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Category Archives: Postcolonial

Some non-fiction read recently 2b – the personal component

See also Some non-fiction read recently: 2a.

This goes back to 2005 and a particularly interesting if controversial event. On the day I was not there, as I had to attend a meeting of ESL teachers at Erskineville – or was it Arncliffe, one of the last such meetings for me as I retired the following year. But I did know all the participants at The Mine end, and I posted on it at the time and the following year. See Salt Mine and Islamic Students; 7.30 Report: The Mine and the Islamists; The Mine and the Islamists: cause for concern?. On Floating Life Apr 06 ~ Nov 07 there is also a major entry from April 2006.

What I found yesterday was a video on YouTube of the complete 2005 Seminar referred to in those entries. The controversy centred on the guest speakers, Sheik Khalid Yassin and Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Wassim Doureihi. These people would fall in one of Michael Burleigh’s inner circles (see previous entry) but not necessarily, of course, into the innermost circle. While I had concerns about the Mine students involved, I very much doubt they would have even considered the innermost circle – quite the opposite in fact. (I also refer to these students in my Cronulla 2005 posts.)

05shs

Stills from the video.

Mine students often show initiative, of course, and these particular students were very bright indeed and participated in all aspects of school life to the full. An earlier generation some ten years before promised they would have Barry Crocker and Kamahl at their farewell assembly. We thought they were joking, but on the day, there they were! The Tamils were especially happy. So were the office ladies.

Now you have to wait for Part C of this post.

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Posted by on April 20, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, events, ex-students and coachees, faith, interfaith, Islam, multicultural Australia, personal, Postcolonial, religion, reminiscences, Salt Mine, terrorism

 

Uncomfortable but possibly correct thoughts on Afghanistan

It isn’t very often that I recommend something in Quadrant, but I do recommend Justin Kelly’s How to Win in Afghanistan – even if the title is perhaps rather ambitious. What he says is certainly worth placing beside whatever other sources you may be following. “Kelly is a recently retired Australian army officer. He commanded the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville, was deputy commander of the peace keeping force in East Timor and was director of strategic operations in the US headquarters in Iraq from November 2006 until September 2007.” So it is frankly written from a military perspective, but he does get at least some vital facts correct.

Originally law belonged to a people. It was a common possession which defined the group to which individuals “belonged” and which was marked by their subscription to the weight of custom, ritual and obligation entailed. In return, membership of the group regulated the interactions between individuals and families within the group and offered advantages in dealings with other groups…

From this germ evolved the idea of the modern state as a geographically bounded area within which “a law” prevailed…

These two conceptions of law—as belonging either to a people or to a state—are irreconcilable and the conflict between them is being played out in domestic and international politics across the world. Insurgency and counter-insurgency is a competition to establish whose law will prevail in an area. The counter-insurgent force is attempting to establish its coercive authority in areas in which that authority is contested by insurgents. In Afghanistan, NATO forces are acting as proxies for the government of Afghanistan in the extension of its authority. The Taliban is resisting that attempt while also endeavouring to extend its authority over the remainder of the country.

Modern-day Afghanistan is largely a figment of the Western imagination. Its present boundaries emerged only during the nineteenth century as a result of imperial competition between Persia, Russia and Britain. It is the rump of a larger Pashtun empire (the term Afghan having its roots in the Persian for Pashtun) that had previously extended well into modern-day Pakistan and Iran. The northern boundary, only stabilised in the 1870s, was originally a zone through which Pashtun influence was in balance with that of the steppe-dwelling Uzbek, Tajiks and Turkmen, who remain ethnic minorities in northern Afghanistan today. Peshawar, in Pakistan, was until the early nineteenth century the winter capital and “pearl of the [Pashtun] Durani Empire”…

I still think a good case can be made that the whole Iraq thing – whatever you now think of it – was a terrible distraction from attending properly to the place where Al Qaeda really was, under the friendly shelter of the Taliban.

 
 

Old books, old movies, old mentalities

Jim Belshaw has had a couple of interesting posts lately: Train Reading – J H Curle’s The Face of the Earth and Sunday Essay – Race, Eugenics and the views of J H Curle. The book was published in 1937.

In the first post Jim writes:

In some ways I got more than I bargained for.

The book is laced with comments about nationality, race and ethnicity expressed with a freedom that would not be tolerated today. I almost put the book aside after the first chapter with the thought do I have to read this stuff? I kept going because I had, after all, deliberately chosen the book as a window into a past world.

