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Category Archives: multiculturalism

Tanveer Ahmed’s interesting insight

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Above is a typical Sunday scene at Sydney’s Central Station, and a typical 21st century Sydney group.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Australian Muslim psychiatry registrar Tanveer Ahmed offers some thoughts I find worth noting on current demographic and educational issues.

… Members of the Great Public Schools, in particular, foster what sections of the establishment in many former British colonies do – being ”more English than the English”. The sight of children of Chinese or Indian backgrounds taking part in a regatta, singing hymns or baking scones for the tea break of a school cricket match was common.

But increasingly in Sydney, the schools with the narrowest social and ethnic student bodies are the selective public schools.

Much has been said about the dominance of students from Asian backgrounds in gaining entry to these schools. Statistics from the Department of Education last year suggest that close to two-thirds of students in fully selective schools such as James Ruse Agricultural High School are from such backgrounds. Census figures from 2006 back that up, and indicate the figure is much lower – closer to a quarter – in private and non-selective government schools.

But of more interest are the increasing complaints I hear from Asian parents that selective schools are too Asian.

This may reflect the reluctance of other parents to speak their minds for fear of being branded racist or a trend of aspiration among immigrant groups when they begin to mimic the tastes of the establishment, like taking up golf or developing a taste for fine wine.

Recently I had a patient of Korean background who was due to sit the selective schools test. He developed a phobic disorder, refusing to leave his room for days on end. It resembled a description of a similar disorder rife among adolescents in Japan…

 

Great player, example, Australian… and Muslim

One Daily Telegraph (our most right-wing daily) reader notes on hearing of Hazem El Mazri’s retiring from Rugby League:

I teach in China, Italy and the UK, and when my students start talking about who my sporting hero is, I always say, without hesitation… Hazem El Masri. Not the greatest player, probably the greatest goalkicker, but more importantly, one of the greatest men on or off the field. A tribute to real Muslims, immigrants, loyalty, discipline, family values and the Bulldogs. You are a legend Hazem El Masri, we will miss you!

It is fair to say such an opinion is pretty much universal here in Sydney. See for example El Masri’s army salutes its inspirational leader.

El Masri’s popularity isn’t restricted to the boys who, like him, have Muslim backgrounds. He appeals to them all. Helal is a Muslim boy, as is nine-year-old Adam Abdulwahab. Eight-year-old Andrei Bakhos and eight-year-old twins Michael and George Tabet are not Muslims, but it makes no difference. They all love El Masri.

Most of them have met the Bulldogs winger because he gives so much of his spare time to the community and they enjoy the way he kicks goals from everywhere and scores tries, but perhaps more importantly they can tell he is a good person.

“I hope he wins the comp this year,” Andrei said. “He deserves that. I follow the Bulldogs. My dad’s a member of the football club, so we go to all the home games. Hazem’s my favourite player. I play wing or fullback, but I want to be a winger when I grow up.”

In the Brisbane Courier-Mail Mike Colman writes:

… Some want him to enter politics.

When I told my wife that she said, “Well, he’s got my vote” and for my wife to say that about a rugby league player, much less a Bulldog, is saying something.

Hazem and his wife were so delightful it was hard not to feel uplifted by the experience.

One thing summed him up perfectly. After Fatty Vautin had urged league supporters to get along to ANZ Stadium this afternoon to “say thank you” for all the pleasure he had given them over the years, Hazem insisted on having the last word.

“It’s not really about people saying thank you to me,” he said, “it’s about me saying thank you to them for all the support they’ve given me.”

The label doesn’t matter – league player, Bulldog, Muslim, human – it comes down to one thing: He’s one great role model.

Football great Steve Mortimer has this to say:

“It’s an absolute privilege to be mentioned in the same sentence as Hazem El Masri,” Mortimer said.

“For me, rugby league is the greatest game of all and it just seems with all the hardships we’ve been through, Hazem has been a shining light his entire career.

“He’s a silent hero, an unsung hero, who has played the most number of games for the Bulldogs and been a wonderful servant for rugby league.

“With his religion and his faith, he’s just an absolute role model not only as a player on the football field, but as an Australian citizen as well.

“I’m proud to say I know him.

“He’s a very humble man and an absolute star.”

And again: Man of God whose greatest deeds are done off the pitch.

There will be many fine things said about Hazem by footballers, coachers, pundits and the Premier in the coming weeks, but you get the feeling it all washes over the kid from Tripoli who made Sydney his home at age 10.

He’s playing for are the kids in blonde-brick apartment blocks around Bankstown and Punchbowl, the ones who attract police attention quicker than an Everlast hoodie.

Very few people can claim to have made a real impact on their community. But when tensions between Lebanese and Anglo Sydneysiders spilled into the streets during the Cronulla riots, it was Hazem who played the crucial role in bringing his community back from the brink. Unlike some Muslim clerics who should have known better, Hazem spoke the language of respect and not revenge. With hindsight, we all recognise things could have been so much worse without people like him.

When Hazem El Magic runs out on Sunday, we’ll honour a footballer, peacemaker, teacher and philanthropist.

And here he was on Stateline in 2004:

Here at Holroyd High School in Sydney’s west — a school with a large number of students who are refugees — he’s come to draw the winning raffle for a school fundraiser.

But his visit is more than just a celebrity appearance.

In this discussion with the school football team the conversation soon turns to one of the boy’s experience of being discriminated against for being Lebanese and Muslim.

HAZEM EL MASRI: The whole community suffers because of a small minority, you know, and what upsets you sometimes is that the culture and the religion and all of that doesn’t promote such a thing but we end up copping a fair bit against it.

I always say to people, “The best way to go about it is let your actions do the talking.”

You know, around the footy and that and a lot of the guys know anything happens outside I don’t get teased about it or I don’t — because they know the type of person I am, the lifestyle I’m living.

I’m trying to lead by example and show them that’s how it’s done, basically.

Hazam El Mazri and his family

Hazam El Mazri and his family

Sydney has been fortunate in having this man, his wife Arwa, and their family in our midst. From the man himself:

Kerry Stewart: How about Hazem el Masri.

