Over at news.com.au, they’ve published a think-piece with the arresting title of “Ugly reality of vibrant neighbourhood: Inside Australia’s most Muslim suburb.” Not to spoil the ending, but it turns out that the ugliness is that of white racism.
IT’S viciously hot in Lakemba, western Sydney, and three men are gathered around a table outside a bakery, drinking cans of Solo and laughing their heads off.
Muhammad Nazir, 71, and Sayed Alam, 25, are teasing their friend Michael Chinappa about taking him to a nightclub to meet women, as the embarrassed 84-year-old removes his baseball cap to reveal a shock of white hair and rubs a hand over his lined face.
A stout white man with a straw hat shading his red face edges over to listen in on our conversation about life here in one of Australia’s most Muslim suburbs.
“I’ve lived here 43 years,” he says, hovering just out of the group’s earshot. “Then, it was mostly Anglo — Greek, Polish. Now the biggest population here in Lakemba is Bangladeshi.
Get that? A Big fat, red-faced (probably alcoholic) white man as the foil to a bunch of innocuous, intergenerational chums.
“I hate it, I’m a racist.”
I wonder if he is joking, and he responds, as if to prove otherwise, by listing the nationalities of his former partners: Chinese, Egyptian ... a “Brazilian negress”.
I guess the correct term would be “African-Brazilian”?
He continues: “I don’t like them sitting on the footpath, all the customs ... I don’t like change. People scratching themselves, spitting on the footpath, hacking up ... They make no effort.”
Guy's a sitting duck. “I don’t like change,” he says. That’s ok, your masters can work with that. Have a grumble on them. It’s a free country, people do have a right to be bigots, you know… Oh wait a minute, no they don’t!
It’s confronting evidence of what some white Australians, even those living here, think of suburbs like this.
The group at the table — a Lebanese Muslim, Fijian-Indian Catholic and Burmese atheist — look uncomfortable, and begin talking among themselves.
See? They’re all different! THEY can all get along despite their differences; why can't you just join in the multicultural brotherhood? You must just hate the colour of their skin, you red-faced bigot.
The man’s words show how a resentment of immigrant populations still permeates everyday life in one of Australia’s most multicultural areas.
Oppressed by the white minority they’ve displaced.
He introduces himself as Leigh, but won’t give his surname. “You want me to be killed?” he asks. “I can’t park my car in the street where I live. They break my windscreen, damage my car ... because I’m secretary of a large strata plan and people don’t like to abide by the by-laws.”
Whether it’s the laws or a more personal conflict, the tension and distrust seem to simmer just under the surface in a suburb where so many different nationalities and religions converge.
Leigh can’t leave the area, he explains. His home would only fetch $500,000. But he has an idea of how to improve the suburb. “Something we had in 1949- people have to pass an English language test before they come here,” he says. “It’s the single biggest impediment. They just don’t understand.”
Ok this boomer is getting on my nerves now. Why don't we just replace ourselves with a huge flock of parrots trained to say "G'day" and "she'll be right, mate"?
He complains of dishonesty, of funding ploughed into “an indigenous dictionary for Aboriginals to speak to the doctor in their own language”, of the local Palestinian doctor’s “grievances” over the problems in his home country.
Leigh feels that he’s the one who doesn’t fit in, and suffers the discrimination. “I do stick out, like a pimple on a bum. I’ve had people yell at me — look, look, an Anglo!
“One of the biggest problems with these people is they’re territorial, village people, only concerned with themselves, not the community.”
That doesn’t even make sense. If they are territorial village people, that would make them collectivists, not individualists out for number-one. Try again, Leigh.
You’re the individualist, with your Brazilian negresses and your lack of any intrinsic objection to foreigners coming to steal your children’s inheritance — if only they weren’t so “territorial!”. How’s it working out for you? Can you really recommend it to these foreigners who, despite what you confusedly splutter, obviously DO have a sense of community and collective interest?
Close by, at Australia’s first Islamic clothing retailer Nour Al Houda, store manager Zena Beydoun says all kinds of people walk through the door. “Even Christian people come to the shop, buy long-sleeve swimwear, kaftans, perfumes,” she says. “Indian, Pakistani, they’re really simple people. They try their best to laugh and communicate, even if they can’t say any words.”
Where she lives, in Erskine Park, her predominantly Anglo-European neighbours stick with a quick, “Hello, hello, how are you, bye.” But they are friends. She’ll hand out Christmas cards and boxes of chocolates over the holidays.
Bet you weren't expecting that, bigots. Christmas cards, from a Moslem?? Mind=blown. And before you ask, yes, those would be actual chocolates that don't detonate and release shrapnel when you put them in your mouth.
When was the last time you fasted for Ramadan, Leigh? How about making an effort to get to know your new neighbours?
Maybe you'd find out we're all just human beans?
Ms Beydoun, who has worn a hijab for seven years since she became “more into her religion”, says people react differently to her headscarf further west, towards the city’s edge. “In Penrith, there’s huge racism,” she says. “Even when you try to park your car, some people jump into the space in front of you and swear at you, give you the finger.
“Here, it’s completely different. If you break down, people will push your car to the side or come in the middle of the road and help direct traffic.”
