Academic journal article Nebula

Racism, Ragheads and Rednecks

Academic journal article Nebula

Racism, Ragheads and Rednecks

Article excerpt

October 2007 became the starting point in a series of events that made the suburb of Camden (located in the far south-western Sydney area, Australia) known internationally. After a charity called the Quranic Society submitted a development proposal to build an Islamic school in the area, the expressions of hostility towards the proposal by local residents were overt and well-documented in the media. Petitions, flyers and anti-school bumper stickers were formed and widely circulated (Bowie 2007c:11). Anti-school rallies attracted crowds in large numbers expressing disdain towards Islam (Kinsella 2007d:1, Bowie 2007b:1). A wooden crucifix with biblical inscriptions appeared on the proposed site (Kinsella 2007b:19), and several groups within (Bowie 2007a:11) and outside of Camden, including a Nazi white supremacist group (Hildebrand 2008) became involved against a perceived Arab invasion of the Macarthur district (the Camden area). The council rejected the application and the charity appealed this decision in the Land and Environment Court, where it was rejected again in June 2009 (Bowie 2009:1).

In December 2007, a public information forum on Islam and the proposed Islamic school was organised in Camden. Outside this forum, a local resident stressed to ABC reporters that his opposition was 'not about racism' (PM 2007), yet expressed an opinion which suggested otherwise: 'If it does get approved, every ragger ["raghead"] that walks up the street's going to get smashed up the arse by about 30 Aussies' (AM 2007a). The offensive term 'ragger' ("raghead") used to describe Middle Eastern people--particularly of the Islamic faith--can be understood as racist, and the advocacy of violence towards a particular social group based on the imaginings of their religious beliefs or their genetic make-up further falls within the guidelines of racism. This was not the first or last time in which an opponent of the proposed Islamic school would firstly deny that their opposition was racist, and then would proceed to express a racist view.

In this article, I will firstly discuss a theoretical framework on 'race' and racism. In setting the scene for the case study of the Camden controversy, I will then briefly describe the typical hostile oppositions that Islamic development applications have faced in the Sydney area. I will then illustrate how discourses of 'race' and racism have been approached in the case of the proposed Islamic school in Camden. This discussion will be based on television, newspaper and radio sources, which are media spaces used to express racist opposition. Finally, in this article, I point out the motivations and rationalisations behind the contradictory practices of denying and practising racism in light of the case of the proposed Islamic school in Camden.

'Race', Racialisation and Stereotypes

According to Charles Husband, it was in a 1508 poem by William Dunbar that the term 'race' was officially recorded in the English language (Husband 1994:7). Since then, the term has been attributed a number of meanings. On conceptualising the usage of the term 'race', Miles and Brown point out how it has popularly been approached using a 'biological' lens. Biological differences are the key signifiers used to describe 'races', which, Miles and Brown correctly argue, are imagined differences. Further, the authors point out that such biological or somatic characteristics are designated to signify differences between human beings, arguing that '... biological differences are secondary to the meanings that are attributed to them ...' (Miles & Brown 2003:88). Specific human characteristics such as height, weight, leg and arm lengths, shapes of ears and eyes, hair and eye colour, facial structures and even body hair have been used as signifiers to detail the imaginings of particular 'races' (Miles & Brown 2003:88). As a tool of categorisation, skin colour is a common signifier that has been used to distinguish different groups of people (or supposed 'races'), where the most common of signifiers include a popular Black/White dichotomy (Ratcliffe 2004:16). …

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