Soul-searching? #2

NOTE: I think this post will do you for two days at least, so there will be a short hiatus here.

Memory Lane has been in overdrive!

Back Row L-R: Terry Naughton, “Pip” Dryden, Clive Kessler.

Front Row L-R: Grahame Delaney, R W “Rockjaw” Smith (coach and English teacher), Alfie van der Poorten.

Extraordinarily ancient relic! And that is just me!

That is a more or less deliberately antiqued photo of the First Grade Debating Team at Sydney Boys High in 1959. I was not in the team, but some very impressive classmates were. One featured in my blog post of 16 May and another features in today’s.

Pip Dryden arrived from Shanghai — yes, Shanghai — and joined us late in the piece. Sadly he passed away at 19 from cancer. Terry Naughton became a QC and a Judge. Clive Kessler was the subject of Sunday’s blog post and is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UNSW. Grahame Delaney sadly died young, I believe.

Alfie van der Poorten passed away in 2010. He was a famous mathematician. It is worth looking at his Wikipedia biography.

His childhood before Sydney High was very different from mine in quiet old Auburn and Vermont Streets in Sutherland!

An extract:

Van der Poorten was born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam in 1942, after the German occupation began. His parents, David and Marianne van der Poorten, gave him into foster care with the Teerink family in Amersfoort, under the name ‘Fritsje’; the senior van der Poortens went into hiding, were caught by the Nazis, survived the concentration camps, and were reunited with van der Poorten and his two sisters after the war. The family moved to Sydney in 1951, travelling there aboard the SS Himalaya.

Van der Poorten studied at Sydney Boys High School from 1955–59, and earned a high score in the Leaving Certificate Examination there. He spent a year in Israel and then studied mathematics at the University of New South Wales, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965, a doctorate in 1968 under the joint supervision of George Szekeres and Kurt Mahler, and a Master of Business Administration. While a student at UNSW, he led the student union council and was president of the University Union, as well as helping to lead several Jewish and Zionist student organisations. He also helped to manage the university’s cooperative bookstore, where he met and in 1972 married another bookstore manager, Joy FitzRoy….

Another of my childhood companions because of whom I have been historically sympathetic towards Israel, much as I despise Israel’s current government — if indeed they still have one? — but also have no time at all for Holocaust denial or any conspiracy theory that invokes Jews.

I think of two others: Herbert Huppert, Professor of Theoretical Geophysics and Foundation Director, Institute of Theoretical Geophysics, at the University of Cambridge, since 1989 and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, since 1970. And Peter Deli.

I have posted on them before. First, Herbert:

Back in the late 50s the Head of Science was in fact an elderly chap much stained by tobacco whom we dubbed “Dodo” – as in the extinct bird.

Tracking Lenny Basser (a legendary Science teacher and Athletics coach who taught Lord May of Oxford among others) led me to a former classmate, in Science at one point but more memorably in the weird Mr Levy’s French class. I had wondered what became of this lad who had come to us from Cranbrook – a decided disadvantage – little realising that he was a leading geophysicist these days!

Herbert Huppert

I have found a fascinating interview with him telling me much that I had little insight into at the time. Since this is already out there, I hope Professor Huppert won’t mind my sharing.

Born in Sydney, Australia, 1943; my maternal grandfather was a shamus in a Viennese synagogue; both he and his wife were very religious; I got to know them when they came out to Australia in about 1947-8; the remarkable thing about my paternal grandparents is that I knew nothing about them; my sister and I both assumed that they perished in the Holocaust although we had not been told; my father died when I was thirteen; about seven or eight years ago my sister did some extensive research in the Viennese archives and found that both had died natural deaths in hospital in 1935 and 1937; my father rarely talked about his time in Vienna and neither did my mother; she would talk about St Stephen’s dome in Vienna and the giant wheel nearby; when I was eight I bought her a book on Vienna for her birthday with both illustrated on the cover; she was clearly upset by it and I never saw the book again; many years after when both were dead (my mother died when I was twenty-two) I heard that a few months before they left Vienna my father was told to queue up to get a visa to leave; the night before he was warned that the queue was to be bombed by Nazis; he decided not to join the queue and it was bombed; two weeks later he did get an exit visa; they left in 1938 and arrived in Australia on 26th January 1939…

…I first went to a Jewish kindergarten which I remember with both pleasure and terror; on one occasion the headmaster threatened to put me into a duplicating machine as I had been so naughty and that terrified me; generally I enjoyed the school and had lots of friends; I then went to an “institution” which my mother chose, which cost about £300 a term; it would have been better if my father had paid the money to charity and sent me to a state school; I hated this institution, Cranbrook, with a passion; I have recently come across two people who went there some ten years after me who thought it was wonderful; one is Richard Hunter who is Professor of Classics here and the other is the new Director of the Fitzwilliam…

Cranbrook was everything that I hated; I went there when I was just six; clear that I could add and on that basis put me up a class without ascertaining whether I knew anything else; I found myself a year and a half younger than everyone else and I was nowhere near mature enough; that had a bad influence on me; later it became better because when I went to a proper school I could run well, but Cranbrook was a terrible institution; I left when I had just reached twelve; I passed the exam to Sydney High and my mother gave me the choice of going there or staying at Cranbrook; if I had stayed in Cranbrook five more years I would not be here today; they taught badly; they hired a chemistry teacher who was a Nazi who told us how wonderful it had been flying over England and bombing it, and also about the problem of German Jews; it was just unbelievable; there was bullying, but don’t know whether it was anti-Semitic or just of younger people; we were forced to have a shower after P.T. after which we had to dress outside; there was a female music teacher who was constantly looking out at us; there were many things like that

