Friday, April 29, 2005

True Blue Aussie Racism

I was recently involved in a discussion about an article in the Sydney Morning Herald to do with the comments of a local Muslim cleric regarding rape by Australia's Ann Coulter wannabe, Miranda Devine. Here's an excerpt from the article:
The Sun-Herald has a recording of the March 18 speech in which Sheik Faiz said: "A victim of rape every minute somewhere in the world. Why? No one to blame but herself. She displayed her beauty to the entire world . . .

"Strapless, backless, sleeveless, nothing but satanic skirts, slit skirts, translucent blouses, miniskirts, tight jeans: all this to tease man and appeal to his carnal nature."

He compared a woman dressed in such a way to a sheep. "Would you put this sheep that you adore in the middle of hungry wolves? No . . . It would be devoured. It's the same situation here. You're putting this precious girl in front of lustful, satanic eyes of hungry wolves. What is the consequence? Catastrophic devastation, sexual harassment, perversion, promiscuity."

The invitation to the $15-a-head lecture stipulated modest dress and "strict male and female segregation". It was promoted as a lecture about "death" in flyers and on the website of the ICRA Youth Centre in Lidcombe, an Islamic community group which sponsored the evening.

The ICRA and Faiz's Global Islamic Youth Centre have broken away from the Lakemba Mosque, the main place of worship for Sydney's Lebanese Muslims, because, a former associate says, Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali, 64, is too moderate.
This kind of loaded journalism is pretty much what I expect from the mainstream media in Australia. While Fairfax are not as bad as Rupert Murdoch's media such as the Daily Telegraph, conservatives such as Devine are becoming increasingly dominant as the voice of opinion and analysis.

There is no denying that rape is an abhorrent crime, yet the above article struck me as less about rape and more about the fact that it was a Muslim who made those comments. The first question that came to mind is: Why does the Herald have a recording of this cleric's speech? Is it common practice for journalists to visit churchs, mosques and other places of worship in order to record speeches made by obscure clerics in suburbs of low socioeconomic status? Or could it be that this particular event was "flagged" for potential sensationalist headlines and thus an operative.. uh, I mean "journalist", dispatched to the scene?

Secondly, if this speech was made on March 18, why did it take until April 23 for the SMH to publish it? That's hardly front page news anymore. Slow news day perhaps? Yeah, right. Interesting associations used too: it was promoted as a lecture about 'death' ... the centre has broken away because the usual cleric is "too moderate". Too moderate? What does that mean? The translation takes place in the mind of the reader... "too moderate" = "not extreme enough".

Inevitably perhaps, it didn't take long for the pollies to jump on the bandwagon and the Sheik issued a formal apology, although only through one side of his mouth according to the Herald-Sun (one of Mr Murdoch's). Ms Devine (presumably scenting blood in the water) penned a follow-up trumpet blast:
It's worth remembering what the American scholar of Islam Daniel Pipes said, on a visit to Sydney three years ago, about combating militant Islam.

First, he warned of the need to rebuff incremental radical Islamic encroachments on our Western secular society, such as any attempt to limit a woman's right to wear whatever she wants.

"If there are two ways which are reconcilable - the militant Islam way and the Australian way - you will need to assert the Australian way."

Militant Islamists believe their totalitarian ideology is not just an alternative to our liberal democracy but superior to it, Pipes said, "and they would like to move the country in that direction so there are special privileges accorded to Islam . . .

"When there's a difference between their approach and the Australian approach, they want Australia to become like them and not vice versa," he said.

But Pipes's central message was the importance of supporting moderate Muslims in order to defeat militant Islam.

"Muslims are the victims of militant Islam no less than non-Muslims," he said.

If Sydneysiders respond to the ravings of Sheik Faiz by vilifying all Muslims, they will not only do a terrible injustice to the majority of moderate Muslim people who love this country but they will sow the seeds of something much worse.

They will create resentment and disengagement and drive young men into the arms of dangerous extremists who preach rape and jihad.
Umm... Excuse me, but is this the same Daniel Pipes that made some oh-so-tolerant comments regarding the bodily hygiene of Arabs? Here some more comments from a recent article:
"There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism, as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches and temples.”
Well, it's not really hard to imagine why Ms Devine thinks Daniel Pipes is a quoteworthy source given her usual tirades of right-wing conservatism.

