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BBC TwoThis World


Last Updated: Thursday, 14 June 2007, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Race for the beach

Meccaa Laalaa - Lebanese lifeguard in Australia
Race for the Beach
Thursday 14 June 2007
1900 BST on BBC Two

Violent rioting between Muslim gangs and white youths on the beaches of Sydney shocked the world. This World follows a group of young Lebanese trying to change the negative image of Muslims in Australia.

Mecca Laalaa, a 20-year-old student in Sydney, sees herself as a good Muslim and good Australian.

She is the first devout Muslim woman to try to become a lifeguard, and one that wears a full length 'burqini'.

Race violence

Post 9/11 and the Bali bombings, Muslims have sometimes been viewed with suspicion in Australia.

But in 2005 horrific race riots shocked and shamed the nation.

In December 2005, two white surf life-savers were allegedly badly beaten up by Muslim youths on Cronulla beach.

Whites rallied to support the victims. Crowds attacked anyone of Middle Eastern appearance.

Over the next nights, Muslim gangs took revenge. Violent images were splashed over the world media.

Families like Mecca's were shocked by the mutual hatred on display.

The next summer, worries about renewed violence grew.

Changing Muslim image

White local administrators and Muslim moderates had the same idea - to train Lebanese youths as lifesavers and change the image of Muslims on the beach.

22 young Muslim Lebanese Australians volunteered. Mecca Laalaa was among them. Their goal was to create peace and gain respect from other Australians.

Meccaa Laalaa - Lebanese lifeguard in Australia
In November, they began training for the Bronze Medallion.

Over ten weeks This World follows the volunteers as they hone their fitness, learn first aid and how to save drowning swimmers.

The surf is fierce, the pressure to pass the demanding test intense - all in the glare of world media.

But there is a catch, Mecca can barely swim.

If she passes, she will be a world famous role model for Muslim integration and get to wear the famous red and yellow uniform - as a head to toe burqini. If she fails, she lets her community down.

Mecca has to make it.

Producer: Aline Jacques
Director: Alan Erson
Executive Producers: Roger Graef, Margie Bryant and Louise Norman

Surf's up for Australian Muslims
02 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Sydney police get riot powers
15 Dec 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Riots shock Australian press
13 Dec 05 |  Asia-Pacific

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