Asian-Australian sitcoms — and a reflection

Here are Benjamin Law, Australian writer, and Trystan Go who plays Benjamin in the sitcom The Family Law, now in its second season on SBS.

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The casting has been brilliant. One of the funniest things I have seen on TV lately was in Episode 2 where a drama teacher uses off-the-wall casting techniques whereby young Benjamin gets the role of Medea after a melt-down in the school toilets. Looking forward to how that plotline develops. On Trystan Go:

The actor, whose theatre credits include The King And I, plays Benjamin Law in the small screen adaptation of the best-selling memoir about life on the Sunshine Coast in 1990s Queensland…

“When I read the scripts, I could really see that I’d enjoy playing Ben,” Go recalls.

“The things he does are so wacky and weird. Ben is funny, without trying to be — a real showman. He’s intense too, a bit self-centred, but also really courageous. He’s trying to get his family back together, so he’s full of heart.”

The cast:

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On a rather serious note, Benjamin Law writes in The Good Weekend today: I’d love an Asian-Australian family on TV to be unremarkable.

…I used to think Australia was overwhelmingly white, too. I didn’t have the internet as a kid, and TV told me Australia was nearly 100 per cent Anglo. It was only when I moved to the city that I saw Australia for what it is: one of the most diverse nations on earth. According to analysis by Screen Australia based on the 2011 census, Australia was 67 per cent Anglo-Celtic, 12 per cent non-Anglo European, and the remaining fifth Asian, African, South American and Indigenous. New census data released later this year will show the latter figures have jumped.

Shouldn’t we see “past” race?

Ideally, yes. But for now, no. Only when we acknowledge how ethnically diverse Australia is, can we ask whether mostly white workplaces are meritocracies. Or whether there is an excuse for overwhelmingly white TV shows. I’d love for an Asian-Australian family on TV to be unremarkable. But it’s not. So until it is, let’s keep the conversation going.

See also ‘It’s like a turducken of mums’: Benjamin Law on fact, fiction and The Family Law.

It’s hard to watch a show like The Family Law without feeling like it was crafted with a lot of love and the cast and production team are so tight-knit that, when I ask about their motivations for the show, their answers are so similar that I briefly wonder if they have been coached. Is it possible, in the age of shows as bleak and cynical as House of Cards, or Fargo, or A Handmaid’s Tale, to create television with genuine warmth and generosity? But it’s only a moment of doubt, because it’s hard to leave The Family Law without feeling like this big, sprawling family has just claimed you as a member, too.

ABC coincidentally has been screening Ronny Chieng: International Student. It has its moments, but personally I don’t find it as good as The Family Law. Too over-the-top at times, maybe?

I can’t get too stirred up by…

That storm in a middy glass about Coopers and the Bible Society. I am simply not offended. Why should I be?

Update: Compare John Birmingham:

But having lost seven minutes of my life I’ll never get back again – thanks a lot Bible Society – I  came away thinking the outrage was misplaced. The debate was even-handed, if a little anodyne and wilfully ignorant of the real and violent passions this topic arouses, especially among Twitter eggs with 12 followers.

But WTAF were these two numpties doing shooting a promo spot for a beer company within the grounds of Parliament House? Or anywhere, for that matter?

They could have been debating which of Buffy’s boyfriends was the worst for the 20-year anniversary of the most important show on television and it would still have been bizarrely inappropriate to sit there necking the product of an industry they’re responsible for regulating.

But nobody seems to be talking about that.

Update 2: Equal Marriage advocate Rodney Croome on Facebook

I don’t understand the objections to this filmed marriage equality debate between two Liberal MPs sponsored by Cooper’s beer to commemorate the founding of the Bible Society. It promotes civility in the marriage equality debate. It shows there is a divergence of opinion in the Liberal Party (implicitly making the case for a free vote). Most of all it helps get the pro-equality message to people of faith who may not have heard that message, especially from a Liberal. Some LGBTI people may feel uncomfortable about the involvement of the Bible Society, but whether we like it or not it has stake in this debate. Some may not like the involvement of Cooper’s, but unlike the bulk of the businesses that say they support marriage equality Cooper’s is at least playing an active in the debate….