Could it be that Muslims are starting to cop it here in Australia as a result of the US-led War on Terror and the attitudes promoted thereby? The Age (also a Fairfax paper) published an interesting article about the vilification of Muslims according to Stephen Hopper.
Stephen Hopper, who was sacked by Habib earlier this month, told a seminar at RMIT yesterday that the public discourse surrounding terrorism served to dehumanise Muslims in the same way Nazis dehumanised Jews before World War II.

"All of the world seemed to be against Jewish people 100 or so years ago," Mr Hopper said.

"Today, it seems like the whole world is against the Muslim people and the same sort of language and the same sorts of techniques are being used to dehumanise Muslim people . . . We should be aware of the consequences of where that will lead us."

Mr Hopper fought to secure Mr Habib's release from Guantanamo Bay, the US military base in Cuba. Mr Habib was held there until January for suspected links to al-Qaeda.
Mr Hopper's remarks are interesting. Specifically, is there some kind of biasing of public discourse towards this end, or is this just another example of the latent racism of Australian society finding another convenient mode of expression?

Certainly a few Christian types appear to have a bee in their collective bonnet regarding Muslims - perhaps the spirit of the Crusaders is alive and well in some Christian groups?

Anyway, back to the discussion I mentioned at the very beginning. This took place in an online forum, and the prevalent attitude was that rape was wrong, regardless of the ethnicity of the person committing the crime. However, a number of views were expressed regarding Muslims specifically as being "backward" and "predisposed to rape". One of the more enlightened participants posted this most informative link which would seem to suggest otherwise.

Is Australia a racist society? My perspective is: Yes, it is, and there is some evidence to suggest this.

From a personal point of view, I have said plenty of racist things in "the heat of the moment" during various events or social gatherings. I didn't want or mean to - they just "happened". No thought involved on my behalf at all. So why was I saying these things?

After some observation of myself over time, I came to the conclusion that it was an adaptive behaviour. It was the "path of least resistance" required to fit in appropriately with friends, family, colleagues etc in society, and I had unconsciously acquired it from my environment the way someone acquires an accent in their speech.

This does not excuse it. It's up to me to take responsibility for this unconscious behaviour and prevent it via conscious control. Just as it's my responsibility not to let the mass media dictate my attitudes for me.

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." - Viktor Frankl

Monday, April 25, 2005

New American Militarism and the Taiwan-China "Disagreement"

Just read this interesting article today in the Asia Times - "The New American Militarism" by Andrew J. Bacevich.

His depiction of the US Military Machine is pointedly underscored by the statistics:
Since the end of the Cold War, having come to value military power for its own sake, the United States has abandoned this principle and is committed as a matter of policy to maintaining military capabilities far in excess of those of any would-be adversary or combination of adversaries. This commitment finds both a qualitative and quantitative expression, with the US military establishment dwarfing that of even America's closest ally. Thus, whereas the US Navy maintains and operates a total of 12 large attack aircraft carriers, the once-vaunted Royal Navy has none - indeed, in all the battle fleets of the world there is no ship even remotely comparable to a Nimitz-class carrier, weighing in at some 97,000 tons fully loaded, longer than three [US] football fields, cruising at a speed above 30 knots, and powered by nuclear reactors that give it an essentially infinite radius of action. Today, the US Marine Corps possesses more attack aircraft than does the entire [British] Royal Air Force - and the United States has two other even larger "air forces", one an integral part of the navy and the other officially designated as the US Air Force. Indeed, in terms of numbers of men and women in uniform, the US Marine Corps is half again as large as the entire British army - and the Pentagon has a second, even larger "army" actually called the US Army - which in turn also operates its own "air force" of some 5,000 aircraft.
To put this into perspective; here in Australia our Naval air forces consist of less than 50 helicopters! That's right, helicopters, not aircraft. We are talking about a small sub-section of the military that is orders of magnitude more equipped than their Australian equivalent, and arguably any other nation's equivalent. Why does America need all this firepower? Does it anticipate fighting a global war on multiple fronts, not against some ambiguous terrorist group operating from caves and slums, but against other nations?