Boys: Yes, he’s footy, best kicker in the world.

Kerry Stewart: Is he impressive, do you think?

Boys: Yes, yes.

Kerry Stewart: Why?

Mohammed Nurjaman: Because if you can get religion into the way of his other play, like he’s the only Muslim in the NRL, and he’s a good player, and he’s not there to show them that he’s Muslim, he shows that he plays good football.

Kerry Stewart: But I think he brings his religion to the game.

Boy: He brings religion to the game, yes.

Mohammed Nurjaman: You never see him in punch-ups. Yes, he always keeps it to himself. That’s what Muslims learn from their religion.

Hazem el Masri: Well look, I didn’t choose to be a role model. To me, I don’t like to sort of call that as a role model, I prefer to just to go out there and let my actions do the talking. I try to live a wholesome lifestyle. Early on, I had to take that stance of making sure this is what I’m about you know, the fasting, the praying, the eating Halal food for example, not drinking alcohol, the temptation of ladies, you name it, I try to have fun as well but everything within the limits. I love socialising with my friends and I love going out and I love spending time with my family and all that. But at the end of the day I’m my own person, I try to as you say, set the right example for these kids and hope that they can follow the same footsteps. And it’s a matter of as well, because all the misleading coverage and the generalising out there especially of the Muslim and the Lebanese community, that I’ve taken that stance to show everyone pretty much, that we’re not all the same, everybody’s got their bad and good in them….

Yes, his wife wears the hijab — her choice, not his, as she saw it as marking the next step in her religion: she adopted it about a year after her marriage, very much her own choice for her own reasons. (That was in an excellent Good Weekend profile of El Masri in this Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald — not online.)

The man — and indeed the family — is a living, breathing rebuttal of all that paranoia out there about the Muslims in our midst.

Finally, read A Winger and a Prayer – Transcript from Australian Story 2007.

 

Norm, Ahmed, Shafana, Aunt Sarrinah, radicalisation and Australia

The first of the Things to look forward to is now done. It was the world premiere of Alana Valentine’s Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah and a revival of Alex Buzo’s 1969 classic Norm and Ahmed.

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Left: “Ahmed” takes “Norm” to a Pakistani Restaurant

Right: the opening scene of Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

Pics from the Alex Buzo Company blog linked above.

Of her new play Alana Valentine writes:

I hope Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah will surprise audiences with its portrait of Afghani Muslim women, who are articulate, highly educated, deeply spiritual and enraged by the way Australian and global media paint them as oppressed, meek and silent. To be part of a project where Buzo’s theme and concerns might be reignited through a new work…is genuinely exciting. In effect, it allows the ‘conversation’ to move into a third dimension: not just Buzo speaking anew to the 21st Century, but Buzo reflected and responded to through the voice of a contemporary playwright. It’s a vision of Australian theatre as a historical continuum…

Alana’s plays are always grounded in in depth research and interviews with the groups she is representing; that depth came through in last night’s performance which both Sirdan and I found very thought-provoking. The issue is whether or not Shafana should wear hijab. She eventually decides she will, even if Aunt Sarrinah, whom she dearly loves, is somewhat appalled by that decision. The play takes us beyond our often mind-numbingly dreadful understanding (if that is the right word) of the issues Australian Muslim women face and that we face in our response to them. A valuable exercise well dramatised, if, I thought, just a bit slow off the mark at the beginning.

As for Norm and Ahmed I agree with the woman sitting next to me in the theatre: “the more things change the more they stay the same.”  Sirdan was born in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) but could well relate to Norm and Ahmed – for him it was, unlike for me, as new as Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. He agreed that the contemporary relevance of this forty-year-old play was quite amazing.

A thoroughly good night out.

By coincidence, my mind still on Alana’s play especially, I read a truly excellent article in this morning’s Australian: From a human to a terrorist by Sally Neighbour.

… The perplexing question is: Why? How does a seemingly ordinary young man come to embrace violent extremism? Its corollary, the question that confounds counter-terrorism experts worldwide, is: how can we stop them?

The rapidly morphing nature of global terrorism demands an evolving response. Since 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida has diminished but its ideology has flourished, spawning hundreds of like-minded groups and cells across the world. US terrorism specialist Marc Sageman describes this new phenomenon as a "violent Islamist born-again social movement" straddling the globe. Its fragmented and anarchic nature makes it arguably a bigger threat than al-Qa’ida, according to Britain’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, unveiled in March this year. Unlike the once highly centralised al-Qa’ida, the new grassroots terrorism cannot be fought with border protection measures or military strikes, but must be tackled at its roots.

This reality has spawned a new buzzword in the anti-terrorism fraternity: counter-radicalisation. Its aim, in Sageman’s words, is to "stop the process of radicalisation before it reaches its violent end"…

Sageman, the pre-eminent expert on radicalisation theory, is a former CIA mujaheddin handler in Pakistan, now a psychologist and author of two books, Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad. After studying 165 jihadists, Sageman is adamant that terrorists are not born but made. There is no psychological profile of a terrorist and Sageman believes "root causes" such as socioeconomic deprivation are overrated. The most common factor in the making of a terrorist is alienation. Of the jihadists Sageman studied, he found that "a remarkable 78 per cent were cut off from their cultural and social origins". He concludes "this absence of connection is a necessary condition for a network of people to join the global jihad"…

Sageman adds they are not violent psychopaths but "generally idealistic young people seeking dreams of glory fighting for justice and fairness"…

Much better in its analysis that most of the rants you see. The dynamics of that alienation, though not in a form likely to lead to terrorism, are also seen in Alana Valentine’s play.

Oh – and a footnote. I have always thought taking the French path and “outlawing” the hijab in Australia would be really stupid. Fortunately both John Howard and Kevin Rudd have not been tempted.

* Special thanks to Emma Buzo. 🙂

Update

See the The Australian Stage review.

