Monday, 2 November 2015

Advance Australia Confused

Professor Paul Ehrlich, while sometimes referred to as a "US academic" is actually a staff member of the University of Technology Sydney, so in a sense he is an "Australia academic" who happens to be American.  But then again, he spends most of his time in the US, so perhaps he should be more accurately referred to as a "US-Australia academic" - even if that might lead to confusion about his speciality, which is not the US-Australian relationship.

I bring this up because it is one of at least two errors of omission in an article by Australia's Channel 9 News.  The other is in a bald statement about a storm in a teacup regarding a Melbourne school:

Mr Jones' posed (a) question about national anthems in schools in response to a recent decision by a Melbourne school to allow its Muslim students to walk out of a school assembly and not sing 'Advance Australia Fair'.

When I saw this, noting that it was totally context-free, I got a little concerned.  Australia, like a few other nations in the world, has both legitimate issues with the spread of islamist fundamentalism and problems with right-wing nut-jobs who are truly "islamophobic".  A recent example of the latter is the fuss raised about the building of a mosque in Bendigo.  An example of the former is the shooting of a NSW Police employee by a 15 year old radicalised muslim boy (it seems that this radicalisation likely took place within a small group of "young men" who met with him in a local mosque - he was certainly given the weapon at that mosque).

There's a very thin line to walk here, if one is going to make the attempt to be rational.  Some bad things clearly went on in that mosque in Parramatta NSW, but that does not immediately mean that everyone in every mosque in every town in every state is going to be a bad person or radicalised into islamism.  Bendigo in Victoria already has a mosque of sorts, and already has a muslim community.  We have no reason to suspect that a significant proportion, or indeed any, of that community are radicalised or would present any risk to the larger community.

Despite that, large groups of protesters were bussed into the town to protest the building of the mosque.  And it is these people who are a problem, together with any radicalised members of the muslim community (or, in fact, any radicalised members of any community).

When I say together here, I mean two things.  Firstly, I am recognising that we have at least two groups that are problems.  People that a friend of mine calls "boofheads", people that exist on all sides, extremists of one sort or another.  Secondly, I am pointing to the fact that these extremists feed off each other.

The fact that there are large groups of protesters who turn up to agitate about a group of peaceful muslims who want something better than a windowless room in which to pray is used by existing radicalised muslims to argue their case and radicalise more young muslims.  Similarly, the shooting of a policeman by a radicalised young muslim is used by people leaning towards jingoism, fascism and racism (perhaps someone claiming that racism is not a factor in this could explain the correlation between the flag waving and objections to a mosque and why "Aussie Pride" is strongly correlated with both).

We need people in the middle to accept that there are problems on both sides and to be willing to deal with all the problems.  But as well as that, we need our news sources to be a little more free with information - rather than being misleading via their miserly use of facts.

It was true that a principal at a school in Melbourne allowed shi'a muslims to abstain from singing the national anthem, but there was a context.  This month is a ceremonial month of mourning for them, in which they abstain from all sorts of joyful activities, and boisterous singing of the national anthem was identified as too joyous for these students.  Perhaps it was a little over the top to encourage them (or permit them) to leave the area, but the point is that they weren't not singing the national anthem because of the national anthem per se, it wasn't an insult to the nation, their month of mourning would have them abstaining from singing any happy song - as interpreted by that particular group of shi'a (but not the community of shi'a as a whole in Victoria since one of their leading clerics had announced that singing the national anthem was ok).

And the intimation that this was an insult to Australia via a coordinated refusal to sing the anthem is something that the right-wing nut-jobs would pick up on immediately - which they did.

Even from my perspective as radical moderate, when I first read about the incident, I perceived it as an example of the regressive left, bleeding hearts of some sort facilitating the indoctrination efforts of extremist parents who were taking some sort of anti-Australian stand.  Fortunately, I happen to be the sort of person who likes to look at the facts a little more deeply before committing to anything and it didn't take long to see this for what it was.  Unfortunately, some others are not so keen to see things for what they are, they are far more interested in seeing what they want to see.

It is simply sad to see that even the more middle-of-the-road reporting of these sorts of incidents (like from Channel 9 News) plays directly into the hands of bigots and, in its turn, runs the risk of radicalising even more of our muslim youth.

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