Friday, October 12, 2007

COMMENT: More on Howard's alleged disdain for symbols ...

If you believe what John Howard told the Sydney Institute last night, you’d think John Howard is allergic to the use of symbols. Yeah, right.

The citizenship booklet says that Australia has three official flags. There’s the one Howard is quite happy to see used as a symbol of race riots at Cronulla. He refused to condemn anyone using this flag, even if it involved getting pissed and stoned and screaming “F#ck the Lebs! F#ck the wogs!!”

But what would Howard think of people sing the other two official flags – those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians respectively – being used for such a purpose? Was Howard a happy camper when Cathy Freeman donned the Aboriginal flag after winning her race at the 1994 Commonwealth Games?

Howard has been quite happy to use his favourite cultural symbols as political wedges to divide Australians. He’s quite happy to marginalise one group for not integrating and not abiding by his nebulous “Australian values”. Yet his government is quite happy to provide special favours to other (often white Anglo) groups whose ongoing record in integration is much worse.

Yet Howard’s use of symbols has been repeatedly shown in Crikey to be based on historical mythology and ignorance. Remember his response to the artist who portrayed the Virgin Mary wearing a face-veil?

I spent much of last weekend watching Melbourne’s newest funny-man Aamer Rahman and his colleagues perform Fear Of A Brown Planet at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Much of Rahman’s act involved using ‘reverse’ racism. Here's a taste ...
I ask you white people this question – what’s your problem? Always complaining about others. Muslims trying to kill me. Refugees taking my job. And I love this one. Aboriginals have a drinking problem. Yeah, right. Any nation that can turn a beach barbecue into a neo-Nazi rally in a few hours has no right to complain about other people’s drinking!

Sometimes comedy can be used to express uncomfortable truths …

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Howard's Claytons Reconciliation ...

Has John Howard decided to wear the dreaded black armband? Has he overcome his alleged reluctance to adopt symbols? Has he finally realised that community sentiment no longer favours a hardline approach to racial and cultural issues?

To suggest that Howard never paid much attention to symbols is a nonsense. John Howard has spent the best years of his political life defending the symbols that represent the alleged cultural dominance of white Anglo-Australia - the flag, the monarchy, our so-called 'Judeo-Christian values', etc. Howard has had little time for the cultural symbols that set non-Anglo-Australians apart from the rest of the community. That includes Aboriginal Australians.

Howard's new reconciliation is built upon the notion that "individual rights and national sovereignty prevail over group rights". What the ...? What about an individual's right to belong to a group and take on the identity and cultural symbols of that group? And in what sense is "national sovereignty" any different to "group rights"? Or is what we are really seeing just an attempt by white fellas to impose their own group rights over the oldest Australians in the name of national sovereignty?

Howard's idea of reconciliation isn't really reconciliation. It isn't about two equal groups formerly in a state of non-alignment coming together on equal terms. It isn't about recognising past injustices and making some kind of amends.

Howard isn't interested in recognising "the shame and guilt of non-indigenous Australians". He blames the current state of Aboriginal disadvantage not on past European excesses (such as the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents - the "Stolen Generation") but rather on "a rights agenda that led ultimately and inexorably towards welfare dependency and on a philosophy of separateness rather than shared destiny".

Presumably that means that before this agenda came into place, indigenous Australians were living in a state of bliss. That they were regarded as equals in their own country, with all the economic and other opportunities available to non-indigenous Australians. Presumably, then, stolen wages were just a myth. Perhaps Mistake Creek was just an historical mistake.

Howard continues to insist that "a collective national apology for past injustice fails to provide the necessary basis to move forward". Perhaps this may be true of an apology on its own. But surely any notion of reconciliation without recognition of past injustices and some kind of remorse would do no harm. As my mum often tells me: "You don't become a smaller person by saying sorry. If anything, it makes you a greater person".

The tang of Waitangi is absent from Howard's formula. Rather, what we are seeing is an attempt to enshrine in the constitution a half-baked reconciliation which has little to do with indigenous sentiment and more to do with Howard's attempts to impose his own kine of radical monocultural revolution.

One of Howard's former staffers, Gerard Henderson, wrote in The Age on May 25, 2004 of

... the one significant blot on [Howard’s] record
in public life … a certain lack of empathy in dealing with individuals with whom
he does not identify at a personal level: for example, Asian Australians in the
late 1980s and asylum seekers in the early 21st century.

After Howard's performance at the Sydney Institute last night, it will be interesting to see if Henderson adds indigenous Australians to this list.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007