I started this blog to vent my anger at the Abbott government. To keep myself sane. To mitigate against the real likelihood of alienating myself from polite company. And to share my thoughts with like-minded Australians in online communities, many of whom are speechless with horror at what we are becoming, and grateful for support in putting that horror into words.
There are many brain-dumps on here. Some are mocking, some are furious, or disgusted. I won’t be deleting anything – we still have implied freedom of political communication in our liberal democracy – but I am changing my style. Sane people change their behaviour when circumstances around them change. As Einstein observed, to do the same thing repeatedly and expect a different outcome amounts to insanity.
What has changed?
I no longer trust my own government. I do not feel that it is safe for me to furiously and hastily say what I think of government actions (in the hasty immoral way that the press does to the Muslim community). I am afraid that the brain-dump approach risks attracting the attention of a band of heavily armed men with the legal power to use force against me. If I wrote in haste what I really think of the Abbott government and its oppressive nonsense, I would be afraid for my children. As many Australians know only too well, particularly the Aboriginal community and now the Muslim community, children are deeply traumatised by heavily armed men breaking down your front door and using legal force against innocent civilians. And yes, they are civilians. They are not members of the armed forces of a nation state. And yes, they are innocent. We have the presumption of innocence in this country. You are innocent until proven guilty in a properly constituted court of law. And so am I.
I have decided to try and make sense of events in Australia on 23-24 September 2014 using evidence-based arguments instead. I would rather scribble off an angry rant about the ugly rhetoric and extreme violence being deployed around Australia on the flimsiest – or absence – of evidence. But that is dangerous now. Here is my thinking on the danger: armed agents of the Australian government are convinced or deluded about the level of terror threat to Australians; and impervious to their role in increasing that threat. And because they are probably convinced and likely deluded and definitely impervious, they might accidently mistake a middle-aged mother of three sitting at her computer for a threat to national security.
I have written before on the clash of civilisations thesis, I have drawn on theology and history and law and peace studies and international relations and political economy to make sense of the rhetoric about what is happening in Iraq and here. Today, I think the news stories are best addressed using intersectionality, a recent development in our understanding across social categorisers such as class, race and sex. In particular, intersectionality brings together critical race theory with feminism, where race theory also illuminates (religious) sectarianism.
In the current climate, adherents of the Muslim faith are conflated with any person ‘of Middle Eastern appearance’ (whatever that means). Muslims are conflated with all Arabs, who frequently bear a striking physical resemblance to Jews, both being of Semitic ethnic origin (whatever that means). The facts do not get in the way of government and media enthusiastically reproducing ethno-religious stereotypes to foment fear in the Australian population, so we need to make sense of both.
What we have been told
This comes from the joint press release issued by the Victorian and Australian Federal Police. An 18 year old man was wanted for questioning. He agreed to meet police at 8.00pm on Tuesday 23 September at Endeavour Hills in Victoria. He carried a knife. He used the knife to stab two officers. He was shot dead. His name is reported to be Numan Haider.
There are conflicting statements about what kind of threat the teenager posed before agreeing to meet police to answer questions. It is said he was under surveillance for at least two months, and had been seen by authorities to be acting ‘strangely’. Some say it was suicide by cop. This is as plausible as any other hypothesis. Such events typically involve a young man with a mental illness (depression can be fatal: its worst outcome is suicide). A young man who had been acting strangely and voluntarily attended a police station for questioning is as likely a candidate as any other to seek suicide by cop.
The other explanations are various versions of this: the young man was a terrorist, an extremist who hates our way of life. He was simultaneously a lone wolf even though the entire Australian community is under threat from an organisation of terrorist Muslim extremists on another continent. So he is depicted as a representative of an organised group but acted alone and independently of them. He was a terrorist but this is not about Islam. But the group he represents calls itself Islamic State. There is no specific intelligence that the man made threats against the Prime Minister. But the loosely labelled ‘press’ has ‘reported’ that police killed a man who made threats against the Prime Minister. Imagine US security forces allowing a man to stab two officers while making threats against the President before shooting him. Plausible? No. This narrative is incoherent at best. Most of it is probably propaganda. As the old saying goes, the most effective lies contain a kernel of truth.
The context and the analysis
The police in Victoria, as elsewhere in Australia, have a long history of shooting young men dead. The young man may be unarmed or, more commonly, armed with a knife. One memorable incident at Bondi Beach involved multiple officers shooting and killing a mentally ill man who was wielding a knife. One of the officers who fatally shot Roni Levi was later convicted on drug charges.
You will search high and low, however, for news of a policeman shooting a woman, or a policewoman shooting anyone. Police have a deep and abiding interest in young men, particularly brown young men, or bearded young men, and especially black young men. Do not be any of those people, and the chances of being stopped, searched, detained, arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned go through the floor. Add poor. Poor young men. Our jails are full of young men with very little formal education, who are from low income areas. They are survivors of child sexual assault, bullying, physical abuse, neglect. Many have a mental illness, an intellectual disability, substance addictions, and histories of being victimized by, and then perpetrating, violence. This is the lot of many poor young men in contemporary Australia. It is a disgrace, but it is the case.
Across human history, these people were traditionally sent to war. They needed a role in society, and the role chosen for them by patriarchs is, typically, to be frontline guards of whatever territory the society regards as its own. This was seen as a good job for young men, and for the society. When young men are killed in the line of this duty, it is a tragic terrible loss for the young man’s family and friends, but for everyone else – namely, the patriarchs – it seems like an excellent idea to send young men to kill other young men at the ‘front’. The front is any border of the territory the society calls its own.
