Protest against Israeli state terrorism


The Sydney protest against the attack on Lebanon and Palestine was possibly the largest in the non-Arabic-speaking world

By Bob Gould

There is a short, useful and matter-of-fact description of the recent Sydney protest against the Israeli aggression in Green Left Weekly, but a bit of an overview of the dynamics and sociology of the protest is probably of some interest in view of the discussion on Marxmail about the protests in North America, particularly in Ottawa.

Sydney is the largest city in Australasia, with a population of about 4.5 million, including the Blue Mountains. The next biggest city is Melbourne, with almost four million.

Sydney is the most affluent city in Australasia and now the centre of most business and commerce, and it is also a very diverse and multicultural city with very large numbers of migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds. These migrants are largely concentrated in Labor-voting areas in an arc of middle-western suburbs around the city.

Sydney has about 200,000 people of Lebanese background, including some from an old migration of Maronite Catholics and Orthodox Christians that started in the 1850s, and a more recent migration of Sunni and Shiite Muslims who have been coming to Australia since about the 1970s.

The birth rate of the earlier migrations has dropped in line with the Australian average, but the Shiite migrants from southern Lebanon have a fairly high birth rate, as did other oppressed groups such as the Irish Catholics, who became a major force in Sydney in the 19th and early 20th centuries because of these demographics.

By way of comparison, the Jewish population of Sydney is small, and includes about 30,000 or so religious Jews, and possibly another 30,000 or so more secular people of Jewish background, many of whom have intermarried with non-Jews. The political clout of the pro-Israel lobby in Australian society derives more from the support of Anglo conservatives than it does from raw numbers of Jewish supporters.

The print media, and particularly the Murdoch papers, are unremittingly and almost blindly pro-Israel. In Labor politics in Sydney, there are quite a few working-class areas where large groups of Lebanese play a role on both left and right.

There are a lot of Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Labor Party branches in the Rockdale and Canterbury areas, who support the right, and there are a lot of Alawites from Syria in Labor branches in the Marrickville area who support the left. There are also quite a few Maronites in the Labor Party, often on the right, but a few notable personalities such as Daryl Melham, a Labor member of the federal parliament, are part of the left.

The Israeli assault on Lebanon, with the clear aim of intimidating the whole of the Lebanese population, has galvanised the Lebanese community despite the differences between Maronites, Druze, Orthodox Christians, Sunni and Shiites. These groups all share a certain Lebanese nationalism and all communities are clearly outraged at the calculated destruction of the infrastructure and means of existence in their homeland, and the brutal attacks on civilians.

The Israeli government obviously hopes to divide the Lebanese community, but it’s now quite clear that the calculated assault on the whole of Lebanon has had the opposite effect to that deesired by the Israeli and US governments. In Australia, both Maronite and Orthodox Christian bishops have called broadly based meetings of leading religious figures of all Lebanese denominations, Maronite, Orthodox, Druze, Sunni, Shia and Armenian, which have unanimously and angrily condemned the Israeli attacks.

There are quite a few relatively apolitical Maronites who work and have businesses in my patch around Newtown, and those who I know (quite a few) are beside themselves with fury at the systematic assault on Lebanon, the bombing of the Beirut airport and even Tripoli, and the killing of civilians.

This anger is a far more powerful sentiment than any uneasiness they feel about Hezbollah and their religious differences with Muslims. They regard the Shiites in the south as the victims, rather than the problem.

One businessman of my acquaintance, who has sisters who are Maronite nuns in Lebanon, is very upset, particularly as some of the bombing has been fairly close to the convent in which his sisters live.

He was visibly shocked a couple of weeks ago at early information I gave him that Tripoli had been bombed, and in a clear-sighted way he blames Bush for the whole business.

I use cabs a bit, and there are quite a few Maronite taxi drivers who have a similar attitude. They loathe Bush and quite rightly blame him for just about anything bad that happens in the Middle East.

It’s my impression that the slavish attitude of Howard and the Australian government towards the US government and Israel is going to do the Liberals a great deal of electoral harm.