As I read I found that I could put aside my reactions.

In the second post he elaborates:

At the time Mr Curle was born, the British Empire was at its peak. It seemed natural to assume that the white race was by process of natural selection destined to maintain a dominant position. However, Mr Curle’s Social Darwinist views did not allow him to believe that any nation, people or race had an automatic God-given superiority. All three could rise or fall.

I also think it worth noting that Mr Curle had no belief in the “purity” of any race or people. He was not opposed to racial mixing so long as the mix raised the “quality” of the race or people.

In this context, Mr Curle supported the Nazi eugenics policy as it related to things such as sterilisation. However, he did not believe that there was such a thing as a German or Nordic race. He thought the Nazi expulsion of German Jews was unwise because to his mind the admixture of Jewish and German blood had done much to strengthen the creativity and strength of the German people. He still hoped that Germany would learn this and re-admit the Jews.

The reason for the desperation in Mr Curle’s writing is simple. By 1937 he had come to believe that in the absence of fundamental change, both the Empire and the current pre-dominance of the white race were doomed.

Mr Curle’s views strike us as in many respects most unfortunate, but had we been around at the time no doubt we would have found a range of views to the left and right (not taking those terms with their unfortunate linear and dichotomising effect too literally) of his. As Jim says, the fact he wrote in a certain matrix of his time and place does not prevent his being interesting. Eugenics is nowadays totally tainted, and discredited as gross oversimplification – and more, but it lives on in other guises and in other terms under the rubric of genetic engineering. I suspect we also have to thank our current so-called “political correctness” for inoculating us, if we are wise, against the racist mindset within which he was working even if at certain levels he was, as Jim mentions, reacting against it too. But even there much that he wrote seems to have been predicated on the idea of “race”.

Some of Mr Curle’s most scathing writing is addressed to what he sees as the unjustified racism of some of the working and middle class English throughout the Empire. He compares them very unfavourably with other peoples and races.

And who, in all this, are the races or peoples of the future?

It seems from The Face of the Earth that in terms of people at a purely personal level, Mr Curle is especially enamored of Chinese/Malay (this includes what is now Indonesia) or Chinese/European mixtures.

However, in the hierarchy of races or peoples driven by Mr Curle’s Social Darwinism, the future lies with the Chinese.

That idea of “quality” is itself racist thinking because it assumes that “race” is a relevant category. Culture may be; race is not.

One can go back even further. I am rather fond of a Victorian lady – she would have used the term – named Isabella Bird.

Bird was born in Boroughbridge in 1831 and grew up in Tattenhall, Cheshire. As her father Edward was a Church of England priest, the family moved several times across Britain as he received different parish postings, most notably in 1848 when he was replaced as vicar of St. Thomas’ when his parishioners objected to the style of his ministry.

Bird was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various ailments. Much of her illness may have been psychogenic, for when she was doing exactly what she wanted she was almost never ill. Her real desire was to travel. In 1854, Bird’s father gave her £100 and she went to visit relatives in America. She was allowed to stay until her money ran out. She detailed the journey anonymously in her first book The Englishwoman in America, published in 1856. The following year, she went to Canada and then toured Scotland, but time spent in Britain always seemed to make her ill and following her mother’s death in 1868 she embarked on a series of excursions to avoid settling permanently with her sister Henrietta (Henny) on the Isle of Mull. Bird could not endure her sister’s domestic lifestyle, preferring instead to support further travels through writing. Many of her works are compiled from letters she wrote home to her sister in Scotland.

Travels

Bird finally left Britain in 1872, going first to Australia, which she disliked, and then to Hawaii (known in Europe as the Sandwich Islands), her love for which prompted her second book (published three years later). While there she climbed Mauna Loa and visited Queen Emma.

There was a copy of an 1877 Leisure Hour in our house when I was a child which contained a serialised version of her Australia Felix – but unfortunately this is long gone. I do have a cheap reprint, however, of her The Golden Chersonese (1883) and even if she finds a Chinese dragon dance may be “devil worship” she can also be very observant. She writes well. Read an extract on Singapore.

