A bigoted Facebook group originally posted by Australian students manages to combine the hateful and the absurd in equal measure. The anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiments displayed on the "Mate speak english, you're in australia now" webpage are distinguished as much by members' poor command of the English language as by their narrow-minded views. Racism is generally a self-evident absurdity, but Australia has bigger problems than a handful of online bigots. The country has had unfortunate spikes of racially motivated violence. In 2005, riots erupted in New South Wales after a series of fights and gang beatings involving white and Arab young men. Over the past year, dozens of cowardly attacks on Indian immigrants, mostly students, have left several dead and troubled relations between Canberra and New Delhi.
There is a kernel of truth to the Australian government's insistence that not all of these attacks can be blamed on racism. Playing the race card without basis can be harmful; the depiction of Australian police as Ku Klux Klan members in an Indian newspaper certainly was not constructive. But authorities have to acknowledge that in many frightful attacks - such as several white men setting an Indian man on fire, most recently - race could be a factor.
Each incident needs to be investigated on a case-by-case basis. The blunder committed by Australian authorities is not asking questions about a single crime, but whitewashing a systemic problem in society. If even one of the recent attacks against students was racially motivated, Indians considering visiting the country should be concerned. As previous episodes of violence and the misspelt vitriol online show, there is a vein of racism running through a minority of Australia's citizens.
Of course, that is true in every country. For Australia, there is particular urgency because of its geography: the future is Asia and the Pacific Rim. International education is a vital earner of foreign exchange, and applications from Indians have understandably plummeted in recent months. The country must show its commitment to protecting its guests from violence, racially motivated or otherwise. And the first step to a solution is acknowledging a problem that is only too apparent to its victims.