19 November 2015

Who do we burn?

After Paris, after Beirut and the Aeroflot Russian airline flight and ... and all the other outrages, apparently we have to burn someone.

Who, and how, are the questions to be answered. At this difficult time it would be preferable to join hands in unity; but burning nobody, no way, is no longer an option. Pretending that it is an option means that you can overlook a choice "we" seem to have made but not acknowledged.

"Us" and "them"

In all of the commentary and space-filler surrounding the news from Paris, the commentary from Professor Andrew MacLeod from King's College London stood out. He said that in any war you have to define "us" (who we are fighting with, and for) and "them" (who we're against). In the current environment, we can define these terms in one of two ways:
  • "us" is all non-Muslims, and "them" is all Muslims; or
  • "us" is moderate people of goodwill and tolerance, and "them" is extremists, whether ISIS-style Muslim fundamentalists, white supremacists, etc.
My sympathies tend to the latter interpretation, and so do pieces like this and that and millions of others that have popped up over the past few days, and which echoed good and noble sentiments from long before this weekend. Those pieces imply that by reaching out to Muslims, in Australia and elsewhere, "we" force "them" into ever-decreasing circles to the point where - well, actually the endgame isn't clear at all. It's a kind of "Tomorrow Belongs To Us" triumphalism.

I want to believe in it so much but I'm suspicious of it, and am tired of being played and let down by those without the skill and wit to manifest good ideas.

Had Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar fallen in with a bad crowd that was differently bad, and overdosed on heroin in an alley, it would have been a tragedy - but not an ignition-point for mass-hysteria. Same as if he had shot Mr Cheng while stealing his car. This is not to argue for some sort of quietism here, to pretend any attempt to tackle broad and difficult issues must be futile. It is to say that there are costs for turning "our" backs on some people but not others; the idea that we turn our backs on nobody, that we're all brothers and sisters, is not merely false. It is a lie that ultimately hurts people. It creates blind spots that make managing this situation more difficult rather than less.

I can forgive people being taken aback by a 'bolt from the blue'. Even the experts get wrongfooted from time to time. It's just boring to act all shocked at having one's face slapped by something that had been staring one in the face for ages.

In reaching out to moderate Muslims, people of goodwill and good sense, "we" leave people behind. They're the same people we've been leaving behind for years now, well before September 11 And All That. They are people with low education and fewer prospects for building and maintaining economic security for themselves. They are the people from whom Malcolm Turnbull, for all his honeyed words from Berlin and Antalya, is removing welfare payments and healthcare and school resources and penalty rates. In the absence of working-class solidarity or the British Empire or the righteous comforts of sectarianism, some define themselves against new arrivals to Australia such as Muslims. When "we" reach out to new arrivals "we" turn our backs on "them".

By turning "our" backs, "they" do not run out of options. Australians who define themselves in terms of race, of an Anglo-Saxon/ Caucasian/ Aryan identity, can tap into powerful forces within our society.

National myths like Eureka Stockade and Anzac have explicitly racialist elements. Not only is it possible to celebrate those national myths without wallowing in the racialist elements, but in fact most Australians do. These myths give those excluded in the modern reaching-out world far more purchase in Australian society than those being reached out to. Muslim Australians are free to join the armed forces and serve their country and many do so, tapping into the nationalistic legend embodied in those institutions. Increasingly it seems they will burnish their names in battle at the expense of their co-religionists, maybe even their relatives. Australians of German ancestry served in the two World Wars; John Monash was the grandson of a Prussian bookbinder. A contemporary Australian with a swastika tattooed onto a white face is trying to claim that symbol has lost the alarm and disgust that comes with it, and that other traditions and symbols seen increasingly often in Australia are more foreign, more alarming and disgusting.

It would be great if they gave up their silly white-supremacist, all-Muslims-are-terrorists ways and joined us in the reaching-out. It would also be great if the attacks in Paris were the last of their kind. It would be foolish to bet on either outcome.

Another potent legacy in Australian society that advocates for unity-against-Muslims can tap into is commercial radio and television.

Articles of faith

If you believing in defining "them" as Muslims, then you have to define what Islam is. If you believe that Muslims are generally people of goodwill, with the few exceptions you'd make for any other group, then you'd leave it to Muslims to define what Islam is.

Pauline Hanson declared that Muslims who didn't support Daesh were obliged to abandon their faith. Tony Abbott denied that Daesh drew on the precepts of Islam at all. These are deeply silly opinions, not only wrong in fact but potentially offensive for non-believers to wade into any religion's theological disputes.

Abbott uses his Catholicism as part of his public identity, and bristles when others use it to frame him in ways he doesn't like. Once again, he can't see that what's offensive when done to him may not also be offensive when done by him toward others. It's as though he, and other Christians who share his opinions on Islam, dare not trust Jesus' injunction to love your enemies (which would lead you to the second of the us/them options listed above, rather than the first).

It's also interesting that he voices his opinion while Turnbull and Bishop are abroad, exercising duties Abbott proved himself unfit and incapable to perform. There was a widely held assumption that Abbott, supposedly a thoughtful man and a Rhodes Scholar, would give up his boofhead ways when he became Prime Minister. When he left office, having disproven any benefit from all the doubt he'd been granted, people still thought he'd become thoughtful and considered despite all the evidence. There is just no helping some people.

