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The Racilisation of Crime and Cultural Panics


Ethnic refers to a group of people that share a common ancestry heritage, language, nationality and culture. We can therefore say that ethnicity refers to a group of people with common characteristics that distinguish them from the rest. Race on the other hand refers to a group of people with common biological traits such as physical appearance, skin and hair color. Minority refers to an ethnic group within a nation with a small population compared to the other ethnic groups within the nation (Agrawala, 2011). Participation in crimes by members of certain ethnic groups as it has been portrayed by media has raised a major concern in Australia. There is fear that people with Middle Eastern appearance (Arabs) especially Muslims are violent. This essay is a short summary of the roles that the government and the media have played in creating cultural panics about ethnic crimes and the problems that have emerged as a result of this.

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Role played by Media and Government in enhancing Moral Panics

It has been noted that Arabs are being portrayed wrongly in media. Media has printed a bad picture in the minds of many people and have discriminated the Arabs based on their race. Media have directly linked some crimes to certain ethnic groups. To be precise, the Lebanese people from Middle East have been continuously linked with crimes. The fact that a group of young Lebanese raped a young white woman should not be translated to mean that Lebanese community is composed of criminals (Collins, Noble, Ponyting & Tabar, 2000, p. 56).

Such kind of generalization is not good and is actually discriminative and unfair. Media has continually used the term Middle East and Lebanese whenever crime is the topic of discussion. It has been observed that radio talks, televisions interviews and even newspapers have significantly associated crimes with Lebanese and others who come from the Middle East. It has been observed that some of the TV interviews have simply gone overboard; very harsh statements have been directed towards immigrants on some of the TV interviews with some speakers claiming that Australia will be better off without outsiders (Cunneen, Frasern & Tomsen, 1997, p. 81).

Such kinds of sentiments are likely to send the wrong signals which may some trigger tension in the society. It is also worth noting that there are Lebanese people born in Australia thus they are Australian citizens by law and should not be discriminated against in any manner. All Australians citizens are equal before the law and therefore speaking negatively about some citizens because of their appearances constitutes hate speech and breaking of the law (Collins, 2005, p. 59).

As a matter of fact, existence of gangs in the society should be fought by all means. However, it is quite unfortunate that debate on ethnic criminal gangs in media is biased towards certain ethnic groups. It has been noted that media have a bias of covering gangs composed of gang members with certain physical appearance and nationality. It is a pity for the media to settle on drawing the association of gang members with a given nationality and physical appearance while leaving out the need to cover more critical and deep rooted issues that need to be discussed if this issue is to be solved. There is nothing wrong with the media informing the public about gang activities but there is definitely something wrong when the media covers only sections of the gangs in a bias manner. Ideally, the message that is sent to the public is that people from Middle East have flocked Australia and taken over gang activities as their occupation.

This is very wrong as not all the people from Middle East belong to a gang or engage in violence activities. This kind of distorted public image is very costly to the Lebanese and others from Middle East. Distorted views have been aired claiming that Lebanese young people are more likely to become criminals than the young people of other ethnic groups. This is not true as race and ethnicity are really the causes of juvenile delinquency.

The media has gone ahead to classify the south-west Sidney region as a gang centre and therefore a really dangerous place (Poynting, Noble, Tabar & Collins, 2004, p. 15). Taking into consideration the number of people who depend on media to gather information, it is clear that such kind of negative coverage will affect the development of the place in one or many ways. The classification of this place as a gang region instills fears in the hearts of people and consequently there is a likelihood of witnessing reduced economic activities in the area. It is also possible that insurance companies may charge businesses more premiums in this region for policies which cover the risk of theft.

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Media coverage on Arab gang activities is quite conspicuous and makes the Arab gangs to come out as the only gang group in Australia. Some of the tiles which have spotted in media have actually singled out the Arab media, for instance, “the need for new techniques to tackle Arab gangs”; the implication which comes out of this title is that the Arabs gangs are the only ones targeted and therefore they are the most dangerous.

The society has been polarized to the extent that all the crimes are likely to be blamed on the Arab gangs. The politicians have not been left behind in this game of blaming the people from Middle East for almost everything. Government reports have associated increased immigration with increase in crimes. This has directly claiming that immigrants are responsible for the increased criminal activities in the country. Information on which such reports are written should be properly researched to avoid labeling immigrants criminals unnecessarily. It should also be noted that when such reports are released they tend to trigger tension between the indigenous and the immigrant. There have been cases where high profile politicians have aired negative sentiments towards the immigrants in order to get support from people.

There have been reported cases where government officials have given false information on issues concerning immigrants. For instance one time an Australian naval frigate shot and sunk a boat which had 223 asylum seekers. The minister in charge of defense and the prime minister at that time gave false information about the sinking of the boat (Poynting, Noble, Tabar & Collins, 2004).