Second, much as I rejected the notorious Bill Leak cartoon as a throwback to even more racist times, I cannot find joy in putting a self-righteous boot into the now dead cartoonist. I didn’t watch #QandA last night. I rarely do these days. Apparently this happened:

“And we need to have control of those stories. I need to be able to put something out there and go, ‘That’s not all Aboriginal fathers. That’s not all Aboriginal women. That’s not all mothers.’ I am a mother first and foremost. I don’t identify as an Aboriginal mother. I’m a mother. I was mortified when I saw that particular cartoon.”

Adelaide Festival director Neil Armfield – who directed Yovich in The Secret River – said: “I knew Bill. And enjoyed his company. Respected him. I thought those cartoons in The Australian were despicable. I think that as he grew older he became more and more, for whatever reason, sort of narrowed into a corner. And I thought that he was playing into an attitude which was completely the attitude of the racist and the powerful. And that he was ignoring the inheritance of rage and pain that those social situations that he was … showing in his cartoon are the result of.”

Then the audience protests erupted, screams of: “Bill Leak is racist.”

Host Ballard moved to calm things. And then it was back to Mem Fox.

“I looked and I thought, ‘Bill, Bill, no, please, no’. And I loved Bill Leak’s cartoons. And I thought they were fabulous. But … there is another word for political correctness. And it is a simple word. It’s called politeness.”

There is politeness, and then there is politics, and then there is art. As Q&A showed once more, we are surely bound never to agree on where the boundaries of each of them are properly drawn.

Fair comments, except for the howls of the audience. I find those howls offensive and somewhat pharisaical.

Now for something that made me proud of my country. And I wouldn’t mind betting he eats halal food…

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NSW Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson (far right) with the recently sworn in Local Court Magistrates Julie Soars (left) and Imad Abdul-Karim at the Downing Centre Local Court. Photo: Kate Geraghty, Sydney Morning Herald.

He fled war-torn Lebanon aged 14 with his family and learned to speak English in an annex to Beverly Hills Girls High School.

More than a few pairs of eyes were suspiciously moist in the Local Court as former Sydney prosecutor Imad Abdul-Karim was sworn in as a magistrate…

A former Commonwealth prosecutor who oversaw high-profile terrorism cases, including Operation Pendennis which uncovered jihadist cells in Melbourne and Sydney, Mr Abdul-Karim joked that “I lost my hair working on some of these matters”…

Mr Abdul-Karim’s eyes shone with tears as he thanked his late mother Salwa, who came from a “poor and illiterate” background and went on to become a teacher, first in Lebanon and then in Australia.

His voice also cracked as he paid tribute to his wife and “best friend” Salma, an honours law graduate who made “many sacrifices” to allow him “selfishly” to pursue his legal career.

Arthur Moses, SC, the senior vice-president of the Bar Association, said it gave him “added pleasure as a child of Lebanese parents who fled their country to the safety and prosperity of this country as teenagers” to speak at Mr Abdul-Karim’s swearing-in ceremony.

“Upon arrival in Australia as a teenager Your Honour was fluent in Arabic and French – but did not speak a single word of English,” Mr Moses said…

Mr Abdul-Karim worked as a taxi driver and a kitchen hand to support his young family while he studied Science at the University of Wollongong and later at Western Sydney University Law School, where he was in the first class of graduates…

Ian Thorpe, Bullied, USA insight

The first two are related to a must see coming to ABC this week: Bullied.

There are two episodes, and at time of writing only the first was available for viewing. It isn’t perfect television, but it should be compulsory viewing for every schoolchild, parent, teacher and education bureaucrat in the country.

The focus in the first episode is on Kelsey, a 14-year-old in Queensland whose greatest loves are cricket and his long, floppy, blonde hair.

The latter has earned him a litany of abuse from his schoolmates. Their animus is all-consuming. He’s been cyberbullied (“why don’t you kill/harm urself”), he’s been physically bullied. He’s been ostracised and he’s had his sexuality questioned (they call him “shemale” and “faggot”).

His family and friends claim they have reported all this to the school. The response? He is on reduced hours, allowed to attend only a couple of periods a day, and encouraged to spend his lunch hours in the office…

Kelsey is sent to school with a backpack containing a hidden camera and a microphone to capture what happens to him over a week…

How many bullied kids have access to a camera crew and an Olympic champion to argue their case? How many advocates can hang around for four weeks – long enough to wear down the school’s stonewalling? How many principals will be forced to make a choice between dealing with a difficult issue or being made to look like a totally uncaring ass-hat on national television?

