London

Cannot be avoided this morning: London terrorist attack turned tourist landmark into scene of horror and from a fellow-blogger, Stephen Liddell in London.

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Happening to the day on the first anniversary of Brussels. Terrible, but London has survived much worse, and I think it is fair to say the authorities there have been very capable and measured in their response thus far.

Attacks like this are highly unpredictable but also highly likely. While the imminent elimination of ISIS also seems likely, the ideology it represents continues and will continue. And here we must be very specific and take the trouble to transcend blanket judgments about an entire religion and a quarter of the world’s population.

My reading lately has assisted me in getting better at that. First came Gabriele Marranci’s cool anthropological take in Wars of Terror (2016). Marranci is Australian — Macquarie University in fact. You can get a feel for his work in posts like Indefinite detention for advocating jihadi violence (2015).

Next is my current Wollongong Library borrowing, Graeme Wood, The Way of Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State (2017). It is a good read too, which helps, and I am finding it rings true with my own past encounters with the theology of advocates of what some would label extremism, in my case posted in 2004-2006 for example: Wolves in sheep’s clothing on an extremist Islamic mission.

See this Council on Foreign Relations launch of ‘The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State’.

ROSE: Explain for a second what a caliphate is.

WOOD: And a caliphate—a caliphate is a—it is a resurrection of an institution that most people think was—has been extinct since 1924 when the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished by the republican Turks. But it is a Muslim state that is led by one person, who is a caliph, which—a word which literally means a successor, successor usually considered to the prophet Muhammad as the political leader of Muslims all coming together.

So what ISIS—what they did by declaring a caliphate, for many of the people I spoke to, was—it’s as if they switched a light on. There was suddenly an entity that required the allegiance of all Muslims, caused them to be required, obliged individually to come to fight under the direction of the caliph.

ROSE: So, like, they send out a big bat signal, and now everybody has to come?

WOOD: It’s the ultimate jihadist bat sign, that’s right. And sure enough, you know, that’s what we observed from 2013 and then really in force once the declaration happened in 2014 up until the point where the bat sign turned out to be too dangerous to heed. Like, the Islamic State actually said, if you follow the bat sign, apparently you’re going to get killed, stopped, arrested; we’d rather you ignore it and then just attack where you are.

ROSE: You said that this is Islamic, but it’s a kind of oddball or extreme or not universally accepted operationalization of some strands of Islam. Is that basically correct?

WOOD: Yeah, it—

ROSE: And how would you gloss that?

WOOD: It’s not just that I say it. That’s what ISIS itself says, that they recognize that their interpretation is an extreme minority among Muslims. And they say that that interpretation, that means that most Muslims who have actively rejected them—which is most Muslims—are no longer Muslims. So they—

ROSE: So by definition, if you’re a Muslim but don’t agree that this is the new caliphate, you are an apostate?

WOOD: They’ve got a long list of things that they say would nullify your Islam. And these include voting in an election, any kind of worship of a grave or a saint. These—it—the list just goes on and on and on. But yeah, being persnickety about these questions is really their favorite sport, and they practice it pretty avidly.

See also the NPR interview In ‘Way Of The Strangers,’ Wood Explores Why Young People Embrace ISIS.

WOOD: Yeah. John Georgelas came from a military family. And I think there was still a sense that the way to succeed was by succeeding in a kind of American military sort of way. And so when the parents saw their kid go off in a jihadist direction, they thought of him as a follower. And yet all the Islamic State supporters I had been in touch with thought of him as their leader. So to have this impressionable kid really find his footing and become the leader of a sect within a terrorist group I think is truly inconceivable for the parents to see.

MARTIN: Yeah, a horrible kind of position for a parent to be in. You write in the book that part of the West’s misunderstanding of ISIS is a kind of refusal to acknowledge its religious roots, that there is a theology behind all of the violence.

WOOD: Yes. I think that there is a strong urge to say that Islam has nothing to do with religion, that ISIS is a bunch of psychopaths, people with blades cutting off heads wantonly. Unfortunately that’s just not true. ISIS has looked into Islamic history with historical accuracy, with intellectual rigor. And that’s part of what has produced that group as well as its Muslim opponents.

MARTIN: How do they justify the violence?

WOOD: You’ll find some who will say the violence is temporary. We are Muslims who are reviving the faith and we have to do this in a fallen world, so we’ll cut off the hands of thieves right now. But once the Islamic State is stronger and people realize this is the punishment, we won’t have to cut off hands.

MARTIN: The violence is a way to peace?

WOOD: Yes. That’s what you find with the nicer ones. The less nice ones just say this is a wonderful thing. The violence is not something that needs to be explained except to say that our scripture says it must be so. And so when it happens, we should celebrate it.

I think Wood’s book is excellent. A site he commends has connections with scholars from Princeton, among others: it is Jihadica. Well worth a look.

Jihadica is a clearinghouse for materials related to militant, transnational Sunni Islamism, commonly known as Jihadism. At the moment, much of this material is diffuse, known only to a few specialists, and inaccessible to the public and policymakers unless they pay a fee. Jihadica provides this material for free and keeps a daily record of its dissemination that can be easily searched and studied. These records are accompanied by the expert commentary of people who have the requisite language training to understand the primary source material and advanced degrees in relevant fields.

Oh and please ignore groups such as our self-appointed “patriots” and One Nation. I recently unfriended someone on Facebook after he serially commended “patriot” gatherings and the latest anti-Muslim hysteria. I really don’t need to see that stuff when there is so much better out there. Serious knowledge we need, blanket Islamophobia we surely can do without.