The reactionary News Limited international affairs columnist Greg Sheridan, who is a rock-hard propagandist for the US alliance is, despite his politics, no fool. He attended a Catholic school in Sydney’s inner west, which is also attended by many Maronites, and he recently reported in one of his columns what was, in effect, “collateral damage” to his beloved US alliance from the dramatic shift in opinion among his Maronite acquaintances.

Sheridan didn’t spell it out explicitly, but he clearly knows the score on ethnic and cultural questions in the Middle Eastern communities. There are only two seats nationally in which the Jewish vote is important, and neither of those is likely to change hands at the next election, but there are five or six swinging seats with a substantial Arabic or Islamic vote, and it is likely that the Maronites will swing away from the Liberals after voting for them in the last couple of elections.

Despite the lamentable position taken by Labor’s Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd, there are a number of important people in Labor parliamentary parties, such as Julia Irwin from the NSW right and Linda Birney from the left, as well as a number of union officials who are involved in Labor politics, who take a fairly stubborn and courageous stand in support of Palestinian and Lebanese rights and against the craven Australian government subservience to Israeli government military interests.

It’s beginning to dawn on Howard that the position he adopts for reasons of imperial realpolitik may have unexpected negative electoral consequences, and rather plaintively Howard recently piped up that Lebanese Christians blamed Hezbollah for the crisis.

Howard is having himself on a bit, as that’s not the attitude of any of the main Maronite groups. These dramatic and cruel events in Lebanon and Palestine follow an explosion of domestic racism in Australian politics, with the race riot at Cronulla late last year.

This was directed against “people of Middle-Eastern appearance” and a number of young Maronites of my acquaintance made vigorous common cause with their Muslim brethren in those events.

The racists at Cronulla and the Tory shock-jocks who sooled them on, and the reactionary Murdoch press, which encouraged their basic attitudes of hostility to Muslims, didn’t make any fine distinctions of religion. The racist prejudices were based solely on appearance, and even Greeks and Italians copped a bit of it.

Howard and the Tories calculate that outbreaks of xenophobia help them electorally, and in some circumstances that’s true, but the price they pay is to push anyone in any migrant community who feels threatened into opposing the Tories. This will all inevitably show up in the next round of elections.

Political commissars on behalf of ruling-class right-wing thought, such as the journalists Paul Sheehan and Piers Ackermann, whip up anti-Muslim prejudices for broad ideological reasons, but their calculation that this is popular with the bulk of Australians will prove to be mistaken.

The extraordinary images on television of the brutal Israeli war machine targetting civilians in Lebanon and Gaza are much more powerful than anything in the print media.

Print media are dropping away fairly quickly as a source of information, and there is a phenomenon known to any newsagent, such as myself, that after the initial shock of any catastrophic event overseas the newspapers print more copies but sell dramatically fewer after a few days because most people are surfeited with information from television.

Howard, Ackermann and other right-wing journalists such as Gerard Henderson, can froth all they like about Hezbollah terrorism, but what people see on television is Israeli state terrorism, largely directed, in practice, at civilians to create the maximum terror among all Lebanese.

I engage in a fair bit of agitprop of my own sort with customers in my bookshop, and apart from a couple of committed Zionists I haven’t struck anyone who isn’t outraged at the attack on Lebanon, and the images they see of it.

The spectacular and very large Sydney protest

The Sydney protest was organised by the broadest committee of Arab and Middle Eastern organisations ever assembled in multicultural Sydney. It was vigorous, but it was also peaceful and orderly.

About 25,000 people attended, and I base this figure on the fact that the event filled the whole of Martin Place, with two speaking platforms.

Early in the protest I was talking to a friend who joined the tail end of the march. I raced along the footpath to the start and stood in the middle of the road to get a feel for the event and make some attempt at a count. By the time the march reached Market Street, a whole extra block, of probably 5000 or 6000 people had joined the march after my friend.

People were still pouring out of the subway stations even at the very end because of the fact that the starting point had to be changed because of railway trackwork at St James station.

My impression was that there were probably 2000 or 3000 Anglo-Celts like myself at the protest, and I met a lot of veterans of protests going back to the 1960s, including longtime political opponents such as old Stalinists, who over time have become my friends.