The US-China tension over Taiwan has been growing of late, and it seems that the pro-Independence factions of the Taiwanese are not doing anything to soothe matters. For instance, there is this little beauty in the Taipei Times:
At a seminar organized by the Taiwan New Century Foundation on ways of participating in the WHO, foundation president Chen Lung-chu (陳隆志) said the prospects for Taiwan's WHO bid this year are better than in the past because China might soften its attitude somewhat to try to quell the international flap that has ensued after its enactment of the "Anti-Secession" Law.

Taiwan, however, should not accept any name that suggests it is a part of China for membership in the WHO; rather, it should insist on a name that reflects its status as an independent country separate from China, Chen said.
Ok, let me get this straight - despite China's enactment of a Law intended as a clear message to Taiwan not to persue an Independence agenda any further, it will now "soften its attitude somewhat" over a further symbolic "slap in the face" by the WHO simply because it copped a bit of rhetoric from the international community (no doubt inspired by US efforts )?!?

Personally, I'm wondering who this Taiwanese think-tank is funded by. In any case, maybe Taiwan will be rejected yet again by the World Health Assembly (the article mentions this would be the ninth attempt). Or maybe the WHA will choose to accept Taiwan's application this time around? For some reason?

The following article in the Indianapolis Star outlines the situation:
The immediate challenge for the U.S. is Taiwan. We officially maintain a "one-China" policy, and for years we have made clear our readiness to defend Taiwan against Chinese invasion. China has responded by building up its capacity to launch a military strike, and in March it passed an "anti-secession" law, pledging to respond to any Taiwanese move toward independence with military force.

The U.S. retains an edge, but China now has about 700 missiles on its coast pointed at Taiwan, and this number is growing.

Since World War II, the U.S. has been the dominant power in East Asia and the Pacific. A rising China could challenge that leadership. Already, China's military presence and influence are growing in the South China Sea and parts of Southeast Asia. As China's need for oil and gas grows along with its economy, the Chinese might be more willing to assert themselves in Asia and beyond.
Is Taiwan going to be the "trigger" that ignites a US-China military conflict? Hard to say at this point, but if there is an economic collapse in the US and China is blamed, the tensions over Taiwan are going to move toward boiling point.
Bush also said China's growing economy was partly to blame for rising US gasoline prices.

"My view of China is that it's a great nation that's growing like mad. That's one of the reasons why Americans are seeing over US$2 gasoline, because demand for energy in China is huge. And supply around the world hasn't kept up with the increase in demand," he said.

Bush described U.S. ties with China as a "very complex and good relationship" and said he intended to keep it that way, but said Beijing should welcome religious movements, for example.

"I'm constantly reminding China that a great society is one that welcomes and honors human rights, for example, welcomes the Catholic Church in its midst, doesn't fear religious movements," he said.

"We expect there to be peace with Taiwan," Bush said.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

COINTELPRO and the 9-11 Truth Movement

Just read an awesome blog entry by Catalytic Converter regarding COINTELPRO and the 9-11 Truth Movement. I haven't discussed 9-11 on my blog yet, so rather than quickly put anything half-assed together on this most important event, I'll just encourage you to read his post. I noticed that he quotes from Perfect Infidel's Blog - another excellent read as well.

Suffice it to say, it looks pretty obvious to me that this whole Peak Oil business and 9-11 seem somewhat intertwined, but the usual question of course is: What is Wheat, and what is Chaff?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Un-Rage against the Machine (Part I)

Whoa (Keanuspeak). More than a month since I've posted something. Where do people find the time for daily blogging?

Well, I thought I'd make this entry a little more introspective. If reading about self-examination isn't your thing then feel free to check out this cool little flash game about making it home after a big night out.

Being a typical white male, it seems that anger is something I have to deal with. A lot.

Exactly how this anger is externally expressed has varied throughout my life, but the primary outlet seems to have been verbal, scaling between sarcastic quips and explosive, vitriolic ranting. Despite that I'm definitely not the smallest of guys, physical violence has never appealed to me. I suppose you'd be pretty spot on in guessing that my bark is far worse than my bite.

