Friday, November 13, 2009

A Bully Is A Bully, Regardless Of Race Or Religion

The report that a year five student at Punchbowl primary school was abused by a group of Muslim children for eating a salami sandwich during Ramadan is enough to outrage anyone. Young Antonios Grigoriou was allegedly punched in the eye and kicked in the leg after a confrontation with students who demanded to know why he was eating ham in Ramadan, and told him that eating pig is disgusting. It is also claimed that this is not an isolated incident. Of course, this behavior is utterly unacceptable, from anybody regardless of race or religion.

First and foremost, this is a matter of bullying, something which is not new, and is not specific to any particular ethnic group, religion, or culture. Throughout history, there have been those who mistreat others who are different, or more vulnerable, or less powerful. Issues such as race and religion are often associated, but are not themselves necessarily the real driving force behind the bullying. Rather it is the fact that a perceived difference exists. Whether it is a difference of skin colour, personality, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or anything else, it is the perceived difference which is the underlying factor, combined with a primitive desire for superiority.

Superiority is also to be found in numbers, so it’s no great surprise that people with similar ethnic, religious, or cultural backgrounds are likely to stick together. When they also share prejudice, intolerance, and a propensity for bullying, it follows that they will use the superiority of numbers to gang up on their victims, and become more bold in their actions. Inevitably, they will come to be identified by their ethnic or religious background, rather than by the actual behavior of bullying. The fact is that such behavior is not the monopoly of any one ethnic or religious group, but occurs in every society and every culture as an aspect of human nature.

When members of a minority ethnic group act in a racist manner it is sometimes called reverse racism. But there is nothing reverse about it. It is just plain racism, and in this case, if the allegations are true, those Muslim students have been racist. They have, allegedly, vilified and set upon another individual based on differences of race and religion. That’s no different from a situation where white Australians do the same to a Muslim person, a black person, an Asian person, or whatever example you care to choose.

The fact is that this alleged abuse did not happen because the perpetrators are Muslim. It happened because they are bullies. The same was true when the Skippies picked on the Wogs, when the Anglican kids beat up the Catholics, and when the big kids taunted the little kids. The only difference today is that every time a Muslim kid does something wrong, there’s no shortage of people ready to blame the religion rather than to blame the individual.

We claim to be a tolerant society, and by and large it is true. We say that Muslims are welcome so long as they too are tolerant, and do not impose their beliefs and standards upon everybody else. But when push comes to shove, and a small number of Muslims act in an intolerant manner, it seems that some of us are quick to blame all of them. In doing so we both insult all those Muslims who do behave in a peaceful and tolerant manner, as well as abandon our own commitment to tolerance and respect.


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