Given all the circumstances I thought the turnout of Anglo-Celts was reasonable, but I don’t know how that compares with Ottawa, for which reports on Marxmail suggest a low turnout of Anglo-Celts.

A striking components of the event was the large number of mainly Lebanese families, with many children.

No wonder the indefatigably reactionary Peter Costello is worried about the Anglo-Celtic birth rate, the way backward Protestants were in the 19th century about the then Irish Catholic birth rate.

There were many Arab youth, including high school students, and many young women. Maybe 30 per cent of the adult Arab women present wore the chador, but two-thirds didn’t, suggesting that they were either more or less secular Muslims, or Christians.

Other points of the protest

1. Flags and nationalism The organisers of the protest in Sydney gave out hundreds of small Australian flags, which seemed to me a quite sensible move.

It enabled the Arab participants to assert their Arabic cultural identity and support for Palestine and Lebanon while also staking their claim to a share of Australian national identity. Some leftist critics attacked this carrying of Lebanese and Palestinian flags together with Australian flags as pandering to nationalism, but in my view that’s nonsense tactically, and has no sound theoretical basis in any case. Where’s the Marxist principle that says anyone should repudiate all national identity? That notion is an invention.

2. Anti-semitism The organisers of the Sydney march were at some pains to insist that the march confine itself to attacks on the state terror of the Israeli war machine and avoid anti-Semitic attacks on Jews. I saw the very tough and seasoned Arab community marshalls very effectively encouraging one protester to take down a placard that could be seen as an attack on Jews, and after some argument the protester complied. This approach of focusing the political attack on Israeli state terror rather than on Jewish people is both principled and strategically necessary. (The moderator of the Green Left Weekly discussion list, Margaret A, is to be commended for the prompt and businesslike way she removed from the list some dingbat who put up an anti-Semitic post.) As Walter Lippmann pointed out on the Green Left site, there are many courageous Jews who oppose Israeli state terror, which is backed by US state terror. This is a very sharp current question in Australia following the publication of Anthony Loewenstein‘s important book criticising Israel, My Israel Question, and the determined way he has defended his position against a vigorous political witch-hunt. The rights of the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples must be defended strenuously, but any concession to anti-Semitism, as well as being wrong in principle, only hinders the struggle.

3. Arab youth and students, and slogans One of the most heartening features of the march was the very large number of Arab youth, both Muslim and Christian. They were very vocal. Their favoured slogans were: “Israel, USA, how many kids have you killed today”, and: “1-2-3-4, we don’t want your bloody war”. It’s pretty clear these youth are, by reason of their cultural circumstances, among the minority of students who seriously study history these days. These youth certainly seem to know of the Vietnam war and the popular struggle against it, judging by their use of slogans.

4. The protest and the far left There was a respectable turnout of members of far left groups for the protest. Most were doing what they do, which is selling papers and trying to recruit to their group. They were received in a quite friendly way by the overwhelmingly Arabic protesters, and far left speakers were on the main platform. That platform was quite broad. For instance, Natalie Gould, an energetic activist, advocate of the rights of refugees in detention and member of the Labor Party, approached the organisers and asked them to announce from the platform the plight of several Palestinians and Lebanese in refugee detention. The organisers said: “You’re the expert, you do it,” so she made an effective speech on behalf of Palestinians and Lebanese in refugee detention. The colourful cover of Green Left Weekly, with a slogan, “Israel out of Lebanon and Palestine” was popular with the protesters, and many of the younger ones carried it as a poster.

5. The protest and Labor Party politics Despite the woeful stand on the Israeli aggression by Beazley and Rudd, Labor parliamentarians Julia Irwin and Linda Birney and important Labor union official Andrew Ferguson spoke effectively in support of Palestinian and Lebanese rights and interests. Andrew Ferguson also arranged access to the rather colourful Unions NSW speaker truck for the main platform at both ends of the rally. These Labor MPs and Andrew Ferguson are taking an entirely principled stand and displaying considerably more electoral nous than Beazley and Rudd, for the simple reason that to win the next elections Labor has to win a large number of marginal seats. There are considerably more Lebanese and Muslim voters in these marginal seats than there are supporters of Israel. Beazley and Rudd are displaying serious ignorance of demographics and a kind of ideological myopia in their relatively uncritical support of the actions of the Israeli state.