The "triggers" could be just about anything. It was more a function of being in a certain irritated "mood", and then it wouldn't be too long before an appropriate circumstance gave me the opportunity to get worked up. You can also probably guess that some people recognised this and took great delight in finding just what buttons to press in order to get me into that state.

One of the most common triggers was (and still is) injustice. For some reason I take a deep offense at injustice, and that can be an unfortunate thing in this world, as there is certainly plenty of it to go around.

The other main one stems from observing how people in general seem to care only about themselves, and how shabbily they treat each other on a day to day basis as a result of this. It seems like the "I'm alright Jack" mentality rules the roost. "Get what you can, while the gettings' good", "Always look after #1"... etc etc... et infinitum ad nauseum. Of course, it would be incredibly hypocritical of me not to admit that I don't behave in the exact same way. From everything I've seen about human society, it seems that we are "wired" to serve ourselves first and foremost.

This observation is hardly unique though. For instance, Richard Dawkins has come up with a body of work to justify this. But I digress.

As I grew through adolescence, senior school and then University, it seemed that the more I learned, the more time I spent in anger-related states. Of course, physical and biochemical changes during those times in life are powerful engines for the emotions, but the corresponding knowledge increase also added extra fuel to the fire. I learned about politics, and the corruption that seems to intertwine through it like a fungus through stale bread. I began to be disillusioned with Western society, seeing only greed, decadence and corruption, with a complicit populace of selfish, TV-addicted drones.

Lacking no perceived alternative due to a general contempt for the "hippy" & "commie" nature of the alternative political youth scene, I figured "When in Rome..." and began to devote my University years to serious partying.

"O thou invisible spirit of wine! If thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!" - Shakespeare

It seems however, that hedonism has limits imposed by one's physical and mental well-being. Well, that, and I guess I am probably too much of a control freak to ever "let go" to the extent required for the real Caligula-inspired stuff. It doesn't seem so much of a problem for some people though!

Ah well, each to their own.

Upon leaving University for the world of full-time employment, it became slowly revealed to me through various incidents how counterproductive and juvenile my bouts of irritation and anger were. I began to realise that one of the primary reasons I felt angry so often was that I did not feel like I had any control over my life - that everything just "happened" to me and there was no meaning to anything I did. Watching the first "Matrix" movie was an epiphany for me. My favourite moment in the movie will probably always be the "interview" scene where Neo first meets Morpheus.

Morpheus: "Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something _wrong_ with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's a splinter in your mind, driving you mad."

I felt like some kind of sleepwalker on a giant hamster wheel. I still went out a lot, still had my fun, cycled through a couple of relationships, worked at my job - a pretty average life for a young male, yet the "splinter" was still there. So I started reading a little more... taking more notice of the news and world events. This was somewhat counterproductive from an anger-management viewpoint because it gave me so many more opportunities to get worked up - especially given the incredible torrent of apathy that normally greets a person in Australia when trying to discuss these types of things. Interestingly, the more worked up I got over this stuff, the more I began to notice that I always felt depressed afterwards about the seeming dead-end life that I was embracing at a snail's pace; another cog taking its place in the larger machine with a minimum of fuss... slowly having the sharp edges ground off the teeth and running smoothly along until finally... what? What normally happens to a running cog in a machine that never stops?

Well, that's enough recapping for the moment, but I recently read something interesting in "The Fourth Way" by P.D. Ouspensky that made me reflect on this "Raging against the Machine":
"Q. I observe two kinds of indignation in myself one when for example I see a child hurt, and another when something annoys me myself. Are they both equally negative?

A. The more unselfish the indignation is, and the more right you are, the worse it is. The more energy you lose in it, the more negative results it will produce.

Q. Why am I so much sooner roused into negative emotions during discussions than at any other time? Political discussions, for instance.

A. Because you always think that things can be different. When you realize and become firmly convinced that things could not be different, you cease to argue. Arguing is based on the idea that things could be different and that some people could do things differently. Try to think from the point of view that all that happens happens because it cannot be different; if it could be different it would have happened differently. It is very simple, but very difficult to realize."
Ouspensky got it in a nutshell... I always did (and still do) think things could be different. But what would it mean to admit that things could not be different? What kind of can of worms would that open?

And what are the implications about the greater global situation that affects all of us?