OPINION: Even by Fairfax’s low standards, their latest Paul Sheehan rant was gratuitously racist. And as it turns out, it was also patently false and bone jarringly stupid.
On Monday, the star Fairfax columnist penned a foaming rant, seemingly out of nowhere, which claimed Australia may never know the level of a ‘gang raping epidemic’ by Middle Eastern men in the early 2000s.
Sheehan related the story of ‘Louise’, a woman who claims to have been a victim of a group of ‘MERCS’ (Middle Eastern Rapist C*nts), and to have been held hostage for four days.
Police, claimed Sheehan, did nothing about the assault. He knew, because he checked… or so he claimed.
What Sheehan apparently didn’t check was the authenticity of ‘Louise’, who, it turns out, has tried this story on before… at a Reclaim Australia in Sydney’s Martin Place, shortly after the Sydney Siege in 2014, where she demanded an end to “Shara law” and “Halla certification”.
Back then, ‘Louise’ wasn’t so coy about her identity. New Matilda has decided not to name her.
Late last night, the story blew up in Sheehan and Fairfax’s faces. Sheehan was forced to issue this groveling backdown. You can read the heavily edited original foaming spray (cleaned up substantially to try and mitigate the damage) here.
New Matilda was preparing to publish the piece printed below later today. But overnight, Sheehan fell on his sword. Apparently, media (and social media) began circling the story.
Fairfax and Sheehan have been peddling this racist crap for years. An apology from Sheehan is not enough. Fairfax must sack him (think of ‘Mike Calrton’ as you read this). In short, Sheehan should be put out to the racist pasture where he belongs, left alone to shout at clouds.
And that just leaves Fairfax, which has long used racial click-baiting to try and prop up a failing media empire. An apology from management is long overdue. So is the sacking of the guttersnipe/s who approved and printed Sheehan’s latest diatribe.
These people harm our community. They should be held accountable.
CORRECTION & APOLOGY: This blog posting originally stated that the ABC’s Insiders program had provided Mr Sheehan with a platform, and that the show, along with others which have done likewise, should apologise. Insiders has since contacted New Matilda and noted that Mr Sheehan has never appeared on the program. Mr Sheehan has been a regular guest on ABC program The Drum. New Matilda acknowledges the error, and apologises unreservedly to Insiders.
The Deafening Silence In The Face Of More Paul Sheehan Islamophobia
By Chloe Patton
Surprising little has been said about Paul Sheehan’s explosive allegations of a hidden epidemic of horrific sexual violence perpetrated on the streets of central Sydney. The story centres on the almost unimaginably horrific rape of a woman named “Louise”, a curious failure on the part of police to pursue her attackers, and the assertions of unnamed homeless men that the phenomenon of Muslim men sexually assaulting women is so commonplace it goes by the acronym MERC – Middle Eastern Raping C*nts.
Shocking as this uncovering of our very own Cologne may be, Sheehan is not the first person to recount the story, and the identity of the self-identified victim is cause for serious concern about journalistic integrity in Australia.
In April 2015, [name withheld], better known as the “tissue lady” who became a media sensation for dispensing tissues and wisdom to the grieving crowds in Martin Place after the Sydney Siege, returned to the site of the siege to speak at a Reclaim Australia rally. Amid cries of “fuck Islam” and “filthy degenerates” from the receptive crowd, [name withheld]described in detail her experience of being raped by a gang of Arabic-speaking men outside the hospital at which she worked, and her subsequent long recovery and discharge to a women’s refuge.
A recording of her speech leaves no doubt that she is either misrepresenting herself as Sheehan’s “Louise” to further a racist political agenda, or she is in fact the source of his story. (Ed’s note: This is now not in doubt).
The woman’s allegations go even further than the rape Sheehan describes in lurid detail. In her Reclaim speech, she said that while living on the streets after the rape, “carloads of Muslim men”, who she says she identified by their “headwear, beards and dress,” would “set fire to the homeless men… terrorise us at ground level”. She has also alleged that during this period she was held hostage for four days, an experience that led her to expound advice on dealing with trauma to those affected by the Sydney Siege.
Whatever the truth is behind the woman’s extraordinary claims, it is not hard to comprehend why someone who feels they have experienced trauma could find Islamophobia a compelling means of making sense of it. Attaching personal pain to an object – in this case the Muslim man – and then positioning that object outside the social order clearly serves a psychological function, however catastrophic that may be for the people objectified in this way. Cleansing the nation of the Muslim cleanses the psyche.
Sheehan and Fairfax, however, deserve no such sympathy.
Sheehan has demonstrably failed to adhere to the most basic principles of journalistic integrity. If it was indeed [name withheld]he interviewed for the piece, why did he disguise her identity when her claims were already on the public record? Two possible conclusions can be drawn.
The woman has a prominent media profile, as the subject of “tissue lady” stories, as a Reclaim Australia speaker and as a campaigner across social media platforms. Did Sheehan simply not bother to look her up? Is he merely a hapless hack whose lack of professional competence has allowed him to be hoodwinked by an extreme-right activist? This is difficult to believe, given the serious nature of the allegations he is repeating. The more disturbing possibility is that he did indeed run her name through Google and has deliberately hid her racist activity.
The problem with the piece extends beyond ‘Louise’s’ story. Sheehan’s claim that the alleged rape is part of a hidden epidemic of Middle Eastern male sexual violence hinges on the observations of the homeless men who coined the term “MERC”.
Why were these men not named and why were their claims not put to NSW Police for comment? If, as Sheehan claims, the issue of sexual violence against prostitutes is never discussed, why did he not offer the Police a chance to discuss it?
The truth is, as Sheehan surely knows, the topic has been discussed at length, and there was no Middle Eastern rape epidemic in Sydney in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The issue was a beat-up by conservative commentators who, exaggerating the number of sexual assaults, wove them into a clash of civilisations thesis incorporating a conspiracy theory in which the Left had instituted a culture of silence around them.
Sheehan has been peddling variants of this culturalist thesis of Middle Eastern male sexual deviance for years in books and across the pages of Australia’s leading broadsheets. Whether the topic is gang rapes or forced marriages, he paints the same picture of a society besieged by the dark forces of Islam, a society that is blinded to the trouble it is by a veil of political correctness. It is a thesis that no doubt finds a highly receptive audience in the wake of Cologne.
In a post-racial era, when racism based on physical characteristics has fallen from favour, racists simply exchange flawed ideas about human biology for equally dubious notions of culture. The real power of racism lies not so much in individuals shouting racist epithets on trains, or even what is delivered from the podium at Reclaim Australia rallies, but in its capacity to appear to be commonsense. It lies in the ability for it to be hidden in plain sight in culturalist explanations for social problems across all spheres of social life.
* Chloe Patton is Melbourne based academic who writes on and studies Islamophobia.
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