Centre of strength in the time of riots
Temple of Dreams 8.30pm, SBS
IT is October 2005. We are inside an old Masonic Hall in southwest Sydney that has been rented by a group led by thirtysomething motor mechanic and small businessman Fadi Abdul Rahman.
The hall is being run as a gym and boxing academy to help keep young Lebanese- Australian Muslims away from drugs, thuggery and petty crime. Fadi and his friends have been down that path and know it leads nowhere.
Then it is December 2005. Fuelled by hysterical media reports, frenzied anti- Muslim riots break out at Cronulla beach on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. These are swiftly followed by vicious reprisals by Muslims. It is one of the lowest points in this country’s history and, contrary to assertions by the conservative commentariat at the time, clearly based on race, the culmination of four years of anti- Muslim rhetoric since 9/ 11.
The sight of one hoon looming up at the camera, proudly brandishing his blood- smeared fingers and shouting ‘‘ F . . k the Lebs’’, is disturbing proof of the flimsy foundation on which our claim to civilisation rests. It’s a gesture that goes all the way back to Lambing Flat, except then he would have been brandishing a pigtail torn from a Chinese miner’s head.
As for the reprisals, Rahman says, ‘‘ These youngsters were scared. They said: ‘ If we sit back and do nothing, then they’re going to step all over us. They’re going to round us up like a herd of animals and throw us out of the country.’ This is engraved in our hearts. It is something we’ll never forget about.’’
As this superb and timely film by veteran documentary- maker Tom Zubrycki demonstrates, Rahman’s opinion is worth listening to because he knows what he’s talking about.
Temple of Dreams tracks Rahman and his colleagues as they struggle to keep the centre open in the face of Auburn Council’s determination to close it, and organise a conference to enable young people to ventilate issues arising from the riots. It gives a rare, candid insight into Sydney’s Muslim minority.
When council demands a development application, Rahman feels out of his depth and calls in the real stars of this film, three young women — Alyah, a bank manager; Amna, a trainee teacher; and Zouhour, a fourth- year law student — all of whom wear headscarves and none of whom live up to the stereotype of repressed females. They are more than a match for Rahman and soon commandeer a space as a ‘‘ chill- out’’ room for women. Despite their demure headscarves, their grasp of the scatological vernacular can be explosive. They are vibrant, vivacious women and, like Rahman, Australians of whom we can all be proud.
Struggle for calm: Fadi Abdul Rahman in Temple of Dreams