…Here is none of the indolence and apathy which one associates with Oriental life, and which I have seen in Polynesia. These yellow, brown, tawny, swarthy, olive-tinted men are all intent on gain; busy, industrious, frugal, striving, and, no matter what their creed is, all paying homage to Daikoku. In spite of the activity, rapidity, and earnestness, the movements of all but the Chinese are graceful, gliding, stealthy, the swarthy faces have no expression that I can read, and the dark, liquid eyes are no more intelligible to me than the eyes of oxen. It is the "Asian mystery" all over.

It is only the European part of Singapore which is dull and sleepy looking. No life and movement congregate round the shops. The merchants, hidden away behind jalousies in their offices, or dashing down the streets in covered buggies, make but a poor show. Their houses are mostly pale, roomy, detached bungalows, almost altogether hidden by the bountiful vegetation of the climate. In these their wives, growing paler every week, lead half-expiring lives, kept alive by the efforts of ubiquitous "punkah-wallahs;" writing for the mail, the one active occupation. At a given hour they emerge, and drive in given directions, specially round the esplanade, where for two hours at a time a double row of handsome and showy equipages moves continuously in opposite directions. The number of carriages and the style of dress of their occupants are surprising, and yet people say that large fortunes are not made now-a-days in Singapore! Besides the daily drive, the ladies, the officers, and any men who may be described as of "no occupation," divert themselves with kettle-drums, dances, lawn tennis, and various other devices for killing time, and this with the mercury at 80 degrees! Just now the Maharajah of Johore, sovereign of a small state on the nearest part of the mainland, a man much petted and decorated by the British Government for unswerving fidelity to British interests, has a house here, and his receptions and dinner parties vary the monotonous round of gayeties.

The native streets monopolize the picturesqueness of Singapore with their bizarre crowds, but more interesting still are the bazaars or continuous rows of open shops which create for themselves a perpetual twilight by hanging tatties or other screens outside the sidewalks, forming long shady alleys, in which crowds of buyers and sellers chaffer over their goods, the Chinese shopkeepers asking a little more than they mean to take, and the Klings always asking double. The bustle and noise of this quarter are considerable, and the vociferation mingles with the ringing of bells and the rapid beating of drums and tom-toms–an intensely heathenish sound. And heathenish this great city is. Chinese joss-houses, Hindu temples, and Mohammedan mosques almost jostle each other, and the indescribable clamor of the temples and the din of the joss-houses are faintly pierced by the shrill cry from the minarets calling the faithful to prayer, and proclaiming the divine unity and the mission of Mahomet in one breath.

How I wish I could convey an idea, however faint, of this huge, mingled, colored, busy, Oriental population; of the old Kling and Chinese bazaars; of the itinerant sellers of seaweed jelly, water, vegetables, soup, fruit, and cooked fish, whose unintelligible street cries are heard above the din of the crowds of coolies, boatmen, and gharriemen waiting for hire; of the far-stretching suburbs of Malay and Chinese cottages; of the sheet of water, by no means clean, round which hundreds of Bengalis are to be seen at all hours of daylight unmercifully beating on great stones the delicate laces, gauzy silks, and elaborate flouncings of the European ladies; of the ceaseless rush and hum of industry, and of the resistless, overpowering, astonishing Chinese element, which is gradually turning Singapore into a Chinese city! I must conclude abruptly, or lose the mail.

Given her always uncertain health she was one very feisty woman, and it is good we have her work. But we also see time and again that the past is indeed another country. We enter it at a certain peril. We can’t possibly say “heathenish” today in quite the same assured way, can we?

Last night courtesy of Surry Hills Library I was transported back to my earliest years through a double bill DVD of I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) and Since You Went Away (1944). The second is the better movie, but both have fine performances and some lovely black-and-white visuals. The music on the remastered sound-tracks is also really good. Both movies offer much to think about in terms of the world-views they partake in, not all of them worse than our own, I should add. For their time both movies are in some respects rather enlightened. I enjoyed them, but was reminded of my own age and that, again, the past is another country.

I have added relevant video to the side-bar VodPod.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2009 in Asian, best viewing 2009, book reviews, film and dvd, History, Jim Belshaw, memory, movies, Postcolonial, racism, reading

 

Quote(s) of the week 3 2009 – and more

So, after 22 days the news is Israeli ceasefire begins in Gaza. Better than not having a ceasefire, but that’s about all that can be said about it, 1,000 + people in Gaza not caring any more, because they are no longer on this troubled planet. What it has been like may only be guessed from this blog: Gaza Strip, the untold story by Sameh A. Habeeb: “A Photojournalist, Humanitarian & Peace Activist in Gaza Strip”. That is the source for my quote of the week, on the subject of Bush and Cheney, dated Saturday 17 January. I leave it as is. This entry was in fact written by Dr. Akram Habeeb, Sameh’s father, “Writing from the Occupied Gaza Strip.”