If Bullied were compulsory viewing in every school – and I mean for staff as well as students – it might help force this scourge out of the dark, where it thrives, and into the light, where there’s a fighting chance of it being given six
of the best.

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Specialist child psychologist Marilyn Campbell provides ethical guidance to Ian Thorpe and the documentary makers on Bullied.

The  second is a must read, and a hat tip to Au Waipang in Singapore for posting it to Facebook: An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America.

 As Au Waipang said: “I’m sure this isn’t the whole story, but this article urges us to confront what is likely a big part of the reality.”

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete BS. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to draw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t East Coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is that rural Americans don’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out….

One year ago

Selections from March 2016.

More “Neil’s Decades” –9: 1946

GEM (Channel 82) shows quite a few antique movies. Yesterday I saw an amiable English comedy of which I had never heard, Quiet Weekend (1946).

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I became fascinated by the objects, the clothing, the cars – all of which transported me to earliest childhood, as I turned 3 in 1946.

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Me in 1945-6. Note the wings: my father had been in the RAAF to 1945.

This Canadian says of Quiet Weekend:

For anyone born in the UK before about 1935 (as I was) this movie will bring back memories of austerity, such as very few cars and very little food and primitive plumbing. We all had to make do with what we had; the top rate of income tax was around 95%. Nevertheless the middle classes had those delicious cut-glass English accents; “thanks” was pronounced “thenks”. The lower classes such as the old poacher, spoke their lines in broad accents and were usually considered to be comic characters.

That has all changed now. This movie is good entertainment but also of value to the social historians. It is the way the British coped with the rigors of victory after WW II, i.e. paying off the huge loans owed to the USA while trying to become a socialist society.

In 1946 I lived in Auburn Street Sutherland, which I memorably visited again in 2002: see a post from that time. See also from the early 2000s my reminiscence of life there. I have subsequently revisited and posted over the years. Here are some 2012 examples:

And on this blog Random Friday memory 21 – wind-up gramophone.

From my earliest Auburn Street post:

The table was in the back room, I suspect a closed-in verandah. On the right was the kitchen, with its fuel range and enormous electric Early Kooka stove with a Kookaburra logo on the oven door. On the left was a partitioned off area, partitioned with mahogany, behind which I and my brother slept in the last years we were in Auburn Street. At an earlier stage, my Uncle Roy must have had that room, as I was still in a cot in my parents’ room at the front of the house, and my brother was in a sleepout on the side verandah, an area somewhat prone to spiders.

Early Kooka!

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Sigh!

The Mad World of You Know Who on WIN/9 last night

Very glad to have watched WIN last night to see this, originally shown on the UK’s Channel 4:

The comment thread on YouTube is rather amazing. [Refers to the YouTube I originally linked to.] For example:

Apparently the American GOV think running a country is a game and enjoys screwing the people over everyday! Obama has screwed us the most..he has taxed the shit out of the middle class.we’ve disappeared …obama is a pot head..he and the rest of the mafia gov should be drug tested immediately…they have destroyed America.Trump will bring it back to a great nation..and we won’t be going to war for 15 god damn years!!!

This is typical anti-American propaganda video attacking the American people, Christians and poor people. The commentator tries to insult Christians by calling them evangelicals which Christ would regard as a compliment. He tries to portray Americans as racist when America has done more to eliminate slavery and racism than most any other nation. American is one of the most pluralistic and diverse nations in the world. The commentator tries to tries to stoke class hatred, even though America has done more to eliminate class distinctions than most any other nation. The commentator ignores the issues that Americans actually care about and just engages in ad hominem attack and slander against Donald Trump. He tries to subvert our election process.

Yes, another post on The Donald. I should know better. You can also watch the doco on the Channel Nine site at the moment, by the way. I urge you to watch it if you haven’t already.

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I was obviously impressed with German-born British doco maker Matt Frei’s expose of Trump, though the name was too tendentious. Rather less impressed was Irish reviewer Ian O’Doherty:

Of course, it’s not that difficult to make anything emerging from America look ridiculous and buffoonish but Frei took to his task with relish – Trump was portrayed variously as a dangerous nutter; a man who may have raped his first wife (until they read a statement from said woman denying the claims); a rich boy done bad; and did I mention dangerous nutter?

The problem with this approach was that it was guilty of the very accusation it was levelling at its subject – being utterly devoid of any nuance or complexity whatsoever.