21:33:13 Sydney High was much better and I can’t remember a day of unhappiness there; it was a fabulous school and has produced some brilliant people, including Bob May, President of the Royal Society, and John Cornforth, Nobel Laureate in chemistry; we had an inspiring chemistry teacher, Leonard Basser; he was also the athletics coach and I ran for the school, something what was inconceivable at Cranbrook…

And now Peter:

I told the story of another of my class of 1959 confreres in 50 years on – 1: a classmate’s story in 2009.

hd_history_photo
Peter Deli

There I quoted from a biography:

Peter Francis Nicholas Deli was born on 26 March 1942 in Wellington, New Zealand. His parents, Lewis and Lily, were both Hungarian refugees who had fled Europe just before the beginning of the War. His father, an architect by training, had been a violinist in the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. His mother, who was Jewish, had tried to emigrate to Britain and Australia before settling for New Zealand. They met in New Zealand and married in 1941. After the War the Deli family moved to Sydney, Australia and settled in the Eastern Suburbs at Bondi. Sydney had a much larger population of East European migrs than the whole of New Zealand and the Delis were soon absorbed into the Hungarian community’s protective embrace. Peter’s early school years at Double Bay Primary School were far from typical of the elementary educational experience of most Australian children at the time. The extraordinary mix of nationalities and class backgrounds in the school must have had a profound effect on his early development. In 1955 he won a place to the prestigious Sydney Boys’ High School, one of the best secondary schools in New South Wales. Peter excelled in his studies during these years and matriculated with honours to the University of Sydney in 1960. During his undergraduate years he read History and Philosophy, graduating Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in History in 1964….

I continued:

After a very interesting career, including being in Paris in 1968, Peter succumbed to leukemia and died at home in Hong Kong on 12 February 2001.

The point made there about the cosmopolitan mix at Double Bay and SBHS at the time certainly struck me when I “migrated” from Sutherland (with Ross Mackay, Arno Eglitis, Robert Burnie and Laurence Napier) to SBHS in 1955. On the other hand, much to the surprise of one of my coachees who is now at SBHS, of  206 of us starting out in 1955 only one was Chinese (ABC) and one was Indian – Ashok Hegde, who became a close friend until he went to London in 1958. Ashok’s father was in 1958 the Assistant Indian Trade Commissioner in Sydney, if I recall correctly – but thus not a permanent resident in Australia.

Such are few of the experiences of my schoolboy self that took this Shire lad into worlds previously unknown to him, and which shape his reaction to such things as politics and the events in the Middle East to this day!

More relevant to yesterday’s post, it was the consideration of such friends as those named in this post and what the theology that prevailed in the mid 1960s at Sutherland Presbyterian Church about “election” — God’s inscrutable thing of saving some and not others for reasons we poor mortals could not hope to understand — logically had in store for them gave me the uncomfortable feeling that God was some sort of petulant idiot!

Robbie Burns in “Holy Willie’s Prayer” offers a parody of that doctrine of election which, however, is not all that wide of the mark:

O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell,
As it pleases best Thysel’,
Sends ane to Heaven an’ ten to Hell,
For Thy glory,
And no for onie guid or ill
They’ve done afore Thee!

There was more to it of course, but such a thought eventually became too much even tacitly to assent to. From there over time it became clear that some of the fundamentals were really off — this took a long time.

First, the idea that there is a systematic theology recoverable from the many and varied texts of the Bible became less and less viable.

Second, the idea that the Bible, wonderful as much in it is, was in any literal sense the word of God rather than the product of centuries of human beings thinking about God also seemed less and less likely — and hence the pointlessness of the first exercise. Which is not to say that the Bible is not worth reading; it certainly is, but not as I had conceived it.

Finally — well not quite! — the idea that God ever has had or is likely to have had a Chosen People is actually ridiculous, and possibly even blasphemous as it smacks of the Supreme Being picking favourites — hardly a moral position worthy of the All Knowing.

Back in 2012 I posted Searchings — 1, one of quite a few such posts in my blogs over the past 10-15 years:-

There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. But to begin.

God’s Politics asked Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

That’s how I ask the question, but professional theologians use the term theodicy. It comes from two Greek words: theo, which means “God,” and dike, which means “justice.” Theodicy asks, “If God is good and just, then why is there so much evil in the world?” There are many answers to this question. Some claim that God causes evil. In which case, my question becomes relevant – Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

Let’s first examine the word “evil.” Theologian Joe Jones succinctly defines evil in his book A Grammar of Christian Faith “as the harm to some creature’s good” (280). Jones distinguishes between two categories of evil that harms a creatures good. First, there is moral evil – the harm humans inflict upon one another through violence, injustice, and oppression. The second category is natural evil – the harm caused by cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural events…

The older I get the more unsatisfactory the theologians seem to me, and the more “fundamentalist” they are, even less satisfactory are they then likely to be – unless you are better at believing a thousand impossible things before breakfast, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, than I am these days.

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Unfortunately the impression one is left with after much fundamentalist apologetics/theology is that God indeed could very well be a Cosmic Jerk!