Lots of other issues were raised by events at the protest, and I may address some of them at a later time. As coincidence would have it, I’ve been reading a book I acquired at a recent book fair about the courageous Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto against the Nazis in 1943, and the immediate parallel that springs to mind, from the military and logistical point of view, is the military resistance of the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

In both cases, the fighters were dug in, often in cellars, against a much more powerful and better equipped military machine. In both cases, also, the invading army was very reluctant to take casualties, whereas the highly motivated defenders were fighting for their lives.

The Nazi stormtroopers were initially stunned in 1943 when the ghetto fighters inflicted hundreds of casualties on them. This is also clearly the reaction of the Israeli army to the military vigour of the Hezbollah fighters.

The Israeli army particularly doesn’t like taking casualties because, in part, of the political fallout in Israel from a high casualty rate. The human resources of Israel are by no means inexhaustible.

The whole of Israel has slightly more than five million people of more or less Jewish backround, with no substantial prospect of further large additions to this population, as pretty well all the Jewish populations worldwide that are likely to emigrate to Israel have already done so.

Now, in fact, there is a fairly steady outflow of Jewish people from Israel and, for instance, there are now more than 700,000 Israeli citizens living in the US. I don’t want to take the analogy between the Hezbollah and the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw ghetto too far, but the parallels are real and striking.

Rehosted from Leftwrites

Comments from Leftwrites

Steve Brook, August 2, 2006 @ 9:42am

Very useful article, Bob, but there’s one hair I wish to split. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was crushed not by stormtroopers, but by SS and Wehrmacht units. The stormtroopers were members of the Nazi SA [Sturmabteilungen], the brownshirts, who after “the Night of the Long Knives” in 1934 were superseded by the SS. No, the parallels between the Ghetto’s Jewish fighters and Hezbollah should not be pushed too far. Israel is behaving like a brutal, 19th-century colonialist power, with complete disregard for the civil liberties and human rights of both Lebanese and Palestinians, but there are no plans for gas chambers. If there are, they haven’t told me.

Chris, August 2, 2006 @ 10:01am

Thanks Bob, some nice and useful detail in there.

Will Anderson, August 2, 2006 @ 10:34am

A really clear and sensible description of reactions to the Middle East crisis from an Australian perspective. It’s interesting how reaction is different in different parts of the world. And I was interested to hear about Lebanese of different faiths/sects being united by these events. At Melbourne University yesterday there were some ugly confrontations between pro- and anti-Israel demonstrators. There weren’t many people, though certainly emotions were running high. The counter-demonstrators were carrying Israeli flags and Liberal party placards and singing the Australian national anthem. It didn’t feel like a peace demo – very polarised. In contrast, at recent demonstrations in London there has been a significant showing of Jews, including rabbis, opposed to Israeli atrocities. I don’t dispute your opinion of the Murdoch press and its pro-Israel stance, but I was surprised to see this highly critical piece by Taimor Hazou in the Herald Sun yesterday.

Jill, August 2, 2006 @ 11:19am

Thanks for the useful information on Australian Lebanese reactions to the war. I’m still curious about non-Lebanese Australian attitudes. As I said in a previous discussion, the attitude of people at work seems to be horror combined with an overpowering sense of hopelessness about it all.

What I’m wondering is whether the feeling of not being able to do anything about it a side-effect of the campaign against the Iraq war (“the rallies didn’t achieve anything”) or whether the issues this time just seem far less clear-cut for people. A final thing: I don’t understand Bob’s comment about Lebanese carrying Australian flags being “tactically useful”.

In the current context, I would have thought that Lebanese Australians “staking a claim to a share of Australian national identity” would simply serve to reinforce the government’s attitude of looking after Australian-Lebanese in the conflict – and to hell with everyone else. (And this is even apart from not wanting to identify with Australia’s support for the US and Israel.)

