17 Sep 2012, Comments (8)

The Recent Unpleasantness

Author: Helen

…Not the zombie Apocalypse the Herald Sun and sundry dickheads are making out.

The smugness and gloating on facebook and other media has been truly cringeworthy. Again the implied narrative was: How terrible “they” are, and how wonderful “we” are. “They” don’t deserve to live in our society!

A spoofed image of the kid with the "beheading" sign at the Sydney Muslim protest - instead of the original message he has a sign saying "If anyone has any Cookies i would like some please"

Little boy at the protest with a sign more suited to his age and inclinations

Unfortunately, a little boy was placed front and centre in the hate-fest. (This picture is spoofed, of course, but the original is all over the internet now.) To paraphrase the stupid movie which sparked this thing – and to throw its hateful words back at it – he is innocent. There is no way he understands death and consequences at this age. His mum and dad, of course, are the complete nangers in this scenario.

Accounts of the demonstration by “reasonable people”, though, as exemplified by Waleed Aly in the Fairfax opinion pages, place this ratbag minority at front and centre, as if that wasn’t done daily by the tabloids and by popular social mythology. At the very end of his piece, he mentions – in passing – that not one, but several Muslim associations in Australia condemned the action. No matter. Aly’s piece sticks to the tabloid picture of Muslims: Miserable, disengaged, violent.

Aly says:

This is the behaviour of a drunkenly humiliated people: swinging wildly with the hope of landing a blow, any blow, somewhere, anywhere. There’s nothing strategic or calculated about this. It doesn’t matter that they are the film’s most effective publicists. It doesn’t matter that they protest using offensive slogans and signs, while protesting against people’s right to offend. It doesn’t matter that they object to insulting people on the basis of their religion, while declaring that Christians have no morals. This is baffling only until you realise these protesters are not truly protesting to make a point. The protest is the point.

It feels good. It feels powerful. This is why people yell pointlessly or punch walls when frustrated. It’s not instrumental. It doesn’t achieve anything directly. But it is catharsis. Outrage and aggression is an intoxicating prospect for the powerless.

And more in that vein. But isn’t it easy to counsel positivity and self-empowerment and not being outraged when you have a drivetime radio program and lecture at university? What about the responsibility of the trolls not to troll?

And what about the fact that the Western invason of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed hundreds of thousands – there were probably few people at the protest who hadn’t lost relatives. Many are displaced against their will. And they find themselves in a society where a sizeable section of the population continually abuses, others and baits them. This blog doesn’t condone the violence when it erupts but hell, I think I can dimly understand the sadness and anger.

And the usual suspects are moving in, gleefully, to capitalise on these events.

There are a hell of a lot of things people are forgetting here.

The Cronulla riots were largely absent from the discussion: the call to arms by white thugs and ne’er-do-wells in the name, not of religion, but their equivalent – a distorted version of nationalism – and the shock jock (the equivalent of the methhead movie maker) who incited them to attack. Also absent from the collective memory were the deranged killers thrown up by Western society.

There was no mention of the notorious WEF demonstrations where young, white demonstrators were similarly demonised for a very similar “riot”, which was, naturally, over-egged to the hilt by the popular press and right-wing commentators. Any mass demonstration where pushing and shoving take place will, in Australia, result in such demonisation, but despite the blanket condemnation of WEF protesters, this was not taken as a sign of the irrationality or inferiority of Australians generally. And despite the hyperventilation in the press, society didn’t collapse.

The condemnation of the Sydney demonstration by the Islamic Council of Victoria, Muslim Women’s Association, the Islamic Council of NSW and Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, and the setting up of a Facebook page and twitter hashtag – Muslims Against Violent Sydney Protests and #MAVSP. These have been reported, but they aren’t getting the attention they deserve, I think, among all the shouting about the impending imposition of sharia law. They should get more than a passing mention. After all, the Bolts and Blairs and other opinionistas set such store by people “refusing to condemn”. These people, and numerous internet commenters and tweeters, have not refused to condemn, but the fundamentalist woman with her sadly exploited little boy remain the go-to image for the demonstration.

One of the contents of the invisible backpack of White privilege is the ability to fuck up without people projecting your actions onto your entire group (See Breivik, Anders or Bryant, Martin.)

Above all, with “trolling” such a hot topic in the media last week, there seems to be very little recognition of one of the protagonists as a classic troll. I refer, of course, to the person who, under false pretences, shot and disseminated the film which caused all the trouble. Like Alan Jones’ Cronulla quote, it was a deliberate attempt to provoke.

Before you fire up the knee-jerk “freedom of speech” and “looking to be offended” response, have a read of this. Freedom and responsibility: they go together.

On Twitter, I compared this situation to yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater – something that actually is illegal in the US. A user I follow responded to me, “This isn’t just yelling fire, it’s loading the theatre with kindling & putting gas in the sprinkler line & toying with a Zippo.”