This especially plagues the bibliolatrists who constitute the more conservative wings of Judaism and Christianity and, alas, far too much of Islam. The unfortunate tradition of Divine Mouthpieces and Pens is as much a curse as a blessing, indeed I suspect more a curse than a blessing. Infallibility and certainty are among the most dangerous and foolish of human constructs.

anonymous-source

Take Monday’s poem from Three Quarks Daily.

For insulting the Quran, “’Thousands of people
dragged a Pakistani man … from a police station …
(and) beat him to death,’ police said Wednesday.”

Insulting Books

Is it even possible
to insult a book?

Has it a soul within its leaves
a heart that beats
an eye that winks
a cord running through its spine
descending from a thing that thinks?

Is a book of inky lines
(of characters not themselves sublime)
capable of being hurt or ridiculed
or cheapened by critiques
either of the wise, or fools?

Has it veins between its covers
salty with the blood of lovers?

Is there something in its pages
(even if put there by sages)
that warrants death to critics?

Is it a thing so lame that priestly brothers
(arrogant, imperious, parasitic)
who worship sheaves of ink on paper
must, for its sake, snuff the holy breath
of others?

by Jim Culleny

11/6/12

Go and read the comments that follow it. An excellent series, those daily poems from Three Quarks Daily. Jim is the editor of this feature and most wide-ranging in his selection and very knowledgeable. Even Aussie poets score there at times.

Gaza, Israel and all that unspeakable frustration and horror…

I went to a great source for a post on the current hideous developments in a part of the world where such hideousness is alas not uncommon, a part that in some moments we perhaps wish would detach itself from the planet and go, say, to Jupiter… Well, at least some of the parties involved who never ever seem to learn, despite encouraging examples over the years…

The source I quoted recently was Tikkun, framing it thus: If ever voices like this one from Israel were needed, now is very much the time.

Of course no ceasefire. Why should Netanyahu want a ceasefire? Every day in which the shooting continues is one more day of keeping that dreaded mover’s truck away from the Prime Minister’s Residence, one more day of keeping power in his own hands. If there was concrete proof that Netanyahu did it all consciously and deliberately, it would constitute criminal charges far more serious than those he is facing at the District Court of Jerusalem. But any such evidence is probably classified Top Secret and would only be published fifty years from now. So, we can’t prove that he did it deliberately, though there can be little doubt about it. We can only end the war, and immediately afterwards get rid of him.

Perhaps what is happening now will shake President Biden out of the attitude of keeping a low profile on Israel and the Palestinians? After all, all this mess had fallen on his desk with quite a loud clatter…

No great sign of that so far from the USA.

And way back in 2009 I posted:

Joshua to Gaza 2009

05 JAN 2009

It is somewhat ironic that my private Bible reading scheme, which often follows the US Episcopalian lectionary, brought me today to the Book of Joshua.

1 Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying,

2 Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.

3 Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.

4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.

5 There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

6 Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

7 Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.

8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

The first thing that must be said is that we are reading saga and legend here, not history. One may as well take Beowulf literally, though of course Beowulf is very informative about the life and times of its culture and milieu and reflects history, which is also true of Joshua. It is pretty much certain that what really happened was nothing like what we read in this book. I don’t find that a problem, personally. One can be inspired by the words of the last verse there without believing that verses 3 and 4 represent some real kind of divine decree still relevant in 2009. Sadly, not everyone agrees.

Israel and Palestine: A Brief History – Part I on the Middle East Web captures this quite well.

The archeological record indicates that the Jewish people evolved out of native Cana’anite peoples and invading tribes. Some time between about 1800 and 1500 B.C., it is thought that a Semitic people called Hebrews (hapiru) left Mesopotamia and settled in Canaan. Canaan was settled by different tribes including Semitic peoples, Hittites, and later Philistines, peoples of the sea who are thought to have arrived from Mycenae, or to be part of the ancient Greek peoples that also settled Mycenae.

According to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites, or a portion of them, out of Egypt. Under Joshua, they conquered the tribes and city states of Canaan…

Paragraph one indicates what really may have happened; the next paragraph recounts the hallowed legend.

Leaping forward around 4,000 years we find ourselves where we are. You can trace that in varying degrees of depth on that Middle East Web, which I referred you to in my update yesterday on A whiff of sanity. (2021 — That link is to a post where I reference a classmate from Sydney High — often sitting just behind me! — Clive Kessler.)

Long term the approach I commend there will be what must happen, but in the world as it is it will be a long time before such an approach is taken seriously by those in power. The point is, however, that we have been told. What looks like good strategy in current Washington and Tel Aviv or Jerusalem – which really should be an international city as the United Nations long ago proposed – or among irredentists in the Muslim world is actually short-sighted policy. Given that Israel may attain its objectives – more about that in a moment – the true cost is incalculable. In brief it involves fuelling further the problem. It inflames further the grievances that have made too many turn to terror as an appropriate response.  The present cost in human lives and suffering is only too manifest.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Paul McGeogh offers an interpretive report that rings true.

THE revelation of the daring objective at the heart of Operation Cast Lead calls for Israel’s air-and-ground assault on Gaza to be given a new name. As the rhetorical layers are peeled back, what we are hearing makes Mission Impossible a more worthy contender.

Tel Aviv’s early insistence that this massive military exercise was about putting a halt to Palestinian rockets being fired into or near communities in the south of Israel never rang true.

Measure it by the number of rockets – 8000-plus over eight years – and indeed it sounds like a genuine existential threat. Consider the toll – 20 Israeli deaths spread over eight years, which is about half the number of deaths in just a month of Israeli traffic accidents – and it all loses its oomph as a casus belli.

