Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A right and wrong way to comment on extremism

The demonstration-cum-riot of several hundred angry Muslims in Sydney has been one of the most discussed issues in Australia in the last couple of days. You can read my take on it here.

The rally has been condemned by Australia's mainstream Muslim organisations, who are generally smart enough to recognise that such behaviour perpetuates the very stereotypes they are trying to fight against.

But one paper was brave enough to report on what it saw as the most heinous behaviour of the day - that of the police. That paper is Green Left Weekly, which I used to read back when I was an Arts student, until I developed what grown-ups like to call perspective.
The completely non-ironic title kicks it off in a fabulous way:

 Eyewitness account of police riot against peaceful Muslim protest in Australia
... I think that if the police had left the protesters alone they would have marched, chanted and prayed in peace... The police would be unlikely to have used this level of force against most other protests of 300 to 400 people. But Muslim protesters get different treatment. Muslims have been scapegoated and criminalised by state and federal governments and the mainstream media. Muslim communities are the target of intense racism and have been made fair game in this country. Now the protesters, not the police, are being blamed by politicians and the media of the 1% and even more fear and hate is being whipped up against the Muslim population. We should condemn the police who brutally provoked these protesters and squandered thousands of dollars in a massive show of police repression in the heart of Sydney.

Now I consider myself to be on the left side of the political spectrum, and thus it irks me to share my ideological patch with the sort of people who write these articles. To subscribe to their way of thinking, you need to believe that every bad situation is somehow caused by the State or the 1%, and never believe that members of a minority group could be in the wrong. It's ironic that a publication like Green Left Weekly, which rightly is a strong supporter of freedom of expression, women's rights and gay rights, is so happy to throw its lot in with a mob whose ideology is far more repressive and totalitarian than anything the 1% can dream up... just because that mob is part of a minority group.

This is not to say, of course, that the police definitely didn't use excessive force or tactics that were uncalled for. That may well have happened. But it's somewhat laughable for GLW to claim that "the police would be unlikely to have used this level of force against most other protests of 300 to 400 people", when every other story in every edition of GLW seems to be about how brutal and oppressive the cops are towards demonstrators.

A far better take on the situation was expressed in The Age by the Egyptian-Australian academic and broadcaster Waleed Aly, who again shows why he is probably the best spokesperson Australia's Muslim community has.

That the Obama administration immediately condemned the film in the strongest terms doesn't register. Nor that the White House took the extraordinary (and ultimately unsuccessful) step of asking Google to pull the video. This is invisible to an audience of humiliated souls waiting desperately to be offended and conflate every grievance. Indeed, they need the offence. It gives them the chance to assert themselves so they can feel whole, righteous even. It's a shortcut to self-worth. 
The trouble is that in our digital world, there is always something to oblige. Anyone can Google their prejudices, and there is always enraging news to share with others. Entire online communities gather around the sharing of offensive material and subsequent communal venting. Soon you have a subculture: a sub-community whose very cohesion is based almost exclusively on shared grievance. Then you have an identity that has nothing to say about itself; an identity that holds an entirely impoverished position: that to be defiantly angry is to be. 
Frankly, Muslims should find that prospect nothing short of catastrophic. It renders Islamic identity entirely hollow. All pride, all opposition, no substance. ''Like the Incredible Hulk,'' observes Abdal Hakim Murad, a prominent British Islamic scholar, ''ineffectual until provoked.''

It's an extremely astute article and I'd encourage you to read the whole thing.

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