Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How cultural senility is ruining Australian conservative discourse

In 2003, I started a Masters of Laws program at the Australian National University (ANU). This meant returning to my family’s other ancestral city of Canberra (“other” as in apart from Delhi, India). I spent much of my time either in the ANU Law library or in a house I shared with a number of other post-graduate students in Melba.

Part of my time would also be spent walking around picturesque Lake Ginninderra or other parts of the Belconnen precinct. It was like being transported back in time to the East Ryde I grew up in the 1970’s – brick and fibro houses on quarter-acre blocks, Holden Kingswoods and small neighbourhood shops that would shot at 6pm on the dot.

And there were always the hotted-up cars. Boys will be boys. Although the Canberra boys were far more civilised than their ‘70’s East Ryde equivalents.

As a young boy riding my bike in East Ryde, I remember often having young boys with bad haircuts and hotted-up cars drive past me and scream abuse. And it wasn’t just me. Anyone who looked slightly different, whether presumed Chinese or Greek or Italian, would cop it.

In the playground at school, we were teased and even physically assaulted. My parents were often afraid to let me walk home after having witnessed a number of boys assault me. They were also afraid after one local boy from a Pakistani Christian family was repeatedly kicked, bashed and eventually stabbed by classmates on his way home. The boy died from his wounds.

Of course, we were taught never to regard all Anglo-Australians as being the same as these young people, even if their Anglo parents (and frequently even my Anglo teachers) did little to stop them. Indeed, I later discovered that other Anglo-Australians would also cop abuse. I could never understand why, given both groups had the same colour of skin, hair and eyes. Later I learnt the reason why some Aussies were also attacked – they were Catholics!

I always associated hotted-up cars with violent and racist youth. Now, some 30 years later, the hairstyles and clothes may have changed. Even the cars may have been slightly modernised. But not much else has changed. Be they retro Anglo-Aussie white Protestant chauvinists or “Lebs”, boys will be boys.

Some weeks back, whilst visiting a friend at Sydney’s only halal McDonalds in Punchbowl in the Arab heartland of south western Sydney, I noticed some young people with bad haircuts and even worse attitudes park their hotted-up car next to mine.

My friend is of Turkish background and was born in Australia. After we finished our meal and our discussion, my friend and I walked out to find these boys were using my car as a dinner table. When I asked them to remove their stuff, one remarked:

“Don’t f#ckin ask me to move my stuff, skippy!”

His other colleagues joined in the abuse. I noticed they were wearing necklaces with Arabic calligraphy of God’s name on their chests. One came upto me and said: “Don’t you mess with me or I’m gonna f#ckin kill you!”

On another occasion, I had stopped on a red light at the intersection of King Georges Road and Canterbury Road in Wiley Park. My car was in the right lane, and in front of me was a car with 3 young women seated. Next to them, turning right, was a car with young boys with baseball caps and bad haircuts. From their rear-view mirror was a red box carrying a Qur’an.

The attitude displayed by these boys was far from Qur’anic. They kept hissing and making sexual remarks toward the young women. Indeed, they were so engrossed in their abuse that they didn’t even notice the street light arrow for turning right had turned green. The girls drove on. I stopped my car for a brief moment and gave them a piece of my mind.

“Salam, boys. Is this how you’d like someone to speak to your mother or sister? Think about it. Your behaviour gives us Muslims all a bad name.”

The response from one of the boys was quite clear.

“F#ck off. You’re not even a Muslim. Those sluts were asking for it!”

I can tell storied like this until the cows come home. I can also pontificate about how some cultures are inferior to others. I can speculate about the influence of convict genes, or about how Protestants simply don’t know how to integrate with Catholics. I can use anecdotal evidence to condemn an entire culture.

Like some of the opinion writers from that often uninformed Australian newspaper, I could quote statistics on the numbers of Anglo kids during the 1970’s who refused to marry outside their culture. I could even remind you all about why a certain historian was right about why we shouldn’t allow “slaps” and “gooks” into the country.

But what would that achieve? Unless you are an amateur or have an axe to grind, you don’t build social policy on anecdotes. You use facts and research and derive rational conclusions.

To claim that there is something culturally wrong with all Australian Muslim men simply because of the sick comments of certain convicted gang- rapists just doesn’t compute. And if you do wish to make claims like this, at least take some time to read the sources of this culture.

It is inherently irrational to judge people according to their race or colour. It is even more lame to hate people for that reason. So why is it that so many allegedly conservative writers and politicians play the raced card?

I guess because some conservatives still haven’t realised that they are no longer at university. Yes, it was all fun and games at uni to pretend to be a fascist just to upset student activists from the Left. I did it myself in first year. I was part of a ticket for the student magazine called “NASA” which stood for “No Asshole Socialists Anymore!”. Our symbol was a rocket smashing through the hammer and the sickle. Our group photo consisted of a group of starving Africans lifted from the promotional material of an aid agency.

Yes, it was funny back then to oppose everything the Left stood for. Even when they were right (or should that be Right?). But some conservatives just never grow up.

Which explains why so many pseudo-conservative writers who only seem to appear in pages of that most tabloid of American broadsheets The Australian will attack any idea the Left supports. Why? On what basis? Purely because the Left are supporting it.

Soon we will be reading Keith Windschuttle or John Stone waxing lyrical about why conservatives should be opposing mathematics because the Left say it’s right. Or perhaps we’ll read Mark Steyn trumpeting about how murder should be decriminalised. When you combine ideological immaturity with bland senility, almost anything is possible.

The other day I had coffee with a reporter from The Australian. He told me about how he was now in charge of reporting on the broad Arab/Muslim sector (whatever the hell that means). He asked me why he is getting so much resistance from people in various communities in providing him with information.

I advised him to read the op-ed pages of his paper and figure it out for himself. Hey, I think it’s great that at least one broadsheet is prepared to print conservative stuff. But why print the most lunatic writers? Or are we playing a game of opposites with Fairfax and the ABC?

Still, not all conservatives are stupid. Just as not all Fairfax papers are printed by the devil. Michael Baume writes some absolute beauties for the Australian Financial Review. John Hewson isn’t bad either, though some may not regard him as a conservative.

So there is plenty of variety of opinions and thoughts and beliefs in various sectors of the Australian community. Generalisations are for dimwits. Serious analysis of people and events requires research and understanding. Throwing mud at an entire community requires a certain degree of basic stupidity. These days, it seems there’s more stupidity on the conservative side.

Perhaps what we really need is a government led by the Member for Warringah …

© Irfan Yusuf 2005