Israel does not want to deal with Hamas – it wants to annihilate the Islamist movement.

The Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, said as much when she dashed to Paris last week to head off a French push for a 48-hour ceasefire. “There is no doubt that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, it is a problem for Israel, a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the entire region,” she said.

If there was any doubt after Livni spoke, it evaporated on Friday when the Deputy Prime Minister, Haim Ramon, told Israeli TV: “What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern. That’s the most important thing.”

And at the United Nations in New York, the Israeli ambassador, Gabriella Shalev, also seemed to depart the approved script. “[It will continue for] as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely,” she said.

Analysis and commentary through the first eight days of this conflict have been about Israel’s goal of stopping the rockets. But if the objective is obliterating Hamas, it does indeed seem an impossible task….

jan04 024a

Yesterday in Sydney

Good luck to Obama. Let’s hope for some shift in US policy, which is critical; I am not totally despairing on that front, nor am I totally hopeful.

Update

See Jim Belshaw’s post this morning: Gaza, democracy and the question of world government. Very thoughtful. I think Jim and I share both a certain tentativeness on the issue – which I am sure is a clear sign of intelligence!—and a desire to get beyond the reflex responses we’ve been seeing. That Jim has used one of my photos is of course a bonus.

If you click the head link of that post you will also find six comments.

A rabbi on Gaza

08 JAN 2009

I was going to leave this alone, but in checking my blog roll (which I will soon revise and prune) I happened on Shalom Rav, Random Blogthoughts by Rabbi Brant Rosen in the USA. In particular see Outrage in Gaza: No More Apologies (28 December), Israel and Gaza: In Search of a New Moral Calculus (30 December) and Israel and Gaza: One Geographer’s Prediction (6 January). Really, these have more weight than anything I can say. A brief sample from the first:

The news today out of Israel and Gaza makes me just sick to my stomach.

I know, I can already hear the responses: every nation has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens. If the Qassams stopped, Israel wouldn’t be forced to take military action. Hamas also bears responsibility for this tragic situation…

I could answer each and every one of these claims in turn, but I’m ready to stop this perverse game of rhetorical ping-pong. I don’t buy the rationalizations any more. I’m so tired of the apologetics. How on earth will squeezing the life out of Gaza, not to mention bombing the living hell out of it, ensure the safety of Israeli citizens?…

So no more rationalizations. What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza is an outrage. It has has brought neither safety nor security to the people of Israel and it has wrought nothing but misery and tragedy upon the people of Gaza…

More on all sides thinking like that and there could be hope. That’s leadership.

“What Israel is doing in Gaza is an outrage,” wrote the good Rabbi in 2009. And the same in spades, surely, 12 years later!

Racism no way — 20 years on

Recently a story from Australia made a bit of a splash on BBC, partly I suspect because my impression is that Neighbours is bigger in the UK than it is here these days. Commenting on SBS reports on 7 April I wrote on Facebook: “And in circles where one would expect people to be better than this! Take stock, Australians — racism well and truly exists here, both personal and institutional. Don’t try to “whitewash” it or make fatuous comparisons with, say, us not being as bad as Nazi Germany or sections of the USA….” I also reposted something I had originally written 20 years ago. More on that shortly. SBS had reported:

Wongatha, Yamatji, Noongar and Gitja woman Clanton, who played a guest role as Sheila Canning on Neighbours this year, first posted the allegations to social media on Tuesday, detailing the use of slurs and racism “disguised as ‘jokes’” on set. 

She claimed that “overt and covert levels of racism were rife” behind the scenes, which left her traumatised.

Without naming anyone, Clanton said she heard “n—–” being used twice in the green room, while another actor laughed. She also alleged that an actor openly called another actor of colour a “lil’ monkey”….

After Clanton’s post, Wongutha-Yamatji actor Wyatt alleged he also experienced racism on set while working as a series regular between 2014 and 2016.

He said the incident involved the use of the “c—” slur, which he called out….

“It didn’t happen around me again. Though I did walk in on this incident? So I have no doubt things were being said behind my back,” he said on Twitter.

“It is disappointing but not at all surprising to hear that five years later racism continues to be present in that workplace. But what can you say, we are in Australia.”

Meyne Wyatt in Neighbours

What I posted then was this:

In our school newsletter I had been running a series of articles dealing with racism, leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Racism on March 21 2001. I received the following anonymous letter from a senior student. I would be interested in your responses. I would not normally publish an anonymous letter, but behind the anger and some serious misconceptions, I feel there is an intelligence that deserves respect. I have slightly abridged the letter, but kept true to the author’s views.

On March 2 2001 I received another very polite letter enclosing an American White Supremacist article taken from the Web, I have linked a counter-article by sociologist Caleb Rosado. Please consider.

From 23 January 2006 and for the following two Mondays, ABC in Sydney showed the PBS documentary series Race: The Power of an Illusion. That site is worth visiting.

It could seem depressing that 20 years ago I was — and I remember it being a great meeting — at Bondi Public School for a gathering of local Eastern Suburbs and Botany District teachers looking towards that International Day for the Elimination of Racism. That hasn’t quite worked out yet, eh! We were particularly looking at a resource the Education Department had developed called Racism No Way. It still exists, but expanded.