[On Alana’s play] …This is a powerful night at theatre and a welcome, bold, essential addition to the culturally homogeneous theatre one can expect to see in some of the larger venues around town. I believe this to be an extraordinarily brave and bold double bill containing four very fine performers. Actors who embrace the challenge of new work, with new perspectives are worth their weight in effusive praise and I feel compelled to mention the spectacular performances by Camilla Ah Kin and Sheridan Harbridge who confront this subject with tenderness, fierceness and great compassion – to the extent that I felt stunned and broken by the time the lights dimmed.

 

Conflicting perspectives

That is an HSC English topic much exercising me of late, but it is also an interesting thing to explore.

Take President Sarkozy and his recent speech. There is an interesting Australian Muslim perspective on Crikey: Sarkozy’s proposed burqua ban is a blunt instrument.

…Last year, I spent a few days in Paris with a French friend of Moroccan background. She and her family and friends related stories of almost routine discrimination  — of elderly relatives being rejected as unworthy for citizenship after fifty years of law-abiding, tax-paying residence, of always having to strive that little bit harder in work and study in order to prove yourself to your non-Muslim colleagues, of the banning of religious symbols in public schools, which was seen as particularly targeting Muslim girls wearing hijab.

My friend now lives in Sydney, and said that she felt a sense of resignation in the face of Sarkozy’s speech. “It’s just another chapter. The kind of events that are almost unthinkable in Australia are commonplace in France. It’s supposed to be about the burqua, but it’s really about something deeper  — about attitudes to Muslims.”

Many Muslim women, including many hijabis, are deeply uncomfortable with face-covering. It is so vanishingly rare among Muslims in the West that many observant Muslims have only encountered it at a distance.

In Australia, a disproportionate number of the women who observe this practice seem to be converts. Their stated commitment to face-covering as their “personal choice” is rendered problematic by the fact that many of them don’t believe that personal choice over dress standards should be extended to women in Muslim-majority societies. While they believe that covering the face is commendable rather than obligatory, they defend the mandatory covering of women’s hair in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

But as Sarkozy’s speech illustrates, they are not the only ones who think that choice is a one-way street  — you can choose, so long as you choose what I tell you to choose. There is no single experience of face-covering, just as there is no single experience of the bikini. Some Muslim women describe face-covering as providing a sense of privacy and comfort…

Not quite unthinkable in Australia of course, but the outcome was more commendable.

In helping one of my coachees towards a definition of “conflicting perspectives” for HSC purposes earlier this week I raised the question in the following way: “I suppose at your school there are heaps of girls wearing hijab…” “Yes,” he replied. “Does anyone take any notice of it?” “No,” he said. Then I asked if he knew what the French President had been saying recently. He did. We then explored what perspective he might have been operating from – and I was as objective and non-judgemental about it as possible, the point not being whether Sarkozy was right or wrong, or whether he was playing dog whistle politics – a term the French do not have according to that Crikey post. We went through a number of historical and cultural factors. We did conclude that making an issue of such things – and similar things like Sikhs who have to wear turbans – tends to exacerbate the conflict of perspectives.

And Bruce, from an atheist perspective, comes in practice to similar conclusions. (I have to say I am bemused by the sectarianism that leads to charges of “accomodationism” or “Uncle Tom atheism”. A bit “holier than thou” isn’t it, if you get my drift?)

…Harris is famed for championing a reduced form of intolerance, which I think most of the people where I come from would just call criticism. Maybe it’s an antipodean thing, but intolerance to me seems more a matter of civics than of intellectual conduct. Maybe its an Australian thing – I think we and Canada have done better with these kinds of concepts, at least in practice, than the US or any of Europe (you will notice that as the primary architects of multiculturalism in practice, neither Australia nor Canada fell for the mockery of human rights that was the Durban Review Conference – so much for the culpability of multicultural tolerance in that mess.*)

I think Harris falls into a deadly rhetorical trap for even associating the criticism of religion with intolerance. It’s not “conversational intolerance.” It’s not intolerance at all!

Intolerance is kicking a kid out of school for wearing a burqa. It isn’t intolerant to opine that the burqa, when forced upon someone, is oppressive. Or to opine that theological reasons for the burqa are sophistry.

Does the fact that I’m against banning the burqa in schools make me an accommodationist? Even given what I think of it? Please do make a distinction between my applied civics and my intellectual position – just because I think something is a bad idea doesn’t mean that I don’t think intervention would be worse…

I certainly endorse that conclusion.

 

More on things I’m proud of…

Well, there’s this speech I made in 2000.

A Talk to Bilingual Parents

I gave this talk at the first NESB Parent Night at Sydney Boys High in 2000.

There are times when I am quite proud to be an Australian. One of those times was late 1998 when I made friends with a backpacker named Kyohiko Kato from Sendai, Japan. Why was I proud? It was when he said he had come to Australia to develop an open mind: “big heart” is actually what he said. He went on: “When I came out of Sydney Airport and saw so many different sorts of people I knew I had come to the right place.” He was only visiting for one year and I suspect he had an open mind already!

Many people who come here to settle do so because here is different from their country of birth. Others come because their country of birth is no longer a good place to be. Others come to make money, or to give their family a better chance in life. There are all sorts of reasons. My great great-great grandfather came because the English Courts in Ireland told him to.

Whatever the reason, settling is never easy. I have read a letter written about 160 years ago by one of my ancestors. He said, “You know I don’t want to die in this country.” He did of course. A great-grandmother solved the problem by losing her mind and believing her home in Dulwich Hill was actually in the Lakes District of England.

Changing countries is an emotional thing. A Chinese friend was surprised to find that now, when in China, he feels Australian. Chinese people have even congratulated him on how well he speaks Chinese. But in Australia he feels Chinese. Here are your boys now. Here they are in a school and a school system that may be quite similar to, or very different from, what you knew, or what your friends and relations back home know. There is an interesting question: where is home?

Your language and culture aren’t just decorations: they are part of who you are. Australian governments officially recognise that now, and I hope more and more people understand it in practice. Your son’s future in Australia will be even brighter if he can be a complete person — one who knows where he has come from and is proud of it, but who also knows where he is and can move freely.