George Brandis has revealed himself with his insistence that, whatever may happen, however effective our security services may or may not be, the answer is diminution of what civil liberties may remain wherever possible. This man holds a public position and acts against the public interest. He must be removed as soon as a better alternative becomes available.

Muslims debate matters of theology, and whether particular people are/aren't acting in accordance with it, all the time. It's understandable that commercial TV/radio might wish to ignore those debates. Having done so, however, it's more than a bit rich to insist that all Muslims must denounce the daily atrocity from those who claim to act in their name. Very few red-haired women were called upon to apologise for Hanson, or for Julia Gillard for that matter.

People still believe that commercial TV/radio is the national debate, and that you have to run the gauntlet of its quirks and abuses to get your message out there. If you can wear other aspects of your faith lightly, then this too may bear examination. It doesn't broadcast to the 'greyzone' where many of us live.

Paris again, Washington, or somewhere on your way home from work? Muzzies or bogans? How we define "us" and "them" is one of the major debates for early 21st century politics.


  1. thanks to wikileaks, it is a fact the state dept recognized that religion is just an ingredient. The true sponsors are the bankers and politicians that keep important people in Riyadh and Doha alive. ISIS is nothing without this finance.

    1. Good points. ISIS is more in need of financing than ever because, like any invading force, once you've pillaged the place, you have to move on. They got some great windfalls overrunning cities, taking whatever they wanted or needed by force, stealing US military ordinance left to security forces and so on, but they want to set up a proper state. To do that you need infrastructure and citizens willing (or forced) to support the regime.

      Instead refugees are flooding out of there. That's a significant problem for Europe, but it's also a significant problem for ISIS.

  2. It is also Muslim leaders who are defining "us" and "them". When the leader of the Australian Muslim Party say they will never support Australia going to war with a Muslim country, or when when the Grand Mufti seems to blame terrorist actions on Islamophobia, this reinforces "us" and "them" as being "non-Muslim" and "Muslim".

    We have the right insisting that all Muslims are potential terrorists. We have the psuedo-left insisting that Islam is a benign system of beliefs and that any killing can't possibly be justified from Islamic religious dogma.

    1. Your "we" is not my "we"; I don't have the right to insist that all Muslims are potential terrorists at all.

      If your little "we's" have this right, then I have the right to insist that Christian hypocrites and ignorant intolerant assholes like you should be burned at the stake.

      And you are defining the "pseudo-left"? Bahahahaha you fcuk wit.

      And dontcha think that Waleed looks a lot like the real Jesus Christ would have looked?

    2. Congratulations, you found some Muslims who seemed to reflect your own opinions back at you, and you feel penned in by a tiny misrepresentation of our political spectrum. I think we can rise above it.

      The Grand Mufti condemned the attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere: one of Australia's most-distributed newspapers photoshopped him as a monkey. Time to stop demanding people apologise, time to start listening to them.

    3. Ordinary Baracker20/11/15 4:39 pm

      Was Waleed Aly canonised without me noticing?

      Or did he win the Nobel Peace Prize after less than a year in office, having achieved little?

      Or perhaps he was dubbed a National Treasure after chucking a tanty in Belgium?

      Would St. Aly of Assisi agree that insisting some people have the potential to become murderers is the same as insisting "we's" round up and murder people in horrific ways?

      Giff us a f'k'n brake, mate.

    4. Maybe I don't get out much, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone of the "psuedo(sic)-left insisting that Islam is a benign system of beliefs and that any killing can't possibly be justified from Islamic religious dogma". I've only ever heard so-called conservatives claiming the left insist this.

      Speaking of "conservatives", how funny is was to hear wingnut "pastor" Danny Nalliah describe Neo-Nazi boot boys as "lovely" on the promo of Background Briefing. Since he's a darkie, those lovely boys would sooner beat him to a pulp as look at him!

  3. What defines a moderate Muslim?

    1. What defines a die-hard Anglophile?

  4. Without a clearer explanation of how and the good-willed "we" are leaving people behind this reads a bit like a false dichotomy.

    IMO you'd do better to talk about the reasons being left behind feel this way, e.g. the way that (primarily Muslim) immigrants are being used as one of several scapegoats for their real decline in living standards, or which elements of our laissez-faire multiculturalism are working and which aren't.

    1. Melbourne is a great succes story

      The large Greek and Italian diaspora is a testament to the success of those communities

      Go and read how and why they were able to become part of the establishment

      It's a fascinating sociological story

    2. How about which elements of our lasses-afire capitalism are working and which aren't?

    3. If you want to write that piece Damien, I'll link to it.

  5. Part of the big 'us' and 'them' problem is that religion generally doesn't fit in with western civilization when it comes to democratic principals and equality for all.

    Some examples:
    -birth control shouldn't be an area where religion gets a say.
    -gays and lesbians being persecuted because of their 'choice' to live like that.
    -rights of women to do whatever they want without a male in the family stopping them
    -freedom to criticize bad ideas without fear of physical violence or mob mentality backlash. This is the kicker because almost without exception religion is answers for the bronze age not the 21st century.