Coniston

No, not the Lake District in England, nor the Wollongong suburb…

It is the site of the last recorded massacre of Aboriginal people in Australia.

Here, in 1928, up to 100 Aboriginal people were killed near the Coniston cattle station in reprisal for the death of a white man. The murders later became known as the Coniston massacre.

Warlpiri and Anmatyerr people welcomed Senator Nigel Scullion [2014] on to their land with traditional song and dance.

Senior Anmatyerr man Teddy Long said generations of his family had been fighting to have the massacre acknowledged and the land returned.

“My old man, my father been explaining to me what happened to me, the shooting days,” he said.

“In the massacre days many people were killed here and that’s why [I’ve] been fighting real hard for this land”

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Coniston Homestead in 1924

Yurrkuru, or Brook’s Soak as it is known in English, is at the centre of one Australia’s darkest chapters.

In 1928 white dingo trapper Fred Brooks was killed by Aboriginal man “Bullfrog” Japangka at the site.

Local police led a series of reprisal killings that became known as the Coniston massacre.

Official records claim 30 Aboriginal people were killed, but oral histories suggest more than 100 were murdered.

The conflict was part of an ongoing confrontation between pastoralists and Aboriginal people.

In the late 1920s, Central Australia was experiencing its worst drought.

There was increasing conflict between Aboriginal people seeking water and pastoralists protecting limited supplies for their cattle.

The prime minister at the time, Stanley Bruce, launched an a board of inquiry into the actions of police and pastoralists.

It ruled the police had “acted in self-defence”.

I recently watched  the film Coniston (2012), directed by Francis Jupurrurla Kelly and David Batty, having borrowed the DVD from Wollongong Library. It is a must see.

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See Telling it true and Coniston: survivors and descendants recall the massacre in a new film.

How could a man designated Protector of Aborigines end up leading a revenge party that would shoot at least 31 of them, including women and children, and probably many more, in retaliation for the death of one white man? It is a question that preoccupies a white Australian audience but the film Coniston, directed by Francis Jupurrurla Kelly and David Batty … does not try to answer it.  Nor does it look in much detail into the broad context of the infamous event it is concerned with – the last white on black massacre in Australia, starting at Coniston, about 250 kms north-west of Alice Springs, in 1928. The one hour documentary, that includes dramatised sequences, focusses instead on capturing the oral history of the massacre held by Warlpiri, Anmatyerr and Kaytetye people. The primary audience it has in mind are the Warlpiri, Anmatyerr and Kaytetye of today and into the future, so that the story won’t be forgotten.

Many of the speakers in this film are the descendants of the massacre victims; some few are survivors, young children at the time. One is Albert Jakamarra Wilson, the son of an Aboriginal tracker, Alec Wilson, who worked for the revenge party.  Others who take part in the dramatised sequences are the descendants of Bullfrog, the Warlpiri man acknowledged as the killer of the white man, Fred Brooks, a stockman  turned dogger.

The premise of the film was described by co-director Kelly, a Warlpiri man from Yuendumu, at its Alice Springs screening on Monday: “It’s all about white Australia but we got black histories.” He had started on this project 30 years ago, interviewing the son of Bullfrog, who could remember hiding in a cave with his father when the revenge party was searching for him – we see some of this grainy footage and a handsome young Kelly without his signature dreads. According to Bullfrog’s son, the revenge party went past but Alec Wilson went inside and spoke to Bullfrog, without realising that it was him, advising him to wait in the cave until the whitefellas went past (effectively saving him)…

The film has Alec Wilson discovering Brooks’ partially-buried body. He informs police and he is told by Mounted Constable George Murray, the Protector of Aborigines, that he must go along with him to track down Brooks’ killer. The search party soon turns into a revenge party: random groups of Aborigines are ordered to drop their weapons “in the name of the King” and when they fail to do so, they are shot. Albert Wilson says that his father did not go along with this; his father said to Murray that people should be given a chance but was told to follow Murray’s orders…

The revenge party was on the rampage for an initial two weeks and later Murray returned with another white man, Nugget Morton, and again Alec Wilson. Morton had been attacked by an Aborigine but had ultimately got the upper hand and killed him. Now others would also pay with their lives, as the party heads north, hunting down and shooting Aborigines “like dogs”, says Albert Wilson. This goes on for a period of three weeks. A speaker reflects that the victims, as they tried to flee, must have wondered why they were being shot at.

An old man, a survivor, Johnny Jupurrurla Nelson, comments that to this day people are “too sorry” to move back to their country. They might visit but they don’t want to stay. He was a baby at the time; his mother hid him in some bushes and ran…

Recalling the Shellharbour that was…

Last night I had a chat via Facebook Messenger with one of my Shellharbour cousins, who no longer lives there. I had not seen or spoken with this cousin for decades! I mentioned how different Shellharbour is today. She agreed, saying she couldn’t live there any more…

Here is how it was when my parents were young in the early to mid 1930s:

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And here Shellharbour township c 1948, in my own early childhood.

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And today, all suburbia…

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See also My 1947: ShellharbourShellharbour: very nostalgicMore “Neil’s Decades” –6: Heimat/Shellharbour.

Sydney Harbour Bridge turns 85

A few images. See also Sydney Harbour Bridge turns 85: The story of an Australian icon and Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrates 85th birthday with release of archival footage and worker interviews.

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I am old enough to have actually crossed it by tram. The trams reached the bridge via dedicated tunnels from Wynyard Station.

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