You want your son to do well. Everyone wants that, but maybe migrants want it even harder. So what do you do? How can you guarantee he will do well?

Well, there are no guarantees.

But there are some good ideas — and I have found some in a very old book that some of you will know. The book is old, but it is studied by soldiers and business students all over the world today. It is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Sun Tzu says

The contour of the land is an aid to an army; sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distances, is the proper course of action for military leaders. Those who do battle knowing these will win, those who do battle without knowing these will lose.

Sun Tzu also says:

Therefore generals who know all possible adaptations to take advantage of the ground know how to use military forces. If generals do not know how to adapt advantageously, even if they know the lay of the land they cannot take advantage of it.

Jia Lin comments:

Even if you know the configuration of the land, if your mind is inflexible you will not only fail to take advantage of the ground but may even be harmed by it. It is important for generals to adapt in appropriate ways. These adaptations are made on the spot as appropriate, and cannot be fixed in advance.

I asked a student what I should tell parents tonight. He said: “Don’t say ‘Let your boys have fun and relax.’ They will just laugh at you.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Maybe you could tell them not to set goals their kids just can’t reach.” “Yes. I will tell them that,” I promised.

Well, now I’ve told you.

Don’t be afraid of setting goals. Don’t be afraid of encouraging your boys to work hard. But let us together learn the ground, and let us together — parents, students and teachers — make the right adaptations. Then we can win the battle.

Guess I’m proud of my English/ESL blog. (242,577 hits since December 2006)

And as for Neos (mentioned yesterday) – it was rather nice to have Patrick White, Nobel Prize winning Australian writer, promoting it enthusiastically to Australian poet Robert Gray back around Issue 2.

 

And even more, I’m afraid…

Curious, isn’t it? Here I am in this country which has allegedly taken up “curry bashing” as a sport extending beyond the Cricket field and I bought my Sydney Morning Herald this morning, several of the lead stories in which are by one Arjun Ramachandran, from the Indian newsagent to see that Miranda Devine has returned to the theme. I even agree with some of what she says, insofar as the people actually doing the bashing tend to come from a pool of thugs fairly well known for a similar interest in targeting gays, not that Miranda mentions that. (Lord Malcolm was once on the receiving end.) Jim Belshaw’s term “underclass” is another that Miranda eschews. Instead her King Charles’ Head leads her down a slippery slope – no racial profiling intended – where I would rather not follow. She accuses Kevin Rudd of hypocrisy for advocating that vigilante action really is not a good idea, and rather commends the good folk of Cronulla 2005.

…In a strange twist of fate, Superintendent Robert Redfern, the Parramatta local area commander who was hard at work at the Harris Park protests at midnight on Tuesday, was also police commander at Cronulla during the 2005 race riots. We saw then the dangers of vigilantism.

Back then, Cronulla locals had been complaining for months that police were playing down assaults and menacing behaviour by what they described as "Middle Eastern" youths from south-western Sydney. There was a protest, which turned into an ugly riot with racist violence against anyone who looked Middle Eastern, followed by revenge attacks as young men from the south-west drove to Cronulla damaging property and assaulting people, with police nowhere to be seen.

In Harris Park, the script is familiar. Police play down crime problems, victims lose faith in the authorities to protect them, start to protest, take matters into their own hands, attack innocent passers-by. So far there have been no revenge attacks but it’s unlikely police can guarantee they won’t occur.

I sincerely hope Miranda isn’t hoping… And I should add, as a Shire boy myself originally, that the openly racist nut who attempted to be elected to Sutherland Council last year failed miserably.

You see, I brought the first Indian into The Shire myself, or perhaps I did. It was back in 1957 when I brought one of my best school friends, Ashok, home to Kirrawee. That of course was when institutional racism was alive and well in Australia. There was the White Australia policy, generally supported by the Left partly on the grounds that it protected Australian working conditions and kept the “Yellow Peril” at bay, and there was our Aboriginal policy, though that was beginning to be questioned. There the Left had a better track record. Mind you, hindsight is all very well, isn’t it?

My father was a bit worried about the prospect of meeting Ashok. He wanted to know how black he was, and warned me about the strange things some folks did when the moon was full. On meeting him, though, it was almost love at first sight, and over thirty years later, when my father was unfortunately quite gaga, he would ask me how Ashok was, though it was thirty years since Ashok had gone on to higher fields at St Paul’s School in London. His father, you see, was Assistant Indian Trade Commissioner, which explains why Ashok and Anand were in Australia at that time. My mother thought Ashok’s mum’s saris were really beautiful, and Ashok’s manners were at times a contrast to my own.

The local Kirrawee boys were just disappointed that Ashok didn’t have feathers and a bow and arrow…

Forty years on and The Mine had more subcontinentals – who tended to call themselves “curries”—than you could poke a stick at. Not that we did. We did rely on them to keep up the school’s cricketing reputation though.

 

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Racism? Yes and no…

It is no accident that my “What’s new” picture for the last few days has been this:

curios 001b

There am I, third from the left, with a Japanese Christian and Mr Kim from Korea on my right, a couple of Indonesian Muslims, Rui from Tianjin China, two more Indonesians, a Korean, and another Indonesian on my left. It’s a long time ago now, and I have always been better with faces than names. This is just one group from the hundreds of students I came to know in 1990 to early 1991 when I ventured into the overseas student world. Most were those Chinese who had left their country in the wake of Tiananmen. Rui, for example, was a scientist.

Some of them did experience racism or at least xenophobia, often of the petty kind: finding people would not sit next to them in the train, for example. (On the other hand, I read of a black American in Korea who found an entire swimming pool suddenly empty of people when he dived in.) Some of them, like the thirteen Nepalese mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald today, found themselves conned or ripped off, though the perpetrators were quite often of the same ethnicity as the fleeced. Some overseas student agencies were ethical and indeed excellent, as is still the case, but some were shysters. Some private colleges were shonky, very shonky, and some were not. Some were owned by Indonesians or Chinese, some were not.