As a Gazzan who is not affiliated to any political party; yet much concerned about what is taking place in my hometown, I meticulously track every piece of news related to the ongoing horrendous carnage which is perpetrated by the Israelis against the innocent civilians in Gaza….

History will witness that these two men had not done any good for the good Americans who elected them. They have successfully denigrated the image of America and the Americans in the Arab and the Muslim worlds. We in Palestine and in the Muslim world believe that Bush’s legacy would be a real burden for his successor, president elect Obamma. However, we strongly believe that Obama’s administration would do its best to regain the prestigious image of American in the Arab and the Muslim worlds, we are full of hope that the new administration would play the role of the objective peace broker in the Middle East. Hopefully it would be very real and realistic vision different from Bush’s vision!

Partitions made in the late 1940s were none of them terribly happy. The other big one, in India, led to even more suffering and remains unresolved in areas like Kashmir and in the uneasy relations between India and Pakistan. There are in fact more Muslims still in India than in Pakistan. In Palestine the issue was complicated by 1) uncertainty about what Palestine actually is and 2) inevitable dispossession, ongoing.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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. 🙂

 

If any doubted the rightness of the February 2008 Apology…

mp_adtrc_5 … they could have no doubts or reservations left after seeing tonight’s episode of The First Australians. I have mentioned this wonderful show twice before: here and here. Tonight we had stories from people still living who went through the trauma of forced separation, including Sue Gordon, who, you may recall, was close to the Howard government.

Tonight we were also told that a book of the series is to be published on the 1 November, and that the DVD will be available from Marcom very soon.

 

Australian poem 2008 series #21: Adam Aitken

Here, for a change, is a poet I actually know. I first became aware of Adam Aitken when I was editing Neos back in the early 1980s; I subsequently met him on a number of occasions.  The poem which follows is from Adam’s excellent blog ADAM IN CAMBODIA. Adam is of Thai/Anglo-Australian parentage. He was born in 1960.

The fig tree is neither in Cambodia nor Thailand, but in the front courtyard here in Surry Hills.

 

elizabeth4 004

 

The Diary of Louis De Carné. Louis de Carné’s Travels in Indo-China and the Chinese Empire describes the work of the Colonial French Mekong Exploration Commission (1886 -1888). It is a mix of travel diary and a trade report, and a guide French colonial policy in Indochina. De Carné predicted that India would one day fall into the hands of the Australians. He considered Indochina’s climate too enervating for whites, and describe Annam (Vietnam) as a “counting house”. In his introduction, De Carné wrote: “by a kind of natural law, which one can hardly admit without sadness, there is scarcely an alternative, for races outside European civilisation, between a melancholy transformation, or a remorseless extinction.” For the English translation, see Travels on the Mekong, Cambodia, Laos and Yunnan, White Lotus, Bangkok 2000. — Adam Aitken

Louis De Carne’s Diary

Stunned by the noise of the waters we reached Khemarat
where M. Delaporte awaited us.
Nothing could express the horror
of the petty mandarins, the imbecile governor,
and the yellow waters twisting through a narrow pass,
a child of seven smoking a cheroot,
or the site of a prisoner impaled by the tusks
of an elephant.
The light a deadly shade, the forest a blacker hue of green,
the boat shaped serpent-like, whirlpools we could not see.
The river all tributary – no one knew or cared
for the source or predominant
direction of its flow, a river unfit
for commercial intercourse.

Man had fled its banks, an abyss on both sides.
I was hot, too hot after my ramble
through an expanse of fetid mud.
I wondered what economic utility
Parisians might find in a lake full of fish
(how to get them to Paris?)

But I could write all night in my tent
cobwebbed in ennui and
sucking on the leg bone of an iguana,
or recline under the implacable serenity of the heavens,
the all powerful constraints
of influences so fatal to human personality,
that thought dies away by degrees
like a flame in a vacuum.
At least I knew there were guards
(of vagabond stock, with the timid air of the aborigine)
whom I barely trusted
posted around the perimeter.

 

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