Bob Gould, August 2, 2006 @ 12:03pm

In response to Steve and Jill. Firstly to my old and good friend Steve. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since you and I, you as an outsider Jewish communist, and I as an outsider goy CPA sympathiser in the Labor Party, used to go into the enclave of young Jewish people at Bondi Beach, attracted by the young women. Your point is well taken. I don’t want to push the analogy with the Warsaw ghetto too far, but it holds on the point that both the ghetto fighters and the Hezbollah fighters are powerfully ideologically motivated and dug in against more powerful armies, and that the more powerful armies are shocked that weaker forces can do them so much damage.

Your point about the methods and intentions of the Nazis and the Israelis being different is valid. This is partly because the world has moved on, and genocides against peoples aren’t treated so casually as they were in the first half of the 20th century. But this difference between the Nazis and the Israeli occupiers of Palestine and southern Lebanon highlights the deep dilemma facing the Israeli state.

The whole of the Social Democratic enlightenment tradition of the Jewish community is the deepest conflict with the aggressive military project of the Zionist state, backed by US imperialism. As Anthony Lowenstein points out, dissenting Jewish voices are in fact far more vocal in Israel than they are in Jewish communities overseas. Today, the press reports that one brave reservist has been locked up because of his refusal to fight in this war.

Nevertheless, you’re right. The Israeli state isn’t planning gas chambers. What it is doing, however, is forcing the Palestinian people into ghettos, and that is a historical analogy that does hold up very forcibly. We should talk about these matters, old friend, next time we meet.

In response to Jill. You and I probably have a bit of a difference of opinion on the question of national identity. I’d refer you to Lenin’s pamphlet, The National Pride of the Great Russians, in which Lenin makes the point, roughly summarised, that the oppression of other nationalities is in conflict with the better traditions of the Russian people.

Lenin, a Great Russian himself, but a bitter opponent of national chauvinism, nowhere says national identity is a political crime. He was a realist on such matters, and he even had a certain sentimental attachment to his homeland.

Australian national identity is a reality, no matter what chauvinist and reactionary ends Howard and company try to use it for. You may have noticed that unspeakable reactionaries such as Piers Ackermann attack Lebanese Australians for holding dual citizenship and celebrating their dual national identities and demanding their rights as Australian citizens to necessary protection while overseas.

I reaffirm my general point that asserting national identity and the right to that national identity, as Lebanese Australians do when they carry both Lebanese and Australian flags at protests, is not necessarily the same thing as chauvinistic Australian nationalism, and in fact in the current context it performs a quite different function. If that were not the case, why would Ackermann be abusing and ridiculing dual citizens the way he does?

Jill, August 2, 2006 @ 12:25pm

But whether or not Lenin anywhere said ‘national identity is a political crime’ doesn’t answer my question of why you think it’s tactically useful. Again you said: “asserting national identity and the right to that national identity […] is not necessarily the same thing as chauvinistic Australian nationalism, and in fact in the current context it performs a quite different function.”

My question is: what different function do you think it serves? I think (in terms of carrying Aussie flags at demos) it serves to suggest that we should care about the Lebanese only in so far as some of them are also Australian citizens AND that we want to establish that in taking a stand on Lebanon, we’re still really concerned about Australian’s national interests.

It’s a defensive act, surely, by Lebanese people being worried about being attacked as unAustralian for daring to be concerned about what’s happening in those “foreign parts”.

Steve Brook, August 2, 2006 @ 1:27pm

Many thanks, Bob, for outing me (a) as a juvenile sex fiend, (b) as a former CP member, and (c) as an old mate of yours. I have spent years denying all the above. As a bookseller, you might be interested in my most recent creation, a memoir titled Strawberries With Everything: A Polish Odyssey 1966-1974. You rate a mention on page 23. Click on my name above to get to my website, which carries more details, a video of the launch, etc. Yesterday I gave an interview on Lebanon on Melbourne FM station 3ZZZ. This can be heard by finding 3ZZZ on a search engine, going to “Listen to a show” at the top left of the page and selecting the Greek program for Tuesday 1 August. My interview (in English) starts about 15 minutes into the program.

Ed Lewis, August 2, 2006 @ 2:02pm

My take on the Australian flags at the protest was that carrying them was a defensive measure, and a shrewd initiative. The Aussie flags were a statement that Aussies are not just people with pale European complexions and names like Sheehan, Ackermann, Zemanek or Jones. It was asserting that Arab Australians have opinions, those opinions are legitimate, and the Arab communities weren’t going to be intimidated out of expressing their opinions.