One Korean student reported racism to me once: taxis would not stop for him. I investigated by asking him what he did to hail a cab. He demonstrated with a hand movement which would work in Korea, but in Sydney would be interpreted as “I don’t want a cab.” Correct hand movement taught, the problem was solved.

I am not wanting to trivialise the degree to which racism is involved in some of the attacks on Indian students and others in recent days, but to embrace that as the only cause is a sure way to miss the fine detail and thus to act ineffectually. The idea that Australians are racist has some validity, but as a generalisation is no better than others such as “Chinese eat cats” or “Australians are lazy” or “Muslims are terrorists” or “Lebanese are criminal drug lords”. The word “some” should figure in all the above.

Very emotive thing, racism. I am firmly anti-racist, but regret some of the excesses this has led me into. Ask the Rabbit, whose indiscretion on one occasion (in the name of humour in his case, a bit Chaser-like and misplaced perhaps) I over-reacted to quite shamefully, forgetting the obvious point that in his actual life as I well knew there was very little evidence of real racism.

It is also true that overseas students are quite often vulnerable. I would baulk at travelling by train at night in some parts of Sydney; they have to, and are conspicuous. They may also be perceived as rich, though that too is a false generalisation. Jim Belshaw today canvasses more possibilities.

The desire to profit from overseas students sometimes runs ahead of ability (or even willingness) to consider their welfare. This is especially true of the worst private colleges.

On the other hand undoubted racists are making a meal of this situation, and the usual white supremacist minority would probably have been behind those leaflets distributed around the University of NSW.

See also my English/ESL blog.

 

Three thought provokers

These have come my way via Arts & Letters Daily.

1. "The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan" by Nicholas Schmidle (Foreign Policy March 2009)

After eight years of a White House that often seemed blinkered by the threats posed by Pakistan, the Obama administration seems to grasp the severity of the myriad crises affecting the South Asian state. The media has followed suit and increased its presence and reporting, a trend confirmed by CNN’s decision to set up a bureau in Islamabad last year.

And yet, the uptick in coverage hasn’t necessarily clarified the who’s-doing-what-to-whom confusion in Pakistan. Some commentators continue to confuse the tribal areas with the North-West Frontier Province. And the word lashkars is used to describe all kinds of otherwise cross-purposed groups, some fighting the Taliban, some fighting India, and some fighting Shiites.

I admit, it’s not easy. I lived in Pakistan throughout all of 2006 and 2007 and only came to understand, say, the tribal breakdown in South Waziristan during my final days. So to save you the trouble of having to live in Pakistan for two years to differentiate between the Wazirs and the Mehsuds, the Frontier Corps and the Rangers, I’ve written an “idiot’s guide” that will hopefully clear some things up…

2. "Human Nature" by Mark Dowie (Guernica Magazine May 2009) — in the paradox and unexpected consequences department.

Is modern conservation linked with ethnic cleansing? In an excerpt from his new book, the investigative historian explores the concepts of wilderness and nature, and argues that the removal of aboriginal people from their homeland to create wilderness is a charade.

"One way to guarantee a conversation without a conclusion is to ask a group of people what nature is." —Rebecca Solnit, University of California…

3. "Fear masquerading as tolerance" by Christopher Caldwell (Prospect May 2009).

This article has resonance for Australia, but I suspect our experience with immigration and multiculturalism has been different from Europe’s in significant ways. Nonetheless I add this to paradox and unexpected consequences too.

…The Europe into which immigrants began arriving in the 1950s was reeling in horror from the second world war and preoccupied with building the institutions to forestall any repetition of it. Nato was the most important of these institutions. The EU was the most ambitious. The war supplied European thinkers with all their moral categories and benchmarks. Avoiding another explosion meant purging Europe’s individual countries of nationalism, with ‘‘nationalism’’ understood to include all vestiges of racism, militarism, and cultural chauvinism—but also patriotism, pride, and unseemly competitiveness. The singing of national anthems and the waving of national flags became, in some countries, the province only of skinheads and soccer hooligans.

Prompted by the US, which was addressing its own race problem at the time, and with the threat of communism concentrating their minds, Europeans began to articulate a code of ‘‘European values’’ such as individualism, democracy, freedom, and human rights. These values were never defined with much precision. Yet they seemed to permit social cohesion, and their embrace coincided with 60 years of peace.

Europe was an attractive place for immigrants. But attraction and admiration are not synonyms. The Ottoman empire and China both had a ‘‘power of attraction’’ for westerners in the 19th century. But it was not out of any admiration for their systems of government or their ideals of human rights that Europeans signed treaties with, settled in, and disrupted the national lives of those two countries. It was because they were rich places too weak to look out for themselves.

The EU was not dreamt up with immigrants in mind, but it wound up setting the rules under which they were welcomed. Postwar Europe was built on an intolerance of intolerance—a mindset that has been praised as anti-racism and anti-fascism, and ridiculed as political correctness. Our interest here is neither to defend it as common sense nor reject it as claptrap. It is to understand, first, what Europe was thinking when it welcomed immigrants in such numbers—something it would not have done at any previous moment in history—and, second, what grounds Europe had for dealing with newcomers in the often naive and overindulgent way it did…

 

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A rather odd argument?

I remember without much pleasure the Paul Sheehan of a decade or so ago when I thought of him as “the thinking person’s Pauline Hanson”. What he had to say then about people like M was distinctly warped and unhelpful. In recent times he has addressed himself rather often to the topic of Muslims. You may go back two years to see what I had to say about him then: Paul Sheehan again. (There’s a bit of a connection also – tangentially – to Jim Belshaw’s recent post Saturday Morning Musings – Muslim prayer rooms and the importance of checking one’s facts.)

Today Sheehan argues that Islamophobia is a fabrication.

I’ve been considering a request from a post-graduate student who wants to do a thesis on Islamophobia in Australia. She writes: "I am researching the topic Islamophobia, and I am trying to prove whether Islamophobia is based on religion fear or cultural fear of Islam."