    Moderate islam, christianity, hinduism whatever. The moment religion begin to affect the laws and freedoms of the country they are problematic.
    The people who are tied up in religion are not encouraged to critically think and the workings of the religion actively discourage leaving and villify anyone who gets out. Make all religious organisations taxable or at the very least force them to disclose how the money collected each year is actively providing a public benefit.

  6. Let's not try to take the moral high ground here. Historically the "Christians" (us) are bathed in blood as much "them" muslims.

    The real story is the media love of an "us" verse "them" story, one in which Andrew seems to also enjoy.

    At least Andrew has refrained from the "Labor Party is to blame rubbish", as per your previous story on mandatory detention.

  7. Lachlan Ridge20/11/15 6:37 pm

    On us and them...

    "AS I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.

    "They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil."

    George Orwell, England, Your England, 1941

    It sort of puts Devine, Blair, Bolt and the other reptile dullards in context.

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    1. Gah, there's my reputation for careful moderation shot

  9. Great insights as usual

    Will you read Peter Van Onselens book on Tony Abbott that came out this week

    He has some interesting things to say about the timing of Malcolm Turnbull to get rid of Mr Abbott

    Thoughts would be greatly appreciated

    1. When I find it at a public library or a remainders bin, I might have a look at it.

    2. Well said Andrew.

    3. Should be in the bins by Xmas lead-in… 2015.

    4. I'd rather read George Megalogenis new book

      His insights especially amongst the migration period in Australia was brilliant

      Australias second chance

  10. Great article as always, but I have to correct you on the Russian plane - It was a Kogalymavia/Metrojet flight, not Aeroflot.

  11. The need for clear thinking is greater than ever. The poverty of analysis by the press around the english speaking world is astonishing. Only The Atlantic is providing some decent discussion of the strategic landscape regarding ISIS.

    The garbage proffered by the Australian media and its politicians shows how far down the identity politics rabbit hole we have gone. ISIS have become an organisation with defined territorial ambitions, a nascent state. In crafting a response to this there is no need on a primary level to consider cultural or religeous identity at all. All the hand wringing nonsense about standing together and reaching out is not a strategy. Stand with who? Reach out to who? Huh? It's bedtime story stuff.

    Determining the extent to which military support and thus legitimacy is provided to the Syrian Government, the role of Iran and Saudi, along with the geopolitical ramifications for NATO and Russia are parts of strategy toward ISIS and those crafting it must be subject to scrutiny.

    But instead we get tweets about Waleed Aly and Andrew Bolt, hugging strangers and slogans such as 'boots on the ground' masquerading as a military approach.

    By the way, might be worth scrutinising self promoters such as Andrew Macleod a little more. He has paid his way to be affiliated with King's College as an associate, has no credibility nor record of any actual serious work on the matter. Appearing on dross such as Q&A does not count any more than mouthing agreeable platitudes.

  12. Andrew, your hyperlinks are like a non-lethal game of Russian roulette. I would have been dead, were it real, on seeing Crabb's fawning fantasy re Abbott. 'Rakish provocateur'; well, she's got that about right. Samuel Pepys described a couple of 'rakes' (monied young aristocrats)picking up a Billingsgate flower-seller girl off the street and bundling them into their coach. Her fate one doesn't need to contemplate.
    Abbott would fit nicely into that uniform, 350 years ago.
    Nope, no helping some people.
    Yes, some good insights on who we're leaving behind; and thank you for penning them.

  13. ... corrections. "whom", and "..bundling her.." Apologies.

  14. In the face of widespread 'their religion is to blame' blaming, Muslims are to unequivocally condemn atrocities but must refrain from discussion of the bigger picture? Dutton wasn't it? But the bigger picture does include decades (centuries?) of external interventions in nations where it is a dominant religion, often with underlying clash of religions within the motivating of support and messaging of the interveners.

    I actually find the much used Paris Peace (?) symbol, with the Christian Cross in the Eiffel Tower's foundations disturbing for the unsubtle subtext of religious us and them messaging that embodies. I can imagine Muslims who see it feel nervous.

    I don't know this rift can be mended - radical militants who want to incite an armageddonish religious war appear to be achieving their aim with the willing cooperation of mainstream western media. Is it that popular? I've long noticed that when the emotive buttons are pressed the brain switches off and, as a closely related business to advertising and PR - where the psychology of switching the analytic brain off and getting it to act against it's own interests is so highly regarded - big Media uses that with practiced accomplishment. Very likely with as much brain switched off unthinking as cynical self interest. Press Gallery Reform - a necessary step to get government that isn't run the same way.

  15. Off topic - The Australian version of Huffington Post seems to be of a different standard to the US and UK versions. Some days better than others but i get the feel that it's being written to a stereotype image of what we would want in a newspaper.

  16. ISIS needs to be curbed. So much hatred and misinformation supplied by them to the young mind. Personally, I feel that they all should be killed. Killing innocent people is never right no matter what they think. If you are unhappy with someone grow your balls to fight with them and not others