The debate I had via the SBHS High Notes Newsletter back in 2001 follows:

LETTER AND RESPONSE

Enough of all the double standards on racism…. In the quiz you ask whether “Overtly or covertly demonstrating that one believes one’s own cultural or ethnic background is superior” is racist, the answer is yes. Yet about a month ago you printed an article entitled “Asian Pride”. There has never been an article on “White Pride” as whites are obviously meant to feel shame about the so-called “stolen generation” and other instances where whites have colonised a country or done something similar. I mean, obviously the only people capable of being racist are whites, or so the double standard of racism seen today would have you believe.

RESPONSE: First, the term “whites” is an interesting one. The emphasis on skin color misses the point; this is the most superficial of human differences. “Race” as defined by physical characteristics is a dead concept, unscientific and archaic. The Human Genome Project has merely underlined how spurious it is. I take it the writer refers to Anglo-Australian or European cultural heritage. These are still quite rightly celebrated in many areas of the curriculum. Indeed all Australians need to take pride in the concepts of individual freedom, representative government, the rule of law–and so on–that spring from that tradition. I know I do. I also know that many people who come to Australia come here because those traditions are better served here than in many other parts of the world. On the other hand the Christianity that still helps many shape their values derives ultimately not from Europe but from the Middle East; it is good to remember that.

To quote from Norman Davies, Europe, A History (1996): ” ‘White’, ‘Caucasian’, ‘Aryan’ and ‘Europoid’ all reflect the protracted search for an exclusive and therefore non-existent common denominator in the racial make-up of Europe’s population. They form part of a wider vocabulary of doubtful terms including ‘Black’, ‘Asian’, ‘Semitic’, and ‘Hispanic’, where physical, geographical, and cultural criteria are hopelessly confused.”

Second, pride is something we all deserve, so long as it is not at the expense of others. No-one need feel ashamed of who they are or what their heritage is. I am not ashamed of mine, and I extend the same courtesy to others. We do not need to be clones of each other to be good Australians. Just as we differ individually, so can we nurture our cultural heritage so far as it is part of who we are. At the same time we subsume all that in loyalty to the community as a whole, in all its diversity. We are free to differ; that is one of the good things about this country.

Third, racism is not something any one ethnic or cultural group has a monopoly on. Europeans have not been the only colonisers either–ask the Tibetans, or the Ainu of Japan, merely to name two. In Australia, in my view, we have developed a healthy interest in our past that corrects the silence I recall hearing when as a child I wondered–but what did happen to the Aborigines?

No, I’ll tell you what’s racist. Any white person that speaks out and tells about the pride they have in being white is instantly branded a “hick” or “KKK”. Yet any Asian or person from a minority ethnic background who feels pride in their race is some kind of hero or pioneer.

RESPONSE: Any person who exalts their race above the rest of the human race is probably a fool, whatever their background. I am all for Human Pride myself! I also enjoy finding out about other ways of looking at the world, and exploring what they have to offer. Often this makes for a much more interesting life. For many writers and artists in Australia the traditions of our neighbours have been most fruitful; the poet Robert Gray, for example, thoroughly Australian, has nonetheless found Chinese and Japanese Buddhism provide a way of looking at the world that makes sense to him and permeates and enriches his work.

However, it is obvious why the school is willing to take this kind of action. As the school is majority Asian they must try to do everything in their favour and to make them feel special. As a majority they can speak freely about how great they are, whilst anyone that thinks otherwise is obviously from the Ku Klux Klan, a neo-Nazi, or some redneck hick with an unbelievably small IQ. However, the huge influx of Asian students into the school is meant to bring multiculturalism into the school and this multiculturalism can only be achieved when the minorities of society (Asians) are a majority at the school, which is the case now.

RESPONSE: The students in this school are the students in this school; everyone who pursues excellence academically, in sport, or in other activities will feel special. Hilbert Chiu (see below) has made this point rather well. Some may be more dedicated to the pursuit of excellence than others, but all have the opportunity to excel. “Multiculturalism”, as the word suggests, simply means that we have (and have had for years) people here from many different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. There is no barrier for anyone entering this school, except to achieve a certain academic standard. No-one asks what your socio-economic or ethnic background is; if you get selected you get in.

But of course this letter will never make it into the High Notes, as it is obviously and blatantly “racist”. However any Asian, or any other non-white ethnic background who wants to write about the pride they feel for their race and the downfall of other races will be praised for standing up and having their letter published because they are “heroes”. I am therefore issuing you, Mr Whitfield, a challenge to print this letter in the upcoming newsletter. You say you encourage everyone who has been victimised because of ethnic differences to speak out against the “racist bullying” they are being subjected to. Well, here’s my letter. It talks about the “racist bullying” I and other white students at the school receive every day. I dare you to print it so everyone can read about what really goes on at school. To do otherwise would just be totally and blatantly RACIST.

RESPONSE: Bullying, whatever its origin, is deplorable. Students are encouraged to report instances of it to teachers, their Year Adviser, the Deputy or the Principal. Instances of racism, whoever is responsible, should be drawn to the attention of Mr Codey, the Anti-Racism Contact Officer, who will investigate them. Feeling alienated or experiencing xenophobia may, however, be neither bullying nor racism. In that case the alienation and xenophobia would need to be addressed, in the interests of the individual and the harmony of the group. Perhaps education is the key to that.