As for the question of Australian citizens in Lebanon. Perhaps it’s not so much the case outside Sydney, but the shockjocks here are vicious against Lebanese, and they were working overtime to suggest that the Australian citizens in Lebanon weren’t real Aussies: they’d come over here, taken out citizenship and had been back in Lebanon for 25 years, etc, etc.

My partner and I both picked up fallout from this at our respective workplaces: people complaining about the cost of getting Australian citizens out of Lebanon. I don’t understand how supporting measures to get Australians citizens out of Lebanon equates to not caring about what happens to Lebanese citizens.

Dale Mills, August 2, 2006 @ 5:30pm

A small point. The article refers to people not attending the originally planned protest point (the nearest train station being St James) because of “trackwork”. This appeared in several newspapers, but at least one newspaper that day also referred to counter-terrorism exercises that had been planned at that train station.

Chris, August 2, 2006 @ 5:44pm

True, Dale. I remember hearing initially that the starting point was moved due to “trackwork” and then heard the counter-terrorism exercises explanation (I think most likely on the morning of the demo itself on ABC radio 2BL). The radio also carried stuff about police wanting extremists to stay away, for people to be orderly and calm, etc. Guess they would have been happiest if no one turned up at all! Think main thing to emphasise about the rally was that the turnout was fantastic.

Professor Rat, August 2, 2006 @ 8:41pm

Hang about – didn’t Lenin and co invade other nations? Or at least self liberated autonomist zones such as the South Central Ukraine? I seem to recall Lenin being described as an expert on imperialism by reason of his praxis during 1918-24, when what are now separate nations such as Georgia, were annexed by Stalin-Lite methods. Whenever a bourgeois type …
a) supports nationalist flag waving.
b) supports Stalin-Lite or ‘red fascist’ (Otto Ruhle )despicable and contemptible means and method’s and …
c) talks incessently about “important people” lurking behind the scenes. well my bullshit detector is pinging. How about yours?

Surely the only real danger here is that a tremendously just cause could be discredited in the public’s mind, not so much by a handful of obvious antisemitic nutters but by a handful of Leninist nutters?
Surely the vast majority of democratic and libertarian left socialists won’t let this vital struggle be rooned by left fascist NATIONAL SOCIALISTS or Leninists.

Chris, August 2, 2006 @ 10:22pm

Well, Professor Rat I have no idea what you are raving about (just a few suspicions) – you’ll have to drop down the level of hyperbole and rhetoric so something intelligible comes out.

HARRY STONER, August 3, 2006 @ 5:32pm

I think the interesting aspect about Bob’s post is his argument that as a result of the Murdoch press scapegoating the ethnic vote will line up behind Labor. Certainly, there was some evidence for this during the 2001 “Tampa” election. According to reports, ALP branches were inundated with offers for help during the course of that campaign.

I happen to have an acquaintance with Irfan Yusuf, former prominent young Liberal and candidate for Reid at that election. He told me that the Libs didn’t bother manning the booths at Auburn at that electon.

In the 1998 federal election I believe the Unity Party outpolled the Libs at Cabramatta. So there is some basis for what Bob is saying. It will be interesting to see how it pans out at the next election.

Interesting note on the Jewish community. Historically, the Jewish community have been supporters of the ALP in Australia. Until fairly recently they accounted for 25 per cent of all donations to the ALP. I believe the Jewish community fell out spectacularly with Gough Whitlam’s government at the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

HARRY STONER, August 4, 2006 @ 6:58pm

Another interesting aspect of Bob’s piece is his point that marginalised groups tend to have large families. This was true of Irish Catholics and is now true of Lebanese Muslims.

Once groups become accepted into society and even become a part of its establishment the need to have large familes diminishes. Interesting to explore the historical voting behaviour of Irish Catholics. Historically, they tended to support the ALP but as they became more socioeconomically upwardly mobile their voting behaviour changed accordingly.

Gough Whitlam believed the DLP facilitated this process. The DLP enabled upwardly mobile Irish Catholics to transfer their votes from the ALP to the Tories via the DLP.  With the election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972 these Irish Catholics now began voting directly to the Tories and thus the need for the DLP disappeared.

Lisa, August 21, 2006 @ 10:47am Great report and interesting analysis. It has been a long time since I’ve been to Sydney and really had no idea about the significance of the events there. On nationalism and national identity … I actually see both sides. On the one hand, I sympathise with why Lebanese Sydney dwellers want to claim the term Australian for themselves.

This reflects a lot more than just buying into flag waving and Australian nationalism. It’s also about reclaiming the rights many of us take for granted. And it’s about reacting against the racism of Costello, Downer, Howard (the Coalition government basically) – a racism that does not accept “hyphenated Australians” to use Costello’s awful term; a racism that justifies the constant police harassment and surveillance in Sydney; a racism that justifies the locking up of asylum seekers fleeing war-torn countries; a racism that sees the residents of Cronulla as representative of a typical Australian identity (something I think Howard said once, but don’t ask me to reference it), as white, straight, beach-loving men.

This racism does more than stereotype – it justifies the exclusion of many from the very rights that Howard’s Australia take for granted – a job, a vote, a home, and yes, even rescuing from a war. So I see their flag-waving as an attempt to challenge Howard’s image of a white Australia.

On the other hand, I’m not sure waving the Australian flag is really such a good way of challenging this. After all, Jill is right, that this does buy into the idea that some should be saved and others not and that as Australians we have rights above others.

So in challenging the privileges bestowed upon some Australians, it also ends up justifying privileges only bestowed upon Australians. It reminds me of the arguments in the US around Hurricane Katrina – the call amongst leaders of the African American community that said “we are not refugees, we are Americans”.

On the one hand this is true – they were being treated like non-citizens and this should absolutely be opposed. But at the same time, you’d hardly want refugees to be treated the same way either (which, I don’t think is the impression the African-American community intended). So while laying claim to their rights as citizens, they were also (I think unintentionally) denying the rights of those who are not US citizens.

And while understandable, it’s not supportable. I agree with Jill in the end – we shouldn’t support Australian flag-waving – it’s dumb, if understandable, tactic. Instead I think internationalism is what’s needed – a real, international solidarity.

And on Lenin, well… Bob, I think you’re reading Lenin as you wish, not as he actually argued. Here are a few quotes and paraphrases, taken from Critical Remarks on the National Question first published in 1913 (republished in Marxism and Nationalism, an interesting collection by Resistance Books).

“Combat all national oppression? Yes, of course! Fight for any kind of national development, for ‘national culture’ in general – Of course not!’ (p64) “Consolidating nationalism within a certain ‘justly’ delimited sphere, ‘constitutionalising’ nationalism, and securing the separation of all nations for one another by means of a special state institution – such is the ideological foundation and content of cultural-national autonomy” (p64).

Such bourgeois ideology has a political purpose, to obscure class divisions within nations and across them, emphasising a divide between nations instead, under the forced leadership of the bourgeois class. The purpose is to produce societies where “every citizen registers as belonging to a particular nation, and every nation constitutes a legal entity with the right to impose compulsory taxation on its members” and rule through national governments and state institutions (p63).

In contrast, the working class should fight on two fronts: against the privilege of any nation against another and for the full freedom of nations to self-determination, up to and including the formation of a separate state should they so wish; whilst at the same time fighting for working class internationalism, the raising of every progressive working-class cultural form, of the fullest democracy, to an international level. Surely there are better ways to fight for the rights of Lebanese-Australians than waving the Australian flag?

Ablokeimet, August 21, 2006 @ 9:07pm

Lisa is dead right. It’s perfectly understandable why people of Lebanese extraction would wave Australian flags at rallies against the Lebanon War. There are basically two interconnected reasons:

1.They’re saying “We’re Australians, too! We’ve got just as much right to be listened to as Anglo Australians.”

2.They’re taking up the Australian flag as compensation for taking up the Lebanese one.

For years now, while walking the streets in areas of Melbourne which have a substantial Lebanese population, I’ve been used to seeing a Lebanese flag in a house or shop window – with an Australian one next to it. The Australian flag is there precisely in order to give them a “social permission” to put the Lebanese one there.

The problem is that, while this might be a perfectly forgivable defensive tactic, it is very bad strategy. It strengthens the position of the guardians of Australian patriotism and makes it harder for people who want to take on the racism, militarism and paranoid xenophobia that is Australian nationalism. Instead, we have to build internationalism.

Robert Bollard, August 21, 2006 @ 10:56pm

More important is the need to provide the environment where they feel they don’t have to be defensive. It’s like gays before Stonewall feeling like they had to be respectable and wear suits and ties. The capacity of the oppressed to express defiance rather than apology is a function of where the pendulum of class struggle is swinging.

There’s no easy solution, but I think that generally its better to help push that pendulum in the direction of defiance than to give lectures on the virtues of internationalism. It’s not Australian nationalism after all that’s the problem – just a lack of confidence and a perception of isolation.

Ablokeimet, August 22, 2006 @ 9:23pm To clarify my previous post, I wasn’t lecturing the demonstrators for waving Australian flags. As I said, it was a perfectly understandable defensive tactic (though it doesn’t change the wider consequences). It is the responsibility of the Left, which is already internationalist on paper, to build the sort of movement that makes internationalism, not nationalism, the default paradigm for people moving into political action.

Israelisupporter, May 19, 2007 @ 10:25pm Whatever. If you don’t like seeing innocent Lebanese and Palestinian civilians being killed, then tell the Hezbollah and Hamas etc, terrorist scum and the Lebanese people idiots to not invade Israel in the first place or there will be bloodshed.

Don’t fuck with the Jews, punks. And also the Palestinians who countlessly send wave after wave of suicide bombers and rockets to kill innocent Israelis in Israel … that is left blind and uncared for by you terrorists Arab sympathizers??? Some of you have never lived in the Middle East nor you know the truth about the dangers that the Jews have to face day by day of being threatened by theirArab neighbours to rid them off the face of this earth.

Stop whinging people, and tell the real troublemakers, which is Hezbollah and their fellow raghead terrorists, to leave the Israelis alone in peace and let them live in a land that has been given by the West and the UN back in the 1940s.

The Arab nations numbered 23 and there is only one small nation for the Jews … let it be people They have the right to live too; they are also human beings. I see many of the Israelis on TV showing “Peace” on their T-shirts and elsewhere while the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples show “Victory” with a V-sign with two fingers “Kill the Jews” and other slogans like “Wipe of Israel” and guess who is the real victims … the Israelis.

Now is that humane gestures showing to fellow human beings? I don’t think so. Just remember who won all the wars and came up victorious to secure their borders from terrorism … that was Israel. Long Long Israel and down with the Arab terrorist sympathisers who are in this country and elsewhere in the West.

Ablokeimet, May 20, 2007 @ 9:45pm Wow!  That’s what I call a rant.  When one also considers that the entire Zionist project is about building an ethnic-sectarian nation state on stolen land (and that the theft is still in progress), the attitude of Israelisupporter speaks volumes about why a solution has not yet been found. I carry no brief for either the corrupt and reactionary Fatah, or the sectarian-religious and reactionary Hamas, but the crimes of the major Palestinian political parties do not form a defence for the crimes of Israel.

Robert Bollard, May 20, 2007 @ 11:15pm “Whatever. If you don’t like seeing innocent Lebanese and Palestinian civilians being killed then tell the Hezbollah and Hamas etc, terrorists scum and the Lebanese people idiots to not invade Israel in the first place or they will be bloodshed.” Ah, yes, the Palestinian invasion of Israel, the Lebanese cluster bombing of Tel Aviv, and the Lebanese tanks moving south into northern Israel. It was such a crime. “Stop whinging people and tell the real trouble makers which is Hezbollah and there fellow raghead terrorists to leave the Israelis alone in peace and let them live in a land that has been given by the West and the UN back 1940s. The Arab nations numbered 23 and there is only one small nation for the Jews … let it be people”

When I find myself in times of trouble

Golda drops a bomb on me

But, motherly, she’s singing

“Let it be. Let it be, let it be, let it be, oh let it be

We’re one you’re 23 So let it be.”


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