Monthly Archives: October 2014

Offence is no defence

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Ada Lee had an emotional Facebook conversation with the self-professed ‘soldiers’ of the Australian Defence League.

“Fuck anyone who defends Islam. They don’t deserve life, to defend those who align themselves with a death cult that has snatched life and joy and basic human rights away.”

It’s a hate-filled message, wrapped in the proclamation of defending human rights. This is one of the last things the Australian Defence League soldiers (ADL Soldiers) say in our Facebook conversation.

Inspired by the English Defence League and set up in early 2010, the ADL is a loosely defined group of extreme, anti-Islam advocates in Australia, best known for their provocative presence on social media. A quick Facebook search uncovers dozens of different pages, with different location bases and sometimes, different leaders.

ADL Soldiers was created to be a “more hard-hitting… information page”, according to Ralph Cerminara, page admin and President of the ADL. With almost 3000 followers, the ADL Soldiers page features videos of ISIS atrocities, declarations of war against Islam, Andrew Bolt reports, and defensive words about why they are not racist or bigoted despite what “loonie left wing mates” might say.

Our Facebook interactions are tumultuous, as multiple ADL members reply from the same account. At times, it feels like tiptoeing around an angry and volatile child, one that could snap
in an instant.

At one point, Cerminara reassures me that he hates racism and loves Asian people (“I am married to an Asian girl”). But when I ask if the ADL identifies as neo-Nazi, another user takes the reins and tells me his war veteran grandfather would shoot me if I asked him the same question.

They emphasise that they are not condemning a race but rather, an ideology they perceive as “a religion of war, of deception and slavery, of sexism, of paedophilia”. In organising a Sydney meeting, they remind followers that the ADL welcomes people “from all racial groups and from all religions excepting the death cult of Islam”.

As we have seen in the rising spate of Islamophobic attacks against Muslim women and mosques, more and more Australians are using the atrocities of Muslim extremists to define and justify punishment against all Muslims. For ADL Soldiers, there is no such thing as the moderate Muslim.

The group insists they “have never attacked anyone,” yet they do not condemn those who do. “If people verbally abuse people then that’s them, they are sick to death of islamists raping young girls, planning to blow up people at the AFL grand final, Sharia law, marrying underage girls, it goes on and on,” Cerminara says.

Just last month, Cerminara posted a video on YouTube (now deleted) threatening, “another Cronulla is coming, and I can’t wait until it does, because this time, we’re going to show you who’s boss”. He posted it after five Muslim men allegedly attacked him in Lakemba because he was taking photos of women in niqabs and posting them online.

Cerminara frames the 2005 Cronulla Riots using the discourse of war, emphasising the gang rapes and attacks on lifeguards that preceded it. “All wars have civilian casualties…Aussies had enough,” he says. “Bad thing like any war is there were acts that were not called for, but that’s war, and when a foreign body comes to your country and rapes your women, tries to blow up your buildings and more, we are at war.”

Maybe we are at war. When the West invades the Middle-East, when we hear endless stories of women in hijabs and niqabs being harassed on the streets, when we see images of 5000 flag-wavers attacking people of Middle-Eastern descent in Cronulla, it breeds the perfect climate for people from either side to recede further and further into the shadows of extremism, polarised and marginalised from the demonised Other.

At the end of the Facebook thread, there is a battle among page admins arguing whether to stop speaking to me. The words reek of paranoia, insularity and intolerance of criticism.

“Fuck anyone who defends Islam … We will never stop. We will never stop learning about this death cult.”

Published in Honi Soit, 21 October 2014.

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Not your Asian fetish

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“I’ve always had a thing for Asian women,” a British man writes to me on Tinder.

“I’ve always dreamed of sleeping with an Asian woman – will you be my first?” a French guy writes.

On Tinder, and life generally, any woman is bound to be subject to feeble sexual propositions. But these racialised gems tend to be saved for women from minority groups. There is nothing more empowering than knowing someone is attracted to you because of your race. As I told the second guy, it is every girl’s dream to be objectified and fetishised for her race.

Not.

Online dating studies of heterosexual interactions have found Asian women are one of the most popular groups – while Black women tend to rank the lowest. Conversely, White men are the most popular group among women, while Asian men rank the lowest. It’s easy to simplify these findings to mere physical preferences. After all, you can’t help who you’re attracted to.

But, after watching a cringe-inducing episode of SBS Insight, I’ve started to realise that our preferences are often shaped by power dynamics and gender stereotypes.

It’s not uncommon to hear of the middle-aged Aussie bloke who travels to Bali or Thailand to find a (significantly younger) wife. John Carroll sits in the SBS Insight studio with his Filipino wife, explaining why he prefers Asian women: they’re “very attentive,” he coos.  “One of the stereotypes is Asian women treat Western men better than a white woman. Yes, I believe that to be true,” he says. Thanks for the seal of approval pal.

He’s not the only one. At an Asian women speed-dating event, one guy admires how “Asian women definitely look after the partner.” Australian expats in Bali with Indonesian wives tell The Australian how, “Asian women treat men like men.” One 44 year-old explains the difficulties of dating Western women: “It’s because of the independence, the nagging – they’re high maintenance. It’s much easier with an Asian girl”.

According to sociology expert, Jennifer Lundquist, there is a desire among some Western men to find women who come from more family traditional cultures and who subscribe to more conservative gender roles.

The attitudes of these men reflect Patriarchal assumptions that Asian women are domestic and docile. But don’t worry, John Carroll is here to defend us from the misguided stereotype. Peering over at his wife with a fawning grin, he says, “as far as Asian women being docile, I’m sorry to disappoint you but they’re not docile, they’re definitely not.” I’d rather not imagine what he means by this.

In the arena of stereotypes, the Western conception of ‘Tarzan masculinity’ is defeating quiet Asian masculinity while docile Asian femininity is winning against loud Black femininity.

I’m not saying every guy who’s dating an Asian girl has some Patriarchal complex. Nor am I saying every guy who’s dating a black girl is looking for his own Beyoncé fantasy. There is nothing wrong with interracial couples or being attracted to certain attributes. But there is a fine line between appreciating difference and fetishising someone for their race.

Most of us aren’t from a generation where the fantastical ‘Other’ exists only on some remote, exotic island. More than ever, we have grown up alongside different cultures and from this, we’ve learnt to respect and embrace diversity. Still, it remains important that we question the historical power dynamics and gender stereotypes that shape our attraction towards some and our exclusion of others.

Published in Honi Soit, 7 October 2014.

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