As to the comments on Asian Pride and so on, I counsel you to read the original article [by Bob Li]. If you can find anything there exalting race, or about the “downfall of other races” I will walk backwards from here to Taylor Square! What I see is the story of a fine young Australian who has worked hard, overcome a few disadvantages, and is now happy with himself and where he is.

2000
That’s Bob Li in 2000, to the right of the aging teacher!

RACIAL BULLYING?

Hilbert Chiu, Year 12 2000 (written 2001)

As with all forms of bullying, racially motivated bullying is based largely upon intimidation. The cause of this intimidation in my experience has been a lack of understanding for other cultural values and attitudes. For example a young boy of Asian background is often taught by his parents that bullies get a high out of any reaction he gives, so the best way is to ignore and to avoid a bully; a sort of passive resistance. However, a would-be bully often takes passive resistance as a sign of weakness, of helplessness and of ‘easy pickings’. This is where the trouble starts, as cultural differences turn what was only bullying into racial bullying. Of course, racial bullying is not always so ‘black and white’, and I believe that intimidation stems equally from all races.

I do not think that it is a severe problem in the school, and must be taken in perspective. If racism were rife, this form of bullying would be seen in a one-on-one basis, but in my time at school serious racial incidents only occurred when conducted by groups. It could be that individuals who would otherwise be respectful and friendly feel a need to impress their friends. Common excuses I have come across have been: “It was only a joke”, or “We didn’t know he would take it so seriously” – precisely the insensitivity which causes unwitting intimidation. Hard for a year seven student to see the joke when feeling physically threatened by older boys with that aggressive attitude. Respect for another’s feelings is no where to be seen.

As for solutions, I could only advocate greater participation of all races in all school activities. It fosters greater understanding and respect for all parties, and will eventually eliminate the barriers between the so-called social elite (who will find matters a little different at university), and those who just want to get on with their studies.

Hilbert Chiu remains a friend on Facboook. I am happy to say he gave a thumbs up there to my recent blog post on China.

Now to go back to my English/ESL blog, the heir to my Sydney High English and ESL pages:

Cross-cultural issues are part of an ESL teacher’s business

12 JAN 2007

There are times when this aspect of ESL teaching and support leads down paths some might see as controversial, but I have found most ESL teachers find themselves travelling together on this. On the old Tripod blog there were a number of entries that arose in my own practice. Most were also published as articles in High Notes, the SBHS newsletter. They were all read by the Principal before publication and addressed ongoing issues in our very multicultural community.

Today I am posting the most recent one, written Monday, 6 February 2006 and thus not in High Notes. There are links there to other entries; these will still work, as when I come to trim that old blog I will leave those entries untouched, or perhaps cross-link them here.

Here is that post:

Schoolchildren cast judgements on Muslims – National – smh.com.au

This is very unhealthy indeed, I would say.

MORE than half of Victorian schoolchildren view Muslims as terrorists, and two out of five agree that Muslims “are unclean”, a survey has revealed. Just over 50 per cent believe Muslims “behave strangely”, while 45 per cent say Australians do not have positive feelings about Muslims.

These are the preliminary findings of the survey, which aims to measure student attitudes towards the Muslim community. The research was conducted in the second half of 2005 and is based on responses from 551 year 10 and 11 students in Victoria…

One of the researchers, Abe Ata, of the Australian Catholic University, said the findings showed a need for educators to develop new ways of promoting multiculturalism among children. “There are very strong signals that there is a chasm between mainstream students and Muslim students,” said Dr Ata, a senior fellow at the university’s Institute for the Advancement of Research. “Educationalists and policymakers in education should take proactive steps to help create more racial harmony in the classroom and outside it.”

Waleed Aly, a member of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said the results were troubling. “What it demonstrates is that Muslims are being viewed in a way that is really subhuman,” he said. “The only way you can combat this kind of prejudice is on a personal level. It’s much harder to hate people when you know someone in that social group.”

Phong Nguyen, the chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, described the survey’s findings as “a wake-up call”. “We cannot assume that our children who grow up in a multicultural setting will automatically be accepting of each other,” he said. “Adults need to do things to make sure that our impressionable young children have a growing, mature understanding of the world and other people.” Learning about other faiths and cultures was just as important to a child’s education as studying subjects such as maths or physics, Mr Nguyen said.

The Victorian Government’s draft new education laws explicitly permits the teaching of comparative religion in public schools, and enshrines values of “openness and tolerance”. However, according to the Australian Education Union, while some schools discussed issues involving Muslims within the curriculum, others are more hesitant to do so.

“Sometimes schools do shy away from such controversial issues because of the sensitivities,” said the union’s branch president, Mary Bluett. “There’s always the thought that you might fall foul of politicians or parents.”

But Andrew Blair, the president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, said schools had a social responsibility to discuss such sensitive issues with students. “Just because it’s tough, you shouldn’t turn your back on it,” he said, adding that the task of helping young people learn about other cultures lay not only with schools, but also with parents. “The lack of understanding and generosity out of these (survey) results is incredibly disappointing,” Mr Blair said.

The survey results are not merely unfortunate; they reveal one element in a situation that actually makes our world a more dangerous place: the persistence of ignorance and prejudice. So of course I support the various statements in the article above, particularly the one I have highlighted.

… See also the search for “Islam” on Lines from a Floating Life.

To finish, some will remember this brilliant savage monologue seen on ABC’s QandA in June last year:

For consideration — some matters concerning or from China

To plunge straight in:

Hot off the press….

