that most violent street crime in Sydney and Melbourne is not committed by whites. The prison populations confirm this.

The attacks on Indians have followed this pattern, with the crimes committed by a polyglot mix reflecting the streets – white, Asian, Middle Eastern, Aboriginal, Pacific Islander.

The most recent attacks, in Harris Park this week, allegedly involved assailants of the proverbial "Middle Eastern appearance". The assault on Monday night was followed by a retaliatory attack by a big group of Indians. Police said three men "of Middle Eastern appearance" were set upon in Harris Park after about 200 Indian men converged on the street after hearing of the latest attack. In Melbourne, an assault on an Indian student on a train was recorded on video and footage depicting the attack was posted on YouTube. The video shows a swarm of young men robbing and repeatedly attacking the student. Most of them do not appear to be white.

A recent assault on an Indian student in Glebe was committed by a young offender described as Aboriginal…

What Sheehan forgets is that everyone having Australian citizenship, whatever their culture or ethnicity, is Australian. The implication of such thinking as his is that there are “Aussies” and there are “non-Aussies” – Lebs for example. Unfortunately too many fall for this error, including many in the “non-Anglo” Australian camp as well as many self-styled “Aussies” rather over-given to wrapping themselves in Australian flags, a very recent practice that once would have scandalised most Australians. But he is right to point out that “white racism” is at best just one element in this puzzle.

Similarly Miranda Devine a little while back, though she parades her hobby-horses as usual. Even so, Adrian Phoon (an Australian born and bred) remarked at the time on Twitter: “Miranda Devine speaks and I find myself not disagreeing with her, even almost agreeing with her. Is this the apocalypse or just revelation?”

Unfortunately, as Ramana says, the current difficulties have coincided with several other matters to make this a real issue in India. We Australians do need to be careful how we address it.

 

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Racism? Yes and no…

It is no accident that my “What’s new” picture for the last few days has been this:

curios 001b

There am I, third from the left, with a Japanese Christian and Mr Kim from Korea on my right, a couple of Indonesian Muslims, Rui from Tianjin China, two more Indonesians, a Korean, and another Indonesian on my left. It’s a long time ago now, and I have always been better with faces than names. This is just one group from the hundreds of students I came to know in 1990 to early 1991 when I ventured into the overseas student world. Most were those Chinese who had left their country in the wake of Tiananmen. Rui, for example, was a scientist.

Some of them did experience racism or at least xenophobia, often of the petty kind: finding people would not sit next to them in the train, for example. (On the other hand, I read of a black American in Korea who found an entire swimming pool suddenly empty of people when he dived in.) Some of them, like the thirteen Nepalese mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald today, found themselves conned or ripped off, though the perpetrators were quite often of the same ethnicity as the fleeced. Some overseas student agencies were ethical and indeed excellent, as is still the case, but some were shysters. Some private colleges were shonky, very shonky, and some were not. Some were owned by Indonesians or Chinese, some were not.

One Korean student reported racism to me once: taxis would not stop for him. I investigated by asking him what he did to hail a cab. He demonstrated with a hand movement which would work in Korea, but in Sydney would be interpreted as “I don’t want a cab.” Correct hand movement taught, the problem was solved.

I am not wanting to trivialise the degree to which racism is involved in some of the attacks on Indian students and others in recent days, but to embrace that as the only cause is a sure way to miss the fine detail and thus to act ineffectually. The idea that Australians are racist has some validity, but as a generalisation is no better than others such as “Chinese eat cats” or “Australians are lazy” or “Muslims are terrorists” or “Lebanese are criminal drug lords”. The word “some” should figure in all the above.

Very emotive thing, racism. I am firmly anti-racist, but regret some of the excesses this has led me into. Ask the Rabbit, whose indiscretion on one occasion (in the name of humour in his case, a bit Chaser-like and misplaced perhaps) I over-reacted to quite shamefully, forgetting the obvious point that in his actual life as I well knew there was very little evidence of real racism.

It is also true that overseas students are quite often vulnerable. I would baulk at travelling by train at night in some parts of Sydney; they have to, and are conspicuous. They may also be perceived as rich, though that too is a false generalisation. Jim Belshaw today canvasses more possibilities.

The desire to profit from overseas students sometimes runs ahead of ability (or even willingness) to consider their welfare. This is especially true of the worst private colleges.

On the other hand undoubted racists are making a meal of this situation, and the usual white supremacist minority would probably have been behind those leaflets distributed around the University of NSW.

See also my English/ESL blog.