And so it is today, with two key exceptions.
The first exception is that we now send young women as well. This is stupid. Young women have the most crucial role in the survival of any society. No-one else can fulfil the function that young women can do. They do not have to fulfill this role in Australia if they do not want to, thank goddess. Or more specifically, thank feminism. Nevertheless, all patriarchies treat young women with contempt, as human incubators, and ignore their rights. Patriarchies are violent and careless towards women; and lie about the singular, crucial role young women play in the survival of humanity. Using threats of force and actual force to ensure its own survival is a classic behaviour of any patriarchy. It is ugly and cruel, but it is the case.
To reiterate: It is a social fact that we fail to honour the humanity of young women. It is a scientific fact that no-one else, no-one but young women, can do what young women do for the survival of humanity. To hold any other position is to remain deaf to the lies told by the patriarchs.
And the patriarchs tell many lies. These are dangerous lies. Lies which cause massive, tangible harm to humanity and to the planet. Patriarchs dishonour young women for power-seeking purposes. Patriarchs send young men to war for power-seeking purposes. Patriarchs plunder and poison the planet for power-seeking purposes. Patriarchs tell more lies to cover up the true power-seeking purposes of their dishonourable and bloodthirsty actions. This is so whether they are white patriarchs or black patriarchs or Muslim patriarchs or Christian or Zionist patriarchs. Yes we get the odd Golda Meir or Maggie Thatcher. They are women, but they operate a patriarchal paradigm It is not that a woman can not imitate a patriarch. Some choose to, and some are really quite good at that. It is that we can not imagine an alternative reality where young women are honoured for their crucial capability and young men are found something more constructive and less abhorrent to do than kill other young men.
Which brings us to the chief patriarch in 2014 Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Here are some grabs from his statement in response to the shooting of an 18 year old man.
“It is clear that there are people in our community who are capable of very extreme acts”.
Yes it is. Are any of these people young women? Are any of them matriarchs? Are some of them young men and some of them patriarchs?
“I have spoken to the wives of both the officers concerned”.
The Prime Minister did not discuss the international meeting he is attending and the global response to terrorist acts. He did not outline our foreign policy objectives in the face of terrorist threats. He did not even have to imply that the dead young man was planning a terrorist act, regarding which no evidence has been released.
The AFP has categorically stated that there is no specific evidence of a threat to the Prime Minister. And the Prime Minister has categorically stated that he has “spoken to the wives of the officers concerned.” Remember what our alliance in Iraq is called this time? It is called the Coalition of the Concerned. Abbott is our chief patriarch, keeping Australian women and children safe from the barbarians at the gate. Sending young men (and now women) to do it.
Many will not be convinced by this analysis. Some will complain that I have left out a detail here, or omitted context there. Well, yes. Yes I have. That is what writers do. We choose to tell this story, and by choosing this story, we discard every other story there is to be told. We choose this particular story for a reason, and we often provide those reasons. My reason for choosing to present the particular analysis I have presented here is because the cognitive dissonance is so great. The only framework for understanding the events of 23-24 September 2014 in Australia available to me and my experiences is the frame of the violence and deceptions reproduced by patriarchs. It will not work for everyone.
A final word on when the penny dropped that the violence and deception of patriarchs would clarify my understanding of this uglier Australia the Prime Minister is determined we should be, regardless of facts on the ground.
Each morning I wake to an ABC radio news bulletin. I set my clock radio to 6.00am and the theme rings out and I listen to the news and weather as I begin preparing for the day. For the last few days the lead story has been the Australian Prime Minister’s decision to send the country to war again. Each piece of rhetoric I hear, every piece of propaganda dressed up as rational argument, from the so-called experts and leaders and commentators, describes the disregard our enemy has for humanity. Each description also communicates exactly what “we” are doing to “them”. Over and over I heard a head of security, or intelligence, or government, or police, using language that would not be out of place at a fiery sermon from the middle ages. Or at a radical mosque, temple, synagogue, or tent of the roller variety. It all sounds the same. I heard someone saying of the enemy that ‘some people are attracted to the thought of the end of days’. Well Christians certainly are. It is all there in the Book of Revelations.
The sad thing , the cause for despair, is this. The task of demonising the “other” is an easy one, because there the patriarchs have been doing it for centuries. It is embedded in the languages and cultures that have sprung from across the ancient world, in the collective memory of humanity.
This leaves me in no doubt that there are patriarchs of communities across Australia preaching hate. Here’s the main difference between these various patriarchs of various cultures, languages and faiths, from my perspective.
Our chief patriarch is waxing lyrical about the barbarians at the gate, with very little evidence. (By waxing lyrical I mean Abbott is awkwardly stumbling over his words which contain either religious imagery or vacuous rhetoric or both). I do not doubt the blood thirsty intent and actions of Islamic patriarchs in Iraq and Syria. I do doubt that Islamic extremists represent as serious a threat to Australians as we are told.
I also do not doubt the blood thirsty intent and actions of patriarchs in the USA and Australia. We are going to other peoples’ countries to blow up human beings and their ancestral homes, from a massive (and probably previously safe) distance.
I most certainly do not doubt that our current actions will ensure that the rate of slaughter of women and children in Iraq and Syria, by us and by them, will become much much worse. And it is women and children who ensure the survival of humanity.