Father Dave

Is that burning Reichstag that I smell?

Well, things are certainly hotting up in old Sydney town! On December 11th, 2005 we witnessed the start of rioting in the burbs on a level that certainly surpassed anything that has taken place in living memory for me.

Some 5000 people converged on Cronulla beach last Sunday - mainly testosterone-filled young men - sparking violence that spread across Sydney’s southern suburbs. It even made its mark on peaceful villages such as Dulwich Hill! And it’s all very racial. It’s black against white, Lebanese against European, Moslem against Christian!

“Just let the Lebs get their revenge”, was the plea from one of the young teenagers in our Youth Centre this week! “Revenge for what?” was our question to him. He wasn’t sure.

Meanwhile, the ‘war against terror’ intensifies in this country, with 17 men now awaiting trial as ‘terror suspects’ - charges that could land them in gaol for 25 years, though it appears that the evidence against them is pretty feeble.

In case that weren’t enough, one of our local church buildings has been burned to the ground by arsonists this week - presumably anti-Christian arsonists. And to top it all off, I keep hearing reports on the radio of assaults and attempted rapes being carried by a man ‘of Middle Eastern appearance’.

I’m not sure what this man ‘of Middle Eastern appearance’ is supposed to look like exactly. Should I assume he looks like my Israeli friend, Morde? No. I think the description is meant to depict a more swarthy skinned soul from one of the oil-producing nations, or perhaps someone who is Lebanese?

Now, while all these disturbing scenes are holding our attention in the foreground, the government is beavering away in the background, constructing new laws designed to curb the ‘reign of terror’!

Sweeping new powers for police have been rushed through parliament in a special sitting held this week. The laws allow police to ‘lock down’ troublespots, search people and cars, and confiscate vehicles and mobile phones. The presumption of bail has been removed for offences of rioting and affray and the penalties for those offences have been increased to maximum jail terms of 15 and 10 years respectively.

Add these new laws to the other ‘reforms’ that have been rushed through recently - allowing police to arrest with charge for 14 days, and increasing the rights for the government to ‘monitor’ suspected terrorists - and you quickly get the feeling that life in this country is never going to be the same again.

Now I’d be the first to say that police in this city often have a very tough time of it - especially when dealing with the type of young people who are currently engaged in rioting and racial violence. Having said that, the sudden surge of sweeping new powers worries me deeply, and I’m wondering if that isn’t the scent of burning Reichstag that I can smell in the background.

You should remember the incident from your history books if not from living memory. On February 27th, 1933, the Reichstag (the German parliamentary building) was the subject of an arson attack. Hitler blamed the communists. The communists blamed the Nazis. A mentally-retarded Dutch immigrant was eventually tortured and beheaded for the crime.

Whoever was responsible, nobody debates that in retrospect it was a windfall for the Nazis, as it gave Hitler the excuse to introduce sweeping new powers through Parliament that silenced all dissenting voices and ultimately dissolved the democratic process.

No doubt the new powers seemed like the only sensible response at the time. Fear of ‘communism’ and ‘the Jews’ had become all consuming. The good citizens of Berlin needed someone to protect them from these uncontrollable terror attacks that were taking place in their city. Thank goodness that one man, Adolf Hitler, had the courage to stand up against the godless communists and violent ethnic minorities that were threatening to destroy the peaceful way of life enjoyed by the German people ...!

OK. We all know how that story turned out. And I’m not wanting to pretend that we’re living in Nazi Germany or that the Australian police bear any resemblance to the SS. Having said that, there are certain parallels in these two scenes that can’t be ignored:

  • Racial violence is exposing deeply held prejudices within the population that have never been adequately addressed.
  • The population seems to be gripped by the fear of terror attacks, and willing to let the Government do whatever it deems necessary to maintain stability.
  • Sweeping new police powers are being introduced rapidly with very little opposition. Indeed, in the case of our state parliament here, the only objection from the leader of the opposition this week was that the new laws didn’t go far enough!

Perhaps the most disturbing thing I’ve noticed this week is the way in which the race riots and the ‘terror problems’ are all being lumped together as a part of some great ‘Arab-Islamic-ethnic’ issue.

The assumption on the ground seems to be that the rioting Lebanese boys are all Lebanese Moslems. The burning of the church building would be taken as obvious evidence for this. The link is then made to other Islamic extremists currently on trial, and it all starts to look like one enormous Arab-led axis-of-evil conspiracy to destroy the happy, peace-loving lifestyle of the Australian people (ie. white Australian people)!

The truth is of course that the rioting is far more complex than any axis-of-evil type explanation would suggest. From what I’ve picked up, a lot of the gang violence has to do with traditional issues of territory and the associated control of the drug trade in suburban areas. And of course not all the rioting young men are Islamic. Neither are they all Lebanese.

There are deep and serious issues in Australian society. No one should gloss over this.

There is a deep spiritual corruption amongst our young people, associated with an abandonment of all faith and youthful idealism and the entrenchment of a ‘sibling society’, that is increasingly aimless and narcissistic.

‘Multi-culturalism’ continues to be a concept that is officially enshrined but never discussed, and I have little doubt that the underlying tensions will continue to bubble to the surface in various destructive ways until this is addressed honestly and openly.

In this context, the grievances of Australian Moslems, who uphold more traditional social values , are understandable and need to be heard. Indeed, I do believe that if we middle-class white people could get over the vilification of the Islamic community, we would quickly discover that we share a lot more in common with these people than we do with their riotous white opponents!

As is always the case, every complex problem always has a simple answer, and it’s always the wrong answer! It is always wrong to blame one ethnic group for a country’s social problems. It is always wrong to target a particular religion as being the cause of violence. It is always wrong to make permanent life-changing decisions for an entire country based on a knee-jerk reaction of fear to some faceless terror. And it is always wrong to silence dissenting voices as being unpatriotic - something that now appears to be a part and parcel of the new anti-terror laws.

We’ve seen this all before! History teaches us that it’s only a short walk from the burning of the Reichstag to the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. More recent history (eg. in Malaysia, Singapore and Israel) has shown us that when countries introduce special police powers to deal with a state of emergency, the laws remain after the emergency has subsided, and are used to silence all sorts of dissenting voices.

The future for this country is very much unknown at the moment. I picked up one clear indicator in the paper today though: Australia’s ‘Patriotic Youth League’ - the local equivalent of the Hitler Youth - is currently experiencing an unprecedented surge in membership!

©2011, Rev. David B. Smith

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Never contend with a man who has nothing to lose. - Baltasar Gracian

Rev. David B. Smith is a Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author of Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist: Reflections on life, ministry & fighting in the inner-city and a father of three. Get a free preview copy of Father Dave, the 'Fighting Father's book when you sign up for his free newsletter at or

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