There was nothing new to be learned here. Everybody knows that he came from wealthy stock. We were already well aware that his behaviour in Scotland was increasingly nasty, and, of course, we all know about his various verbal assaults on the aforementioned Kelly, prisoners of war and, most unpleasantly, his mocking mimicry of a disabled reporter. So, this was basically a potted history of Trump’s various outrages against common decency. But this was Comfort TV and much like comfort food, was designed to provide reassurance to the consumer.

In this case, it was made to reassure the viewers that they were right, all along, to think Trump is an idiot and his supporters are thick.

On the other hand:

Essentially a spoilt, buck-toothed and tubby little rich kid of a bully, as opposed to the deb’s delight into which he’s matured, he must have grown used early to John Q Normal crossing snake-strewn streets to avoid him. Over the decades, his personality matured as do the perfumes of prawns in a jockstrap. Frei was doing the telling, admittedly, but it could have been done by David Irving, David Starkey or the late Alan Clarke. The evidence made the nose wrinkle, whether it was his squandering of Daddy’s millions, his undeserved parachutes from bankruptcy, the crippling immaturity of his misogyny or his treatment of Scotland, though there was much tawdriness to that little tale.

The Trump in Scotland saga was news to me, I have to say.

The Republican Presidential candidate’s much-hyped Aberdeenshire golf course has been a loss-maker since it opened in 2012. He has also made similar threats of pulling investment after losing fights against local residents and failing to block plans for a local wind farm.

A final review of the documentary:

9. Critics made strongest case

Frei hit the campaign trail to conduct (mercifully brief) interviews with Trump’s growing army of exuberant supporters, but it was his detractors whose comments really resonated.

Muslim activist Jibril Hough, who was shown being forcibly ejected from two Trump rallies, said he was a “buffoon that has to be taken seriously”. Ex-Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens called Trump “a huckster, a fraud, a stark raving disaster for the Republican party. This isn’t a reality show, it’s running for President. These displays of stupidity and hate are dangerous.”

10. …But he could yet become President

Trump has already made a meteoric political rise and as we saw here, he’s tapping into the distrust and disenchantment of middle America. Frei, formerly the BBC’s Washington correspondent, said: “I have to say the last time I saw crowds as enthusiastic as this was for Barack Obama in 2008.” Gulp…

Frei’s film reminded us of the dark side beneath the Trump caricature and it was soberingly scary stuff.

It really isn’t too hard to see why so many in the USA are investing in Trump as a secular saviour. Not all is well in the USA, clearly. He offers hope, albeit very randomly articulated by the man himself, while endorsing all kinds of resentments.

Should, God forbid, he ever claim “the crown”, “make America great again” will go down in history as just another vacuous political slogan, one of the most egregious ever — because this is precisely what Donald J Trump will almost inevitably NOT do.

Must watch Citizen Kane again…

Postscript

Just saw Tom Switzer’s The rise of Donald Trump in the US has similarities to the rise of Pauline Hanson in Australia two decades ago.  Well worth reading.

…Both led nationalist movements railing against Washington and Canberra and appealing to voters abandoned by globalisation and betrayed by politicians. Trump reflects a deep-seated belief that Americans have lost the country they know and they want America to stand alone on top again. Hansonism was as much a reaction against Paul Keating’s cultural agenda as an isolationist backlash against Australia’s engagement with Asia.

Both have been purveyors of conservative red meat: thick, juicy cuts of the stuff. But both also blurred the ideological left-right divide. Hanson was an agrarian socialist, who opposed Telstra privatisation and foreign investment. Trump distinguishes himself from fellow Republicans by defending entitlement programs and attacking free-trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership…

Like Trump, Hanson was a political novice who rocked the nation’s establishment with repugnant views. Who can forget her claim that Asians were swamping Australia? Or Trump’s claim that Mexico is exporting its rapists and criminals to the US, not to mention his call for a ban on all Muslim immigrants? …

No words today

Except these.

Brussels: At least 31 people have been killed and hundreds injured in coordinated attacks on Brussels Airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital early on Tuesday, triggering security alerts across Europe and a manhunt for at least one suspect.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred four days after Brussels police captured the prime surviving suspect in the Islamic State attacks on Paris, which killed 130 people in November…

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The good refugees

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“The Good Samaritan,” artwork by Dinah Roe Kendall, age 82, Sheffield, England.

This story seemed most appropriate to share today, especially given the overwhelming nature of recent stories from Europe. I found it lurking on page 13 of today’s print Sydney Morning Herald, but apparently it has been around for a few days. This version is from the UK Daily Telegraph.

