Wednesday, September 26, 2018

CULTURE WARS: Is small-minded bigotry how we honour the Diggers? Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s tsunami in a teacup

This concocted mass debate, like those before it and those to come, shows that we, as a nation, have no bloody idea about our values.

Late on the night of Anzac Day 2015, Malcolm Turnbull (then communications minister) contacted the head of SBS to complain about five tweets sent by a sports reporter that allegedly showed grave disrespect to those commemorating the sacrifices and memory of the Diggers.

The tweets referred to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mention was also made of Diggers engaging in rape, torture, summary killings and theft in such far-flung places as the Middle East and east Asia. No Diggers were consulted when Scott McIntyre, the journalist in question, was sacked the following day. Nor were any academic historians, such as Professor Phillip Dwyer of the University of Newcastle.

McIntyre brought an unfair dismissal claim against SBS, which was eventually settled following a hearing in the Federal Court. McIntyre used his SBS Twitter account to send the allegedly offensive tweets. That isn’t the case with the latest “controversy” surrounding Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

If you were to rely merely on the headlines and the remarks of a Tasmanian Liberal senator related to a Nazi war criminal, you would think Abdel-Magied had issued a series of tweets from an ABC account describing the Diggers as rapists and murderers. Well, not quite. Here are her words:
LEST. WE. FORGET. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine)
The “unfortunate and disrespectful … cheap political point scoring” can be found between the brackets. The words first appeared on Abdel-Magied’s Facebook page and were subsequently removed and an apology issued.

Storm in a teacup? More like a tsunami in a teacup, if you ask me. All the major newspapers and media outlets jumped on the story, including Fairfax and The Australian, whose report began predictably with “Muslim activist …”. The Daily Telegraph described her as someone
... who labels herself ‘first and foremost … Muslim’.
Gosh, what else was Yassmin hiding among those three dots?

According to The Oz, Abdel-Magied issued the apology
... as people began to complain she had hijacked the Anzac memory for political and religious reasons.
Apparently, personal and racist abuse and calling upon someone to leave the country is a form of legitimate complaint. Which makes sense, really, as the 1130-plus moderated comments to The Oz story included this gem of complaint:
If she continues her Islamic ABC style left – wing rubbish then suggest she go back to an Islamic middle East blood bath ! Sharia law has NO place within Australian democratic society !
And this:
It seems to me that this woman doesn’t like the culture that was in Australia when she arrived from another whose culture she also didn’t like, hence, she’s here. Personally, I think she should go back to from whence she came. Maybe her whingeing would be of more effect in her old country.
And this:
For someone who arrived her as a two year old, people have a classic example of Islam at its best. Indoctrination is the order of the day Australians should be afraid, very afraid.
Other comments spoke of Abdel-Magied’s status as a member of a minority
and why her kind should go back to wherever. The pollies will deny it, but we all know they see such sentiments as those of a key demographic.

It would be nice to dwell on the offensive, bracketed words except that there are just too few words to analyse. I will note in passing that Palestine isn’t exactly an Islamic issue. Israel’s nasty wall passes through numerous Christian settlements, among them the birthplace of Jesus. As for Syria, there are Syrian Muslims who support the Assad regime and Syrian Christians who oppose it. And vice versa. 

This concocted mass debate, like those before it and those to come (Newspoll-permitting), shows that we, as a nation, have no bloody idea about our values. Indeed, those who beat their chests the most tend to know the least. The irony of the most nationalistic papers is that they are almost exclusively owned by a man who gave up his Australian citizenship to become an American. Did he, by doing so, increase the average IQ of both our respective nations? Who knows?

I’ve heard stories about Diggers at Gallipoli who refused to shoot at Turkish troops engaged in nemaz (ritual prayer). Perhaps relatives of these Turks are now settled in Australia. Would it be an insult to the memory of our Diggers to suggest we can learn from them something of how to respect other people’s religious cultures? Or must small-mindedness, bigotry and stupidity be the only way to honour our war dead?

First published in Crikey on 26 April 2017

SECURITY: The real danger at Punchbowl High School is the ideological deradicalisation program

The debate about theoretically unsound and ideologically charged deradicalisation programs, like the one at Punchbowl High School, doesn't help students.

A few days before she was to commence her Australia/New Zealand tour, Ayaan Hirsi Ali called for all Islamic schools to be shut down. Sharri Markson, now at The Daily Telegraph, conducted the “exclusive interview” with Hirsi Ali.

Markson made the startling claim that, at Islamic schools,
... the science curriculum is censored and music and art classes are banned.
The example of only one school, linked to a Saudi financier, was given. Naturally Hirsi Ali’s response was quite tame:
It is child abuse pure and simple. Muslim schools should not be allowed in liberal society.
The story showed two graphics featuring Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) just to provide more balance.
Still, it isn’t just nasty pro-IS, government-funded schools that are a problem. News Corp has been running hot on a story about Punchbowl High School. The school has had an interesting run of principals.

One principal, Jihad Dib, is now the state member for Lakemba. Before entering the Macquarie Street bear pit, Dib was credited with having turned the school around both discipline-wise and also in academic performance. He is now opposition spokesman for education.

The Australian carried a similarly sensational report about the subsequent principal and his deputy who were stood down in early March
... in a move that has led to the airing of allegations around sexism and violence, including claims teachers were assaulted and threatened by Muslim students who professed to be terrorism sympathisers.
Its tabloid siblings have made a huge issue about the said principal, Chris Griffiths, changing his religion from rock ‘n’ roll to the dreaded Islam.

Perhaps the most troubling issue in all this is that the school is apparently one of 19 schools in NSW where “radicalisation” is a problem. One report cites Indonesia expert Greg Barton on the issue, getting his university affiliation totally wrong.

The same report described a deradicalisation program in these terms:
The Schools Working Together Program would include monitoring of religious activities at schools, vetting of any volunteers coming into contact with students and measures to ensure non-religious students weren’t pressured to convert.
If this is what the program is really about, it clearly isn’t targeted at white supremacists or the far right. It is targeted only at Muslim kids.
Griffiths was apparently resisting this program coming into his school. He would not have been the only one. I’ve spoken to a number of (non-Muslim) state high school teachers who see the program as purely aimed at Muslim kids. They tell me the program would be counterproductive and lead to resentment from many of the kids.

Similar and more extensive programs have been implemented in the United Kingdom. The problem with radicalisation is that we still don’t know exactly how the process works. One UK criminologist named Kris Christmann has identified eight models of the radicalisation process and 10 theoretical approaches to radicalisation in scholarly literature. Deradicalisation and counterterrorism strategies typically involve looking out for religious symbols and terminology familiar to and resonating with Muslims. This effectively mimics a deliberate strategy of al-Qaeda and similar groups. By understanding the process and trajectory of “radicalisation” as a process, “experts and officials” believe they more meaningfully understand “what goes on before the bomb goes off”. What a way to see high school kids.

So deradicalisation programs are theoretically unsound and ideologically charged. And now they will be implemented at Punchbowl Boys High School by a new principal whose last job was working at a juvenile detention facility.

First published in Crikey on 04 April 2007.

CULTURE WARS: Has political correctness failed?

Chris Kenny thinks that political correctness has failed "the mainstream"-- but what on earth does this actually mean?

Last night was cheapskate Tuesday. I could have seen a politically correct Hollywood movie for half-price — particularly one starring some pathetic left-wing, anti-Trump, pro-Muslim heart-throb. Instead, I headed to Sydney Town Hall for a mass debate on the topic of whether political correctness (PC) had failed itself.

The debate was hosted by the Ethics Centre. As is often the case with mass debates, few debaters stuck strictly to the topic — but, Chris Kenny did. Kenny was introduced by the chair as the associate editor of “a conservative newspaper” — a strange description for a paper whose editorial writers and columnists often spout ideas on cultural matters more appropriate to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

As the first speaker in the affirmative, Kenny said PC had failed itself. Other speakers focused on how PC had (or hadn’t) failed their community or interests or whatever. But now I’m starting to sound like a high school debating adjudicator, so I’ll stop with this line of interrogation.

Kenny argued PC had become self-defeating, largely because it was no longer based on facts, and therefore led to actions and conclusions that were all out of proportion. The Oz‘s associate editor said that, during the Martin Place siege, the New South Wales police (thanks to PC considerations) gave more priority to shielding Muslims from discrimination, than attacking Man Monis’ “terrorist attack”. Kenny described Man Monis as a “jihadist cleric”.

As I’ve written before, Man Monis was more of a fake sheik than a real one. And while it is true that one expert (presumably a psychiatrist) gave evidence at the inquest on Man Monis’ mental state, describing him as a terrorist — there was hardly consensus on the issue. Under Australian law, it isn’t enough for someone’s actions to terrorise their victims to designate them “terrorist acts”. There has to be political, ideological or religious motive. Were this not the case, thousands of perpetrators of domestic violence would be prosecuted under counter-terror laws. (Kenny also speaks of PC attitudes toward border protection and mentions the existence of a “queue” for refugees. What queue? There is none).

Kenny’s most potent argument — that PC is an invention of the political class, which has divorced them from the “mainstream” — again makes little sense. As first negative speaker, Mikey Robins, noted, Kenny and so many of those going on and on about PC are themselves part of the political class. Indeed, if PC has failed, why do conservatives feel the need to constantly protect us from it? Kenny noted the irony that PC started out not as a conservative insult of the left, but rather, as a self-mocking phrase between different sections of the left. Kenny and his allies may allege PC to be McCarthyist, but Joe McCarthy wasn’t exactly a card-carrying communist.

Without meaning to sound PC in a sexist sort of way, the ladies were the stand-out debaters of the night — starting with second affirmative Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, the Warlpiri/Celtic Alice Springs councillor, as well as singer and advocate against domestic violence. She resents the fact that PC practitioners keep telling her and her people what they should call themselves. In her neck of the woods, the lack of PC is an indication that people (both black and white) don’t take themselves too seriously. And this is because they have more serious fish to fry.

Price says that PC is like racism — both are based on untruths and stereotypes. PC means that indigenous people, especially women, find it hard to speak about violence from black family members and community folk. In this case, PC can be deadly. As for white racism, Price says she would rather know who the racists are so she can face them head on.

The final speaker was second negative, Tasneem Chopra. (Disclaimer: I’ve known Tasneem since 1985. Also, I’ve always called her Tasneem and that won’t stop here. Of course, that doesn’t mean I agree with Tasneem on everything).

Tasneem says that for many urban women from “ethnic” backgrounds, PC is all they have to protect them from discrimination. PC exposes privilege and bias.
It allows us to call out bigotry, to stand up to dominant voices.
Tasneem called upon Kenny (or Chris, to be fair) to share his experiences of racism.
If you feel the need to be violent or racist, to threaten rape or other assault, your politics is incorrect.
With this youngish and largely female crowd, the negative side were always going to win the debate. OK, that wasn’t very PC.

First published in Crikey on 29 May 2017.