Problems associated with ethnic descriptor ‘of Middle Eastern Appearance

There are many challenges that people from Middle East face as a result of the kind of coverage that they are given. The first and greatest challenge is discrimination of these people from Middle East. Anyone who appears to come from Middle East is discriminated. The Committee on Discrimination against Arab Australians (CDAAA) generated a report on cases of harassment and violence on Arabs in Australia especially the Arab Muslims (Cunneen, Frasern & Tomsen, 1997, p. 79). In the report it is argued that the fact that a few crimes were committed in Bankstow for the last six years does not mean that people in south west Sidney are all gangs. Crimes are committed every where in the world and crimes committed at Bankstow are just but a small fraction of the crimes committed everyday.

The kind of public light on which people with Middle Eastern appearance have been cast in has little development opportunities for minorities. This is because they only operate in less developed towns. Due to discrimination they may not be willing to interact with people in developed towns lest they be discriminated. They prefer to stay where they feel comfortable and where they have freedom. Such kind of personal restraints reduces the opportunities of such a person living better life standards (Collins, 2005 p. 58).

The fact that the level of discrimination blocks free association there is a reduced growth in socio-economic developments. Crimes have a close relationship with social economic factors. A nation with high rate of crimes is likely to be faced by economic challenges. It is therefore important that the government address the issue of crime by looking for the reasons why crimes are been committed. The government should also work with social association to address this issue (Collins, 2005).

It has led to higher rates of unemployment. Due to moral panics and fear that some ethnic groups have direct link with ethnic crimes, some potential employers may fail to employ peole of such ethnic groups even if he or she is qualified. Employers therefore may opt to employ someone of his or her own ethnicity just because somewhere down the line, he was influenced that certain groups are not good (Cunneen, Frasern & Tomsen, 1997).

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People who appear to be from Middle East face injustice especially when facing criminal justice system. Law enforcers are normally hard on people from Middle East just because of the assumption that these people are gangs. This perception that the police and other organs of justice system have on people with a Middle East appearance may make them pass unfair sentence which is quite wrong (Cunneen, Frasern & Tomsen, 1997).

Hate crime which comes as a result of stigmatizing a certain community as victim of crime has been propagated by this classification of people with Middle East appearance. Due to influence of the media on innocent citizen they will continually hate people from Middle East since the picture that has been portrayed by media as well as the government about them is very bad.

Measures that should be taken

Media has a huge role to play. There is a need to stop influencing people negatively by creating moral panics and fear. The need to start talking positively about people from Middle East is long overdue. People with Middle East appearance should be treated with respect just like any other citizens or peace loving human being. Talks based on racialism should be shunned especially in public forums. In addition, headlines coverage should address more complex issues that may benefit the country and cover hot issues comprehensively without appearing to be favorably inclined to one side (Community Relations Commission, 2008).

The government needs to come up with laws to protect the minorities. Legal action needs to be taken on those who fail to respect the minority. Legal action should also be taken on opportunist politicians who discriminate the minority.

A strong bond exists between social-economic factors and criminal behavior and this can be viewed as the way to eliminate crimes. The government should first try to understand why crimes are committed. The government needs to look at the root problem of crime rather than shifting all their attention on a particular community where potential criminals are likely to be found. Finding the root cause of crime will help the government to dismantle all the gang groups (Australia Institute of Criminology, 1999).

Educational programs and campaigns should be held to educate people that ethnicity, culture or race does not in any way determine whether the person is more or less likely to commit a crime. No research has shown such a connection between ethnicity, culture or race with crime. These campaigns should be aimed at changing perceptive that people from Middle East are gangs.

Australia citizens need to know that not all people who migrate to Australia are criminals. Others move there with hopes that they will have better lives and others migrate to search for better opportunities. In addition, other people move there to seek for refuge. These people have been faced by war and other factors in their home countries and these have forced them to go elsewhere to seek for refuge.

It is a high time for the government to start looking out for ways of cooperating with leaders of these communities as well as other communities and see how these criminals can be arrested. Since it is not everyone in the community who is a gang, the government should work hard-in-hard with leaders of these communities to ensure that all criminals are arrested. These will be in interest of both the community and the nation in general.

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There is no connection between ethnicity, culture or race with crime. It is therefore wrong to associate crime with a certain ethnic group. It is a high time for the government of Australia and the media to stop portraying a bad image about people with Middle East appearance. Instead, they should focus on more complex issues like economic factors and social factors which can help to reduce crime in general in the nation.


Agrawala, K. (2011) What is race? What is ethnicity?. Web.

Australia Institute of Criminology. (1999) Ethnicity and Crime. Web.

Collins, J. (2005) Ethnic Minorities and Crime in Australia: Moral Panic or Meaningful Policy Responses. Web.

Collins, J., Noble. G., Ponyting, S & Tabar, P. (2000) Kebabs, Kids, Cops and Crime: Youth, Ethnicity and Crime. Sidney, Australia: Pluto Press. Web.

Community Relations Commission. (2008) Ethnicity and Crime under the Microscope. Web.

Cunneen, C., Frasern, D & Tomsen, S. (1997) Faces of Hate: hate crime in Australia. Sidney, Australia: Hawkins Press. Web.

Poynting, S., Noble, G., Tabar, P & Collins, J. (2004) Bin Laden in the suburbs: Criminalizing the Arab Other. Sidney, Australia: Sidney Institute of Criminology. Web.

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