What about proving that Islamophobia exists at all? That would be the logical, ethical and scholarly starting point. But it appears the outcome has already been decided. This would fit the prevailing orthodoxy in academia that the default position for Muslims in Australia is victim. The jargon, "Islamophobia" is part of this ideological construct. Literally, it means fear of Muslims.

I reflected on all this while on holiday in Malaysia and the Maldives last week. This was my twelfth visit to Muslim societies because I do not "fear" Muslims and do not "fear" Islam. Yes, there is ample evidence that Australians have become uneasy about Muslims in general and hostile in specific cases, but this is about cause and effect…

This is suspiciously like “some of my best friends are Jewish” particularly when it is followed by a litany of bad news stories about Aussie thugs and crims of a generally Middle Eastern or Muslim background, the cumulative effect of which must be distrust of such groups as a whole, despite his opening disclaimer.

I would agree that terms like “Islamophobe” and “racist” are sometimes tossed around thoughtlessly, but that does not prove in any way that there isn’t a strong irrational or visceral component in the reactions of some people which can fairly be termed a phobia. Nor, when you think about it, does Sheehan pursue cause and effect very far. Cause seems to end on the Islamic or Middle Eastern side of the equation every time. Strange, that.

I am of course not denying there is a problem; neither, I would suggest, do thoughtful Muslim Australians.

Update 31 March

Irfan Yusuf has a piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Australian Muslims not a monolith. It appears it is coincidental, as he addresses Rev Fred Nile’s and Andrew Bolt’s unhelpful interventions rather than Paul Sheehan’s, but the cap fits.

…On the ABC’s Q&A program on Thursday, columnist Andrew Bolt spoke of "a rejectionist strand" that made Muslim immigration experience different to the experiences of Greek and Italian migrants. Again, the underlying assumptions are based on ignorance. To speak of a recent singular wave of Muslim migration is to engage in historical revisionism. Virtually all waves of migration incorporated an element of Muslims, including Europeans from Albania and the former Yugoslavia .

Some Muslims came as refugees, others as skilled or business migrants. Some have hardly been out of an immigration detention centre for a few years. Others are descended from Afghan cameleers who married indigenous women in the 19th century.

Yet, for some reason, Australian Muslims are treated as some kind of monolith. We hear pundits and self-serving religious leaders speak of a mythical entity called the "Muslim community". The idea that Muslims define themselves primarily by their religion sounds ridiculous when one considers that membership of the Lebanese Moslems Association is limited to adult males eligible for Lebanese citizenship. Yet what happens at this Lakemba mosque is somehow a reflection of 300,000-odd Australians who feel inclined to tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms.

Are such prejudices widespread? Could they lead to violence? It’s hard to say, though some comments published on popular blogs are not promising. Bolt’s blog carries comments calling for a "Carthaginian solution" to be adopted against Muslim countries. One comment this month ended with: "Drop the bomb, kill them all." Another spoke of "a number or an above average percentage in the Lebanese/Arab/Muslim of south-west Sydney who are short-tempered, relatively thick, criminal, and fundamentally violent".

And it took a complaint from an executive member of a Muslim religious body before this remark was removed: "Bombing them, back to the stone age where their politico-religious philosophy belongs, would indeed be the only thing they understand … Islam has no such thing as a peace treaty … You don’t negotiate with that, you shoot it."…

 

On race and policy: worth noting

Again I owe Arts & Letters Daily for pointing to Slate and Sudhir Venkatesh on How To Understand the Culture of Poverty, a review of More Than Just Race by William Julius Wilson.

… Liberals believed that black poverty was caused by systemic racism, such as workplace discrimination and residential segregation, and that focusing on the family was a form of "blaming the victim." Conservatives pointed to individual failure to embrace mainstream cultural values like hard work and sobriety, and intact (read: nuclear) families. It’s like Yankees vs. Mets, and for 40 years there has been no middle ground. (That the current generation of college students might not necessarily share this polarized view may augur an important shift in the years ahead.)

In this standoff, along comes the eminent sociologist William Julius Wilson, whom I studied with at the University of Chicago in the 1990s, promising to transcend the polarizing discourse on race in American society. (Sound familiar?) Wilson claims his analysis in his new book, titled More Than Just Race, will bridge the two worlds and create a new, more enlightened way for Americans to talk about race (heard this one before?)—but he is well aware that won’t happen without controversy…

More Than Just Race, which draws on Wilson’s earlier research as well as more recent studies, is yet more proof of his willingness to ignore political and academic pieties and his will to make social science relevant to the public. Wilson wants to explain inner-city behavior—such as young black males’ disdain for low-wage jobs, their use of violence, and their refusal to take responsibility for children—without pointing simplistically to discrimination or a deficit in values. Instead, he argues that many years of exposure to similar situations can create responses that look as if they express individual will or active preference when they are, in fact, adaptations or resigned responses to racial exclusion…

The book stands to have a powerful impact in policy circles because it points to the elephant in the room. Wilson knows it is difficult to engineer cultural change. We can train black youths, we can move their families to better neighborhoods, etc., but changing their way of thinking is not so easy. Evidence of this lies in the many "mobility" programs that move inner-city families to lower-poverty suburbs: Young women continue to have children out of wedlock and, inexplicably, the young men who move out return to their communities to commit crime! These patterns flummox researchers and, according to Wilson, they will continue to remain mysterious until we look at culture for an answer…

…Wilson repeatedly points to the benefits that jobs programs and vocational training have on the cultural front. Stated somewhat crudely, increasing employment will reduce the number of people who might promote or even condone deviant behavior. Change might not occur overnight, and it may not be wholesale, but it will take place.

Wilson advised the Obama campaign, and it is likely that his combination of race-neutral social policies and "jobs-first" agenda will be attractive to our president. Perhaps after addressing the financial mess, terrorism, the Iraq war, "AfPak," education, health care, and the climate, the administration will turn its attention to domestic poverty. However long that takes, it is alas safe to predict that ghetto poverty will still be a pressing national problem.

