YESTERDAY a colleague emailed me from New York. The young lawyer - her family lives in Brighton-Le-Sands, a bayside suburb north of Cronulla in Sydney - wrote: "While I agree there is no justifying excuse for the violence and breakdown in order that occurred at Cronulla, it needs to be put in context. Unless you live in an area like Cronulla, Brighton-Le-Sands or Bondi, you have no idea what it is like to have one's suburb regularly inundated with large groups of young Muslim men from the western suburbs who proceed to shoot people [as has happened in Brighton], intimidate people, regularly threaten people within their vicinity with violence, drive around in large groups screaming abuse at people from cars with their music blaring, regularly brawling, etc."
This young woman recounted that all of the girls in her family (except the youngest) have been "subject to harassment inflicted by groups of these men - comments on our appearances, racist comments on our Australian background, unwanted touching, being followed while walking home by groups of men in cars (I was once followed all the way home - have never been so scared in my life), sexually explicit remarks while alone, with friends or with boyfriends, unwanted called-out invitations to have sex with groups of them, etc".
Someone please tell Bob Brown. If ever you needed confirmation that the Greens senator is a disconnected, fringe politician who needs to spend time in Cronulla, it came yesterday when he blamed the appalling violence in Sydney's southern shire on John Howard for having "mired the issue of racism in Australia".
Suggesting that the nation is swamped by racists, that ordinary Australians need some fine moral instruction from the likes of Brown, is just the latest adaptation of the David Williamson school of thought that treats ordinary Australians with disdain. It's a form of elitist self-loathing that gets us nowhere in explaining why thousands of people descended on to the streets of Cronulla in apparent retaliation against the attack on two surf lifesavers by men of Middle Eastern descent.