Xinjiang A Locals Voice 2021

Xinjiang Chinese: 新疆 officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), located in the northwest of the country close to Central Asia. Being the largest province-level division of China and the 8th-largest country subdivision in the world, Xinjiang spans over 1.6 million square kilometres (620,000 sq mi) and has about 25 million inhabitants. Xinjiang borders the countries of Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The rugged Karakoram, Kunlun and Tian Shan mountain ranges occupy much of Xinjiang’s borders, as well as its western and southern regions. The Aksai Chin region, administered by China, is claimed by India. Xinjiang also borders the Tibet Autonomous Region and the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai. The most well-known route of the historic Silk Road ran through the territory from the east to its northwestern border. It is home to a number of ethnic groups, including the Turkic Uyghur, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, the Han, Tibetans, Hui, Tajiks, Mongols, Russians and Sibe. More than a dozen autonomous prefectures and counties for minorities are in Xinjiang. Older English-language reference works often refer to the area as Chinese Turkestan, East Turkestan and East Turkistan. Xinjiang is divided into the Dzungarian Basin in the north and the Tarim Basin in the south by a mountain range. Only about 9.7% of Xinjiang’s land area is fit for human habitation.

Xinjiang A Locals Voice 2021 Aerial The video has never been released on any western Social Media Platform before.

And an argument here that appears at least cool and reasonable.

A resource I have mentioned before because it is in my opinion one of the least partisan, most reputable things on China, its politics and culture, on the internet: ANU — Australian Centre on China in the World. Among the publications is the series The China Story (also a blog) whose yearbooks are invaluable. I have five already on my computer and am looking forward to the eventual publication of the one covering 2020. It is edited by Linda Jaivin, who has appeared on this blog before. Her introduction is already available.

On Xinjiang she says in that introduction, which of course refers to articles yet to be published in the final 2020 Yearbook called Crisis:

Even Mulan, everyone’s favourite Chinese woman warrior had a terrible 2020. Cinemagoers in mainland China were unimpressed with Disney’s live-action remake of the popular animation, savaging the movie on the grounds of the wooden acting of its Chinese American star, Yifei Liu 刘亦菲, its clichéd martial arts scenes and many cultural howlers, including turning the philosophical and medical notion of vital essence, qi 氣, into something like ‘the Force’ in Star Wars. In the US and elsewhere, the backlash was political. A #boycottmulan movement had begun the previous year after Liu voiced her support for the actions of the Hong Kong police during their brutal suppression of the 2019 protests in that city. The push to boycott grew after it was revealed that the filmmakers not only shot scenes in Xinjiang but also, in the credits, thanked the Public Security Bureau of Turpan and other organisations that have been implicated in widely documented human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities there.

In September 2020, Australian researchers for the Xinjiang Data Project(1), using satellite imagery and other sources, updated their estimate of the number of active detention camps in the region to over 380 and released a report claiming, among other things, that one in three mosques in Xinjiang have been demolished since 2017.

Soon after the report of the Xinjiang Data Project was released, Xi Jinping 习近平 defended state actions in Xinjiang as ‘completely correct’. Claiming that happiness was on the rise in Xinjiang he summed up the CCP’s ongoing policy for the ‘New Age’ in the ‘autonomous region’ as ‘reliance on law to govern Xinjiang, unity to stabilise Xinjiang, culture to assimilate Xinjiang, the people’s prosperity to rejuvenate Xinjiang’ 依法治疆团结稳疆文化润疆富民兴疆. The character translated (somewhat inadequately here) as ‘assimilate’ and pronounced run, can mean, when used as a verb, ‘benefit’, ‘lubricate’, ‘moisten’ or ‘embellish’ — and indicates a push by the CCP to limit Uyghur cultural and religious expression and promote ‘ethnic unity’ more broadly.

In June, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a Beijing-sponsored resolution by a vote of twenty-three to sixteen, with eight abstentions, that would fundamentally alter long-established conventions on human rights, removing the obligation of states to protect the rights of individuals, labelling rights as negotiable, and describing the expression of international concern about human rights abuses as interference in a country’s internal affairs.

(1) My note: It should be mentioned that the Xinjiang Data Project was initially funded by the US State Department under Donald Trump’s presidency and when Mike Pompeo (who I believe very rarely) was Secretary of State. That should make you suspicious. How do I know? The Project admits it! “The initial phase of this research project is supported by the US government’s State Department….” Do notice though that Linda Jaivin is just reporting what the Project said, not saying it is true. Indeed the wording “claiming, among other things” suggests she is not convinced.

That is published as material for discussion, and will no doubt be further fleshed out by other contributors later on. Linda Jaivin is a not an unfriendly or ill-informed commentator on matters Chinese.

One she does regard as often ill-informed and decidedly unfriendly and prone to sensationalism is the pundit Clive Hamilton. Concerning his very popular book she wrote on Goodreads:

This is a very frustrating book. Clive Hamilton discusses some very serious issues about China’s relationship with Australia, issues that need to be discussed and addressed. But he undercuts his argument with rather tiresome name-calling (anyone who would take a different view to him is a member of the “China lobby”, a “dupe”, an “apologist” and so on) and other tropes that reek of the harangue, including the unsourced ascription of motivation to people who do or say things with which he disagrees. He also makes the occasional but telling error of fact, judgement or interpretation due to his reliance on interpreters and informants for understanding aspects of Chinese culture, society and politics.