We can’t be responsible for how every individual reacts to our opinions or expressions. But some misconstrual or mild disagreement was not what happened here; what happened here was that a former meth-dealer, a militant racist, and an extremist from a different religion got together and created a hateful portrayal of another religion to debase 23% of the world’s population. Any claims that these people didn’t know exactly what they were doing and what the end result would be are patently false. The filmmaker who was ejected from Egypt after calling for the US to attack the country specifically promoted his film in Muslim countries. He dubbed it in Arabic and sent it to Egyptian television statements in the days before September 11th – a date which is always charged with tension for Muslims inside and outside the US.

(H/T Guerillamamamedicine).

What else was forgotten? Why, this. I think the methhead filmmaker, a Copt, forgot it too.

We can enjoy our superiority and have fun throwing things at an Aunt Sally other, but we shouldn’t be shocked and horrified if we help to bring into being the very thing we’re supposed to be so afraid of. I just hope that little boy has a good school counsellor, and some good friends who won’t give him a hard time as he grows old enough to know what has happened to him.

Comments (8) »

  • Ariane says:

    I read Aly’s piece through a filter of my own interpretation of why those people were there on that day, and didn’t even think of it as implying that the protestors were representative of anyone but themselves – but you’re right, he did sound like he was talking about Muslims in general, not that group.

    There is so much to shed light on in this situation – the broader Muslim and Coptic communities, the truth about the film and its origins, the real problems that triggered the protest and others like it (including Cronulla) and the general risk of protest movements becoming defined by outrage. It would have been lovely to see different parts of the media address different aspects of the whole picture. Then we might have learned something.

  • Ann ODyne says:

    The producers of this film have obviously forgotten that Theo van Gogh was shot dead in 2004 after making film on Muslim fanaticism.

    “One of the contents of the invisible backpack of White privilege is the ability to fuck up without people projecting your actions onto your entire group (See Breivik, Anders or Bryant, Martin.)” –
    superb. X X
    (Knight, Julian, as well.)

  • Mindy says:

    This is going to sound a little off topic, but bear with me, I will get to the point.

    I walked with my children in Slut Walk in Sydney. We didn’t have a sign, I didn’t think about making one, and they saw that lots of other people were carrying them. They wanted to carry a sign too because it looked cool. I said no, because they are not our signs and with a bit of grumbling we went on. Later I was glad that we didn’t have a sign because the last thing I wanted was my kids on TV or in the media holding a sign saying something that we could all have been judged on, because they thought holding a sign was cool.

    I don’t know if this little boy was holding up this sign because his parents made it and bought it to the protest, or if he found it discarded and his Mum took a photo of him being all ‘grown up and protesting’. I don’t know if she let him do it not realising that there were people around who would take their own photos and splash them across the media. But boy does she realise now if she didn’t before. Maybe she thought it was funny because she knew that her friends and family would understand that they didn’t think like that and that her son was just being cute.

    I don’t know, but I am not comfortable with this child’s parents being called bad parents or claims that they are raising him to be an extremist or that they themselves are extremists or calls for their child to be taken away from them because I could so easily have been that parent myself whose child was photographed holding up a sign that other people thought was wrong.

  • hannah's dad says:

    More unpleasantness.


    “NATO admitted that it had killed Afghan civilians in an airstrike early Sunday morning, hours after saying there was no evidence of civilian deaths”

  • Casey says:

    I agree with you on the matter of white privilege and the inability of non Muslims to understand that the people who were shouting and upset and those who were violent were also Australian citizens. They are us. Their issue becomes ours to deal with. As you know Waleed Aly and Rand Abdul-Fattah appeared on Lateline last night and he was able to expand on these generalised points in this article. He is spot on about disenfranchised people veering towards violence. In White Nation Ghassan Hage speaks about how it is people who have no access to State power who resort to violence. Meanwhile the majority feels no need towards enacting violence because they are secure that the State will enact their violence for them. It is that simple. We can apply this also to the Cronulla riots. There was another isolated and disenfranchised mob. What was most poignant about Aly’s comments on Lateline and what Emma Alberici completely missed (choosing to remain with her Today Tonight/A current Affair line of inquiry) was Aly’s illuminating revelation that most mosques spend their Sundays or whatever telling their congregations that Islam is okay. The level of isolation and disenfranchisement being experienced in the Muslim community is sure to radicalise youth so that this sort of stuff will happen. It is a vicious circle.

  • Helen says:

    Great comments! I did see Aly and Abdul-Fattah on the news and thought Aly did much better there. His AGE piece may have been edited out of all recognition, I know some of my “Concerned of Footscray” letters have been.

    I see today in the news that the mum handed herself into police to explain herself and was obviously found not to be a threat to society.

    Plus, I also learned that the organisers of the protest changed the date because a fun run was organised for the day they’d originally chosen! So, hardly a plot to overthrow society wholesale.

    I’d be willing to be there was quite a lot of facepalming by the majority there who didn’t go berserk.

    Here’s Mindy’s take.

  • The people who’ve been hyperventilating and clutching pearls about violent islamic extremists have obviously forgotten the (admittedly not quite so violent) protests when Life of Brian was released.

  • Mindy says:

    I have read this morning that the mother, who has only been in Australia for two years, didn’t know what behead meant. What a way to get an education.

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