The cause of last week’s riot is too complex to be papered over, writes Russell Skelton. It was meant to be a reassuring display of reconciliation on a sparkling Sydney day with a lazy Maroubra surf providing a calming backdrop. Leaders of the Lebanese Muslim community were standing side by side with two members of the "Bra Boys" surf gang pledging non-violence, peaceful coexistence and rejecting all things racist.

In terms of content, it went a good deal further than anything Prime Minister John Howard had said about last Sunday’s race riot along the Cronulla beach front and the subsequent raids of retribution taken by "Leb gangs".Said Kanawatti, from the Lakemba Mosque, condemned the race violence and the "vigilantes" behind it. He reminded Muslims that the Prophet and Jesus both taught that hatred for others should not lead to injustice being done to the innocent. "We have to show at a national level that all people should come to the beach and feel safe," he said.

The Bra Boys made equally firm declarations and at the close of the media event the men exchanged hugs and shook hands. It was the first in a series of orchestrated displays of unity last week in Sydney.

But there was something decidedly unsettling about this event. Kanawatti, a compelling force for good sense, was talking to an audience of two, not 200. It was also apparent that neither side actually represented any of the participants in the Sunday riot and Monday’s retaliation.

On Friday "voices of hate" were still circulating in the form of text messages urging Aussies to teach "these dirty dog lebs" about Aussie pride by returning to Cronulla today for a rematch.

While another full-blown race riot is unlikely, given the presence of some 1500 police armed with riot gear and tough new powers, further clashes cannot be ruled out because those perpetuating the violence – on both sides – are conspicuously absent from the dialogue. And the causes of last week’s riot are too complex to be papered over.

Some causes are obvious and have been noted. Bruce Baird, the federal Liberal member for Cook, said ethnic clashes had been going on for three decades at Sutherland Shire beaches, and that ethnic tensions had worsened with 9/11, the Bali bombings, Lebanese pack rapes in Sydney and the changing security environment. Others have blamed the influence of talkback radio shock jocks and the sinister hand of extreme right groups such as Australia First and the Patriotic Youth League.