Despite the obviously US context of this – and do read the whole article – it is clear (to me at least) that some of our more vexing issues here in Australia would benefit from similar thinking.

 

Compass last night: Bridge Over the Wadi

logohand Given so much we see and read out of Israel/Palestine, it was good that Compass screened the documentary Bridge Over the Wadi last night. One reviewer writes:

… Although Hand in Hand is bi-lateral, this film isn’t. It’s Israeli. This will immediately scream ‘bias’ to some audiences. But hold on a minute – and I say that sincerely as I am the most sceptical of audiences on such matters. As an Israeli film, I still feel it bends over backwards to illustrate both sides. Often quite emotionally. And the sincerity of all concerned can be painfully moving to behold.

Views expressed are mostly of the children. Children educated in each other’s languages. Each other’s religious beliefs. Respecting their own culture, but partaking fully – yes, fully – in the opposite culture.

"I’m a total atheist," says one parent. "But I’m Jewish." She is not making some subtle academic point about the separation of Jewish culture and religion. As a parent who’s sent her child to Bridge over the Wadi school, she is already a ‘tolerant’ member of her community, and is consequently looked at askance by many of her neighbours. Yet her tolerance soon begins to waver. She exclaims that Arab parents must think she is "a sucker" for letting her Jewish kids say "Allah is great". We then hear from her the familiar, archetypal, emotional (if disingenuous) homilies about Exodus and about the Holocaust. She removes her child from school.

An Arab boy goes to lunch at his Jewish classmate’s home. The boys just want to relax. Grandma, however well meaningly, interrogates him over his ‘views’ on terrorists. He squirms. This is a five-year-old child being made to feel guilty. But it is normal and reasonable from the grandma’s perspective, with her look of fear and concern…

Bridge Over The Wadi packs a tremendous emotional punch. It doesn’t offer complete answers. It does show a significant attempt to move forward in reciprocal understanding rather than mutual narrow-mindedness. My main criticism is that it still seems a little smug. It fails to give any noticeable credit to the Initiatives on which the documentary is based. It simplifies facts. For instance, considering the vast lengths Hand In Hand go to for accuracy, it seems disrespectful that filmmakers round out the numbers of pupils – applications ‘doubled’ in the second year – they actually increased very significantly. Or, suffering the little children perhaps, should they have omitted to mention that Christianity is also taught alongside Islam and Judaism?

But Bridge Over The Wadi is an impressive piece. One I recommend. It succeeds in presenting issues in a captivating way, without assuming detailed prior knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

One of the extraordinary things about five-year-olds anywhere is their sense of discovery about the world. Their unaffected and unconscious grasp of what is before their eyes. When they put their cross-border friendships before age-old enmity, the reasoning out of their mouths puts the complex negotiations of adults to shame.

That really says it all, and I agree wholeheartedly.

See also my Vodpod on the right down the page.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2009 in best viewing 2009, current affairs, education, humanity, inspiration, interfaith, Israel, Middle East, multiculturalism, peace, pluralism, religion, TV

 

Nice, but hot

Over on the photoblog I mention it was 39C today – not what the news says, but that’s what it was out of the wind and in the sun on M’s balcony at noon. I was doing a brief house-sit, for reasons I won’t bother with here… But you can see one of his plants.

06feb 022

It was at least cool inside, and it did keep me away from the computer most of the day. 😉 (Today’s other posts went up via automatic pilot just after midnight last night.) Called at The Mine too.

06feb 002

No. Not too close… Photographing school boys is a no-no.

nephew Speaking of no longer school boys, English/ESL scored a visit via my grand-nephew’s (right) MySpace blog. He’d written last year (and I hadn’t seen this before):

With a new school year set to start today, I just thought that I should spread a little bit of cheer in the form of information. Yay!

HSC is a bitch, as we all know, and English is a subject everyone does, and it is a pain in the ass right across all levels. I, however have found a website that takes a little bit of the strain off the extensive English workload.

http://neilwhitfield.wordpress.com/

This website, hosted by former English HT of Sydney Boys HS (along with several other High Schools and Universities) and my Great Uncle…was one of the best resources I had when I was studying HSC English Advanced. But not only does this website cover English Advanced curricula, but ranges from ESL, English Standard, and even to Extension, and includes tips as to how to write proper essays, and guidlines on how to stick to answering the question.

I rate this website to anyone studying the HSC this year as it saved me a few times last year.

So Check it out!

Bookmark it!

Maybe it will save your HSC too…

Go Figure

No, I’m not linking him, but I was also pleased to read (and he is a Shire boy) a really impassioned statement on racism.

…I understand racism still exists. It is appalling that in today Australia, that barriers still exist. I for one am NOT a racist. However, I am an Australian. My heritage is that of English, Scottish, Mauritian, Aboriginal and a bunch of others. I have cousins of Malaysian descent. I was born in Australia and live my life as an Australian. I do not mingle in the business of others, and I certainly do not take offense nor exhibit prejudice to the heritage that of my own nor other around me.

I do, however, take offense to others who label me as a racist, BECAUSE I am what is ignorantly labelled as White Australian. It is an ugly term to be thrown around. My love for who I am and where I live and those who have lived before me does not make me a racist, nor does it make others like me racist. It is, in fact, those who use that term to label others who are the racist ones.

This needs to stop. We need to live together under the one flag. That is what the Australian Flag represents. It represents unity. It represents mutual respect…

Nothing to do with me, I assure you, all his own unaided thoughts. (I don’t see him all that often, though we just had a quick MSN chat in response to the English/ESL link, which I thanked him for.)

I was chuffed though.

Must correct my g-nephew: I was never H(ead) T(eacher) — just a dogsbody crew member, and of course ESL head, in the sense there was only ever one of us!

 

Friday intellectual spot 2

Not all that intellectual today, but two items of interest from the recent Arts & Letters Daily selections.

