Anti-racist riots: why it's right to fight back

Published: 25/04/2007

Written by: Ben Hillier
Originally listed under: Edition 99 - February 2006

What is it, to be civilised? For starters, civilised gentlemen don't get their hands dirty. They pay good money to have things taken care of. When, frequently, carnage is caused, it is presented as being carried out in good order. Social disorder, when it is not being orchestrated by him, is anathema for the civilised gentleman. Rioting, for example, is uncouth, uncivilised. It is, as a recent editorial in The Australian put it, "senseless communal violence. And that is not on."

What a burdensome task it has been for the civilised gentleman and his self-righteous editorialists, to tame and civilise so many brutes. A never-ending task, it would seem. They have forever tried "to get into a blackfellow's head that one man is higher than another". They have continually asserted that their violence, despite its unrivalled brutality, is morally higher than the senseless violence of the mob.

And there have been a few "mob" riots in recent times - Redfern, Palm Island, Macquarie Fields, Brighton-le-Sands and this year Dubbo as well. Our civilised gentlemen have proven beyond doubt that these acts of affray were (for a day or two) infinitely more repugnant than terrorists or homosexuals, and as expected, swiftly condemned them.

However, the reality of riots has seen even left-wing people hesitate in lending support to the rioters. Often, this is because the actual damage inflicted is not limited to a visible arm of the State (like the courthouse which was razed on Palm Island two years ago), but extends to institutions which are seen to be beneficial to working people or the property and the person of members of oppressed groups themselves, who have little to do with the situation of the rioters (think of the schools burnt down in Paris last year, or the cars in Brighton-le-Sands in December). In these instances, the temptation was to say "I support your fightback, but I can't stand with you if you are attacking the wrong targets".

There are a number of reasons why people who want to stand against racism should unequivocally support the oppressed when they riot. To do otherwise is to line up with the centuries old chorus of scumbags preaching civility. It is precisely "a lack of civility" that has been the justification to oppress most of the world's people in the first place. Because the ruling class don't want the rioters to get any support, they place a huge amount of moral pressure on the rest of society, appealing through the media to our sense of decency to feel disturbed and be repelled by the "criminal elements" and "wanton destruction". Precisely because of this, we have to bend the other way, always keeping in perspective those disturbances the civilised gentlemen are themselves causing on a daily basis.

Secondly, take the example of the carloads of "Middle Eastern men" who smashed car and shop windows in Maroubra and Brighton-le-Sands in response to the Cronulla race riot last year: in a city of four million people, five thousand can turn up, announced, and beat the snot out of anyone looking Middle Eastern. No counter-demonstration. No nothing. It was left up to the cops to defend them! The very same police force which routinely stokes the racism by going on about Islamic terrorism, the same force which routinely harasses  Middle Eastern people. What a fucking humiliation!

So the point is - aside from a surely justifiable rage - can you imagine what would have happened if those "Middle Eastern men" hadn't driven down to the beach and publicly vented some frustration? It would have meant that in a city of four million people, in the face of a race riot (sponsored by civilised gentlemen like Alan Jones), there was absolutely no organised response. To say "I support the fight against racism, but I don't support that" effectively means that we support absolutely nothing.

This illustrates a third point. The real problem that actually comes to light out of many of these riots is that the left is not big enough to give a serious lead in opposition to racism. Forget broken windows. How can the left ever be rebuilt if, at the first sign of oppressed people resisting, we place conditions on our support?

If there was a substantial left in Australia, if thousands could be mobilised to challenge racism on the streets at any time, then, if a few people broke away and started burning some poor sod's car, maybe we'd be in a position to say "Hey, we've got better things to do". But we're not there - clearly.

If we want to get there, our starting point surely has to be supporting people who fight back. Because without their fight and without broader support, there is no way forward - just the endless drone of editorialists tut-tutting at the mob while screwing us all in a gentlemanly fashion. And that is not on.