The 44-year-old mother of six moved to Australia from Lebanon 26 years ago when she married a Lebanese-Australian. “He’s really Aussie-minded,” she says, and “doesn’t care” whether she wears a headscarf. He wouldn’t like her to wear a full burka or niqab, covering everything but the eyes.
Australia is just a mentality, not a nation. You become a part of it by kicking back and opening a tinny — or a can of Solo, I guess. Maybe the citizenship test should consist of a series of questions about religious and cultural values, where the correct answer is always along the lines of “whatever, mate” and “each to xer own.”
Of course, we’d let everyone in regardless of how they respond, but people who answer correctly get a free stuffed koala.
The the article goes on to agonise about how Moslems in Western Sydney votes against “marriage equality.” No stuffed koalas for them! But things are changing… give it a generation, blah, blah.
Then onto Pauline Hanson.
Frank Gazal, owner of popular Jasmin restaurant, doesn’t get involved with politics, because it’s all about “flashy cars and suits.” But the 39-year-old, whose father came to Australia from Lebanon when he was nine, is pitying of Ms Hanson.
“I’d love to bring her here, have some nice food, see what it’s about. I feel sorry for those people, there’s no room for hate, we should love each other for who we are.”
His words are poignant after a year tinged with tragedy for the area, in which a car ploughed into a classroom, killing two eight-year-old boys. The moment revealed the community’s capacity for love — not only through the sight of hundreds flooding Australia’s largest mosque for a funeral, but when the dead boy’s father made a Facebook video on his way to the event, expressing his forgiveness for woman behind the wheel.
Wow. Credit where it's due. Way to imply an association between Hanson and Aussie "racism" with reckless Moslem driver Maha Al-Shennag. (Because white racists running over Moslem kids was realy a international phenomenon in 2017.)
Ms Terangi, born in New Zealand to parents from the Cook Islands, is relaxed about the issue. She’s taking a week off over Christmas while her co-worker takes care of the store. They swap at Eid. “I’m the type of person that gets along with everyone,” she says. “We’re all just human.”
Well I guess we should all try to be more like Ms Terengi. Move to someone else’s country and ostentatiously boast about how much we fit in there, because after all, there’s nothing unique about the host people or their culture, or that of the immigrants being brought in to replace them: we’re all just human slurry.
Store manager Ms Beydoun, who helped to recruit for FFF [some stupid TV cooking show], reckons the media is vital, too. “TV and news make Muslims look like bad people,” she says. “Knock on any door, they will make you food, make you feel welcome.
“Show what Muslims are like,” she says. “I think it would make a huge difference.”
Well, all I can say is it's a good thing that an embattled minority of brave, counter-cultural rebels like Emma Reynolds are doing their bit for a more tolerant Australia.
But now just as a thought experiment, let's try this out.
Say you come home one day and find some people have moved into your home. You find the man of the household sitting on your couch, smoking a hookah. His wife’s in the kitchen, wearing a full niqab (for modesty’s sake, as they were expecting you), and their seven kids are outside stoning the dog, or maybe just playing chasey—whatever.
“Excuse me, what the hell do you think you’re doing in my house?” you exclaim.
“The government invited us, so we moved in. We’ve been here all day. It’s to late now to kick us out.”
Hmmm. He does seem to have a point. They’ve really put down roots while you’ve been out. There are Koranic verses up on the walls, Persian carpets on the floors, and an inviting aroma wafting from the kitchen. Seems like Mrs what’s-her-name can really cook!
“Come on,” says the man on the couch. See I’m speaking to you in English; I’ve assimilated now. And anyway, we’re all just human beings. Have a cup of tea”—he hands you a decorated glass full of sugary liquid—“and at least stay for dinner so we can talk this out, see what it's all about.”
“What do you mean, stay for dinner? This is my own house! I was planning on leaving it to my kids when I die! If anyone is leaving, it’s you!”
“The ignorant bigotry is strong in this one,” he sighs, shaking his head and blowing smoke rings from his hookah. “I just feel sad for you. Of course, you can leave if you wish. Go get another house in anther suburb, maybe out in the country. Good luck finding work there, though. But just tell me something. What makes you think you’re better than us?”
“I don’t! I’ve got loads of non-white friends, actually. I’ve dated women from China, Egypt... a Negress from Brazil... You think on your feet. “It’s not about who’s better. I just... I just wish you people would do more to, you know, try and fit in around here. Your wife’s in there making dinner while you’re siting here smoking. How about giving her a hand? Round here we believe in gender equality!” Nice save there, you think, as you wipe the sweat from your fat, red face.
“What’s that?” an angry voice calls from the kitchen, “I’ll have you know that I CHOOSE to stay at home and do the cooking and cleaning, and to wear this bag over my head! You just mind your own business, infidel!”
Just then there’s a knock on the door. Your host—no, wait a minute, your guest!—gets up to answer it. Now suddenly there are half a dozen swarthy men of all ages sitting around the living room smoking hookahs and sipping tea. No one is being violent, though they are spitting in a spittoon and talking volubly in a foreign language.
But then the food comes out, and it’s a real feast. Way better than your bachelor’s meal of instant noodles with a tin of tuna on top.
And no one’s committed a terrorist attack—at least not tonight, not that you know of. And if anyone was raped, it wasn’t in your living room...
Your move, Leigh.