The first I immediately thought was another reactionary rant on its subject, but closer examination shows it is better than that. I was put off by the A&L’s intro:

Literacy, the most empowering achievement of our civilization, is to be replaced by a vague and ill-defined screen savvy. All in the name of progress… more»

Much better than that would lead you to expect. You can read the whole thing in PDF here.

The second is from The Atlantic Monthly: The End of White America? by Hua Hsu.

"Civilization’s going to pieces,” he remarks. He is in polite company, gathered with friends around a bottle of wine in the late-afternoon sun, chatting and gossiping. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard?” They hadn’t. “Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

He is Tom Buchanan, a character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a book that nearly everyone who passes through the American education system is compelled to read at least once. Although Gatsby doesn’t gloss as a book on racial anxiety—it’s too busy exploring a different set of anxieties entirely—Buchanan was hardly alone in feeling besieged. The book by “this man Goddard” had a real-world analogue: Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, published in 1920, five years before Gatsby. Nine decades later, Stoddard’s polemic remains oddly engrossing. He refers to World War I as the “White Civil War” and laments the “cycle of ruin” that may result if the “white world” continues its infighting. The book features a series of foldout maps depicting the distribution of “color” throughout the world and warns, “Colored migration is a universal peril, menacing every part of the white world.”

As briefs for racial supremacy go, The Rising Tide of Color is eerily serene. Its tone is scholarly and gentlemanly, its hatred rationalized and, in Buchanan’s term, “scientific.” And the book was hardly a fringe phenomenon. It was published by Scribner, also Fitzgerald’s publisher, and Stoddard, who received a doctorate in history from Harvard, was a member of many professional academic associations. It was precisely the kind of book that a 1920s man of Buchanan’s profile—wealthy, Ivy League–educated, at once pretentious and intellectually insecure—might have been expected to bring up in casual conversation.

As white men of comfort and privilege living in an age of limited social mobility, of course, Stoddard and the Buchanans in his audience had nothing literal to fear. Their sense of dread hovered somewhere above the concerns of everyday life. It was linked less to any immediate danger to their class’s political and cultural power than to the perceived fraying of the fixed, monolithic identity of whiteness that sewed together the fortunes of the fair-skinned.

From the hysteria over Eastern European immigration to the vibrant cultural miscegenation of the Harlem Renaissance, it is easy to see how this imagined worldwide white kinship might have seemed imperiled in the 1920s. There’s no better example of the era’s insecurities than the 1923 Supreme Court case United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, in which an Indian American veteran of World War I sought to become a naturalized citizen by proving that he was Caucasian. The Court considered new anthropological studies that expanded the definition of the Caucasian race to include Indians, and the justices even agreed that traces of “Aryan blood” coursed through Thind’s body. But these technicalities availed him little. The Court determined that Thind was not white “in accordance with the understanding of the common man” and therefore could be excluded from the “statutory category” of whiteness. Put another way: Thind was white, in that he was Caucasian and even Aryan. But he was not white in the way Stoddard or Buchanan were white.

The ’20s debate over the definition of whiteness—a legal category? a commonsense understanding? a worldwide civilization?—took place in a society gripped by an acute sense of racial paranoia, and it is easy to regard these episodes as evidence of how far we have come. But consider that these anxieties surfaced when whiteness was synonymous with the American mainstream, when threats to its status were largely imaginary. What happens once this is no longer the case—when the fears of Lothrop Stoddard and Tom Buchanan are realized, and white people actually become an American minority? ….

Do make sure you read on. It becomes even more interesting, and it is very relevant to our thinking here in Australia, despite its US emphasis, and to our own past. In fact I’ve PDFed it too: Hua Hsu article. Of course there are major differences between the US and Australian experiences, but there is common ground in some of the thinking Hua Hsu alludes to.

Putting both articles together, you might say a 21st century Tom Buchanan would be running an ultra-Right blog! 😉

The relevance to our own past? See earlier entries here: That hypothetical Year 10 lesson on “White Australia” and Updating that hypothetical Year 10 lesson on "White Australia". My contention would be that in the context of the time, given what was “normal” thinking in much of the Anglophone world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it would have been very surprising if Australia hadn’t had a “White Australia Policy”. We don’t have to agonise about it, because we have moved on since then. Sadly, not everyone has moved on, as we know, but generally speaking there has been a lot of progress, especially here in Australia.

It doesn’t hurt our international reputation though to be frank about our own past, while equally assertive about the progress that has been made; I’d go further and claim it is very desirable so to do, setting an excellent example to others less honest about their chequered pasts. That’s why I don’t accept Keith Windschuttle’s special pleading on the subject. Our White Australia Policy was indisputably racist, whatever else it may have been – protective of labour, concerned with Empire and with internal social cohesion, inspired by distance and vulnerability, and so on – all part of the mix too. But it is really not surprising that racist thinking shaped much of the rhetoric at the time.

Jim Belshaw and I have thrashed this one out several times in the past, as visiting those two posts will show. 🙂

 

Fascinating blogging and cultural phenomenon

Day after day – as all users of WordPress.com will have noticed – the top blog post tends to come from one Alvin Lim whose Coolsmurf Domain is dedicated to East Asian pop culture, Korean especially.

200901061535141Alvin is certainly prolific. The latest to hover at the top of the WordPress hit parade is 15-Year Old Park Seo Jin Semi-Nude Photoshoot Draws Controversy. The range of comments (also prolific) includes some that go beyond airheadedness. Here, of course, one immediately thinks of the Bill Henson controversy of 2008 and the panic ensuing which in turn has affected the Australian government’s approach to Internet censorship, a matter much debated, as mentioned in the previous post. One of the offending images is on the right; all rather Calvin Klein.

I should add that Alvin does not have to have words like “nude” in his titles to attract readers. Clearly Korean pop culture is a very big phenomenon.

I find all this fascinating as evidence both of the amazing diversity of our world and its opposite tendency towards homogenisation. Or perhaps of the hybrid world we are seeing emerge.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2009 in Asian, blogging, generational change, multiculturalism, other blogs, pluralism, www