Today Victorian police chief Simon Overland, with Premier John Brumby, announced further measures to crackdown on crime against Indian students.
This issue has been an interesting one, and is yet to fully play out.
The politics of crime 1
Mixing crime and race has brought the cultural left into the crime debate in a way that would have been unlikely otherwise. Though there is nothing intrinsically right-wing about being tough on crime, the propensity of right-of-centre parties to pursue ‘law and order’ politics pushes the cultural left into an oppositional stance: that fear of crime is exaggerated, that punishment doesn’t do much to rehabilitate, etc. Would Guy Rundle and David Marr have leapt into print if there was a crime wave without a racial angle?
The politics of crime 2
Even without an expressly racial element, this issue is interesting because a group has firmly, persistently, and successfully demanded that more be done to enforce the law. Usually, being a victim of crime is a lonely experience: people will sympathise with you, but they won’t mobilise for you. They don’t see your victimhood as a substantial risk to themselves. By targeting Indian students, the thugs picked on a group for whom a common identity is still strong, which provided the basis for political action.
The sociology of crime
The basis for political action also provided the basis for social action – the groups of Indians congregating around train stations for protection in Melbourne, and vigilante action in Sydney. Of course, this has the potential to get out of hand, as it did in Sydney, though fortunately with no serious injuries. But when the state fails to perform its most basic function of protection, it is an unsurprising reaction where the community resources exist to offer self-protection.
The confusion of racist narratives
In his SMH News Review article on Saturday, David Marr spent the vast bulk of his 1,573 words rehashing the racist history of white Australia. Only in the last two sentences did we get this admission that perhaps this history isn’t particularly relevant to this case:
One observation: not all the attackers are white. Race is always a shifting, contested and complicated business.
The Sydney Indian students themselves, unlike much media reporting, do not step around the issue of the ethnic background of perpetrators: their problem is with the Lebanese. Earlier reports claimed that the attackers included Africans, Islanders and Asians. Race is of course a complicated business, but it is not very likely that traditional Australian racism – reduced to marginalised cranks by the time most of these groups arrived – has anything to do with them picking on Indians.
The politics of higher education funding
Indian students are more likely to do vocational than higher education, but some universities do rely quite heavily on Indian students. The current troubles add another, unexpected, level of risk to Julia Gillard’s already high-risk higher education policy. Given the lack of any real additional funding commitment to teaching, the government is still relying on selling visas to finance universities. Reduced enrolments from one of our biggest source countries is bad news for universities already facing financial difficulties.