His interpretation of the song ‘Descendants of the Dragon’ (also called ‘Heirs of the Dragon’) by Hou Dejian is a perfect example of this; my book The Monkey and the Dragon, about Hou Dejian, tells the fascinating and complex story of this song, which is far from the ethno-nationalistic propaganda Hamilton assumes it to be, although it has certainly been used that way; he is seemingly unaware that it was sung on Tiananmen Square in 1989 by students and by Hou, who changed the line that Hamilton quotes, and banned for years. Is this important? It’s a small detail, but it’s one that illustrates the flaws in the book, which tends to trample on nuance in its rush to hammer home its argument.

On the China Story blog David Brophy writes in his entry For anti-racism and international solidarity (April 2021):

Clive Hamilton is again posing as a lonely truth-teller on the left, railing against cowards and apologists. His hit-piece fingers Gerald Roche and me as Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dupes who “side with the persecutors” and use “race-reductionism” to brand critics of Beijing as racist.

Characteristically, his case is light on evidence. In fact, he hasn’t cited a single thing that I have written…..

A rise in anti-Chinese racism has now come to pass, and Hamilton wants to duck any accountability for his role. As he sees it, this has been “triggered largely by COVID-19”.

That will be news to Asian Australians who face relentless accusations of spying for Beijing when they enter public life. But even to say that racism has been “triggered” by COVID-19 is evasive. Can this “triggering” really be so easily divorced from the hunt for CCP “links” that Hamilton has long engaged in, or dubious theories like the Wuhan “lab-leak” that he has indulged on Sky News?

I urge you to read that entry very carefully, and to always remember that Sky News, especially after dark, is a breeding ground for some of the most inane propaganda that Australia has ever seen.

Finally, I reprise a song that speaks to all our hearts, and puts us all in our place, in perspective. I posted it again on Facebook last night after a discussion I had been having with my friend of 30+ years, Michael Xu. FaceBook then came up with a beautiful photo that somehow fit the song, so I will share it here too. It comes from the ABC’s Landline program.

The song is called Ordinary Road, and I have posted it here before.

Pu Shu, the singer, was born and raised in China and became a singer in the 90s. After taking a break from the music scene for over a decade, “The Ordinary Road” was his first song in 11 years. It is the theme song for the Chinese road trip comedy movie “The Continent”.  It has a neo-folk style, a laid back beat, and deeply thought-provoking lyrics describing the emptiness of fame/fortune and the importance of, as the title states, “walking the ordinary road.” — Source.

On Facebook last night I said: A lovely and very sensible song that I have posted before. It has English subtitles, admittedly occasionally a bit odd to a native English speaker, but the point comes through. Love this song. A rather wise comment: “When you first listen you don’t understand the song. When you listen again, you are already the person in the song.” It is a song we all could learn from.

Lyrics in Colloquial English

To those who are wandering on the road, are you going to go? To those who are fragile, to those who are proud, I was once like you. To those who are boiling mad, to those who are uneasy, where are you going? To those who are secretive and silent, are you listening to the story?

I’ve crossed mountains and seas, passed through giant crowds. I once had everything, but it disappeared like smoke in the blink of an eye. I’ve been disappointed, despairing, and lost my direction, until I saw that the answer lay in the ordinary.

While you are fantasizing about tomorrow, wondering if it will be better or worse than today, to me, it’s just another day.

In the past I have destroyed everything, wanting to leave forever. I fell into a deep, dark pit, couldn’t extricate myself. I’ve been like you, like him, like all those random people. I’ve been hopeless, yet longing for something–I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve been ordinary.

Just keep walking, like this, even if you are given something. Just keep walking forward like this, even if something has been taken away from you. Just keep going, even if you miss something. Just keep on going, even if you…

I’ve crossed mountains and seas, passed through giant crowds. I once went around the whole world asking my questions, but never got an answer. I’m just like you, like him, like all those random people/things, and in the darkness I realized this is the only road I have to take.

Time does not speak, tomorrow is coming, the road is long and far. As for your story…where were we?

See also my earlier post (July 2020) China on our minds.

Videos following up on yesterday’s post: Mei Quong Tart and more…

Such a fascinating character, this Mei Quong Tart. There is even a public statue of him in the Sydney suburb of Ashfield.

And a rather special Uniting Church home for the elderly, located in what was his mansion in Ashfield:

And when Quong Tart died in 1903:

Quong Tart’s funeral procession along Liverpool Road Ashfield headed by a band from the Professional Musicians’ Association

That is from a memorabilia page from the Ashfield and District Historical Society. Given that in 1903 the Yellow Peril fever was at its height, this is remarkable. The following short history is fair enough for a 5-minute go, even if it is rather silly to use the Peoples Republic flag to represent the China of 1901! The speaker sounds Indian to me… Not that this necessarily matters….

You can research that one for yourself easily enough. Now to Quong Tart. There are some good video resources on him specifically, including this one showing his encouragement of the suffragettes through his tea rooms in Sydney.”2016 Diploma student Catherine Turner interviews City of Sydney Historian, Dr Lisa Murray, about the Loong Shan Tea Rooms at 137 King St, Sydney.”

And an overall look at his life:

On the subject of Chinese in Australia today, do watch this:

Jiawei Shen, interviewed above, ‘Self-portrait with GE (Chinese) Morrison’ 1996

On recent difficulties Chinese Australians are experiencing:

Many factors are at play, but among them must be the toxic rhetoric in recent years of one Donald J Trump. As plays out too in the USA: