I watched this documentary from 26 years old Dave Zwolenski on SBS last night. The Sydney Morning Herald has a video preview here, but I am not sure how long it will be staying. Zwolenski has a YouTube site, but the doco isn’t on it at this stage. It deserves to be widely seen, so I hope at least a clip goes up, Dave.
This Murdoch press reviewer can’t have seen the show, as she comprehensively misses the point: that for all his reservations, Zwolenski actually found himself liking “Taj”, as he insisted on being called, and that if anyone came across as a sad goose in the show — and she wasn’t set up — it was the famous Kate from Camden. The show was about transcending prejudice and difference, on both sides; that reviewer is a case study of filtering information through stereotype and prejudice. As Dave said at the end, Taj helped him put the us in Muslim.
Cutting Edge – Follows Dave Zwolenski a 26 year-old man who decides to move in with Australia’s most controversial Muslim figure, Sheik Taj El Hilaly, in order to learn more about the cleric, Islam and the Australian-Muslim community. Dave likes girls and drinking beer. Raised a Catholic, these days he prefers to stay away from religion altogether. Sheik Hilaly is 66, born in Egypt and a devout Muslim. He likes praying and drinking ‘man tea’ (his own special blend). Together, Dave and the Sheik form an odd couple, but for the next few weeks they are going to be inseparable. The documentary is the first of a three-part observational documentary series called Embedded, where young Australians from a variety of backgrounds are placed into very different cultures to learn and share in their experiences. The complete series will be broadcast over the summer period on SBS. Executive Producer – Michaela Perske, Writer/Director – Gary Doust.
Some on this Muslim blog, taking their cue from the Murdoch article mentioned earlier, had reservations about the program, including, I notice, Irfan Yusuf. Some of those reservations seem to stem from embarrassment with the often media-unfriendly Sheik. They needn’t have worried; it was as good a cross-cultural exploration as you could get, in my opinion, and has the potential to do us all some good. As the print review in this week’s Herald TV Guide — the particular article not online — says:
Dave agrees to live with the sheik…, observes Islamic practices and meets ordinary Muslims in order to learn something about the much-maligned religion. The results are contrived (there is, after all, a camera present, and Dave is the one compromising his lifestyle) but this is one of the most watchable and objective portrayals of Islam you will see.
For what it’s worth, the sheikh comes across as an affable and stubborn bloke with the sexist attitudes of many men of his generation — regardless of religion…
Much about that religion — or that particular expression of it — is unattractive to me, but then I have to concede that many of the attitudes expressed would be quite familiar to anyone brought up in a strict Orthodox Jewish or Christian fundamentalist background — and that includes the sheik’s much-publicised views on women’s clothing! It was good to hear the sheik affirm that he is not in the business of prescribing dress codes for all Australian women, and that all women, whether or not they are wearing bikinis, should be treated with respect. The sheik also described the 9/11 perpetrators, and those who follow that path, as “crazy people”. As I said, his particular puritanism doesn’t appeal to me, but the program did open a sane path to accommodate with one another in the interests of a more harmonious Australia, the sheik did concede he was a bit of a fossil, and Dave survived the experience.
Great to see this totally Aussie 20-something taking on such a thorny issue in a manner that really did transcend prejudice without knee-jerk political correctness.
I should mention my first heads-up on this program came from James O’Brien’s blog.