A leading member of Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party has thanked two Syrian refugees who came to the aid of another party member after he was seriously injured in a car crash.

Stefan Jagsch, 29, a candidate for the NPD in upcoming local elections, was seriously injured last week after he lost control of his car and crashed into a tree in the town of Büdingen.

Two vans carrying about 16 refugees stopped at the scene – and two Syrian men came to Jagsch’s aid, pulling him from the wreckage and providing first aid treatent while they waited for an ambulance.

They had reportedly left the scene by the time police arrived.

Regional NPD official Jean Christoph Fiedler praised the refugees for performing “a very good, humane act”, the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper reports…

Jagsch, writing on his Facebook page on Tuesday this week, stressed that he was unconscious at the time of the rescue, so couldn’t confirm or deny that the people who came to his assistance were Syrians.

However, he did give thanks to “all the people who were on the spot to help me.” …

Inspiring — teachers and schools, and terror

Great opinion piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald by Dr Michael Anderson, Professor of Education at The University of Sydney.

This is what we call 4C schools, and these schools exist. The 4Cs are creativity, critical reflection, collaboration and communication. In their classrooms and staffrooms, 4C schools are transforming learning and teaching through this quartet. But in these schools it takes will, energy, inquiry, courage and determination.

The 4C evolution is only just beginning in certain schools but it is always characterised by a climate of re-invigoration, excitement, challenge, difficulty, uncertainty and possibility.

However, this is not always the climate across all schools.

The onward march of NAPLAN, testing a limited set of ‘basics’ with its teach-to-the-test oppressions, and league tables, have transformed education into a much-reduced experience for teachers and students alike. This is professionally disappointing for teachers and it is a profound threat to the students in schools.

While we chase ever-increasing ‘accountability measures’ we are relegating the aspects of schooling that will prepare students for the realities of work and life in the 21st Century….

Compare my thoughts at This is the Naplan post that wasn’t… (2015).

It is Naplan season again and all those boring things that always get said are being said again. I was so pissed off by The Drum last night that I turned the TV off to prevent the wittering of some hack regurgitating the right wing propaganda about charter schools in the USA. Compare The truth about charter schools: Padded cells, corruption, lousy instruction and worse results.

So on Facebook I vented thus:

Naplan = craplan? I thought of doing a blog post about the annual stupidity that breaks out as so many who should know better think the Naplan ritual actually “measures” something. It does not. Even if it did, the fact there hasn’t been enough “improvement” means very little. Why not just say the the truth: things turn out pretty much as you can expect, and all the agonising is just pissing in the wind. I pretty much said this in 2008.

Better just to concentrate on substantive teaching and let all this politically motivated bureaucratic “measuring” crap die the death it should.

Oh and that blog post I proposed? I am sick of the idiocy and really can’t be bothered any more. Time to let go, and let others wake up and shout out.

Now if I were writing up the issue in a sober manner I would doubtless be a tad less nihilistic about it all. Those of you who can read my Facebook will see that Thomas has commented thoughtfully and extensively, greatly improving my post. A small part of what he added:

Naplan contributes very little, I feel, to the overall education process. I won’t say it contributes nothing because, being concerned with my students’ progress, I appreciate getting feedback and “indications” as to what my students need. Obviously literacy and numeracy are key skills that students need not just to succeed in school (whatever that looks like?), but to be life-longer learners. Is this the best way to get the feedback? No, not at all. But I do enjoy getting feedback.

Finally, to recycle that 2008 post: Memo to Julie Gillard and Kevin Rudd

Last night SBS’s venerable Insight looked at some of our most inspirational teachers.

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While the declining academic performance of Australian school students in international rankings may have captured the headlines, for some students the influence of their teachers goes far beyond test results; teachers have changed their lives.

Denzyl Moncrieff grew up in a tough environment. By the end of year 9 he wasn’t interested in going to school or making friends. The moment when Suzy Urbaniak singled out his performance in a year 10 science test changed everything.

Donna Loughran was an absent high school student. She was bored and didn’t see the relevance of what she was learning at school. By Year 11, Donna had a decision to make about the kind of future she wanted. Luckily, she had Steve Duclos for legal studies and he showed her the possibilities.

Omar Sawan was an angry student. He says he lost count of the number of times he was suspended from school. At one point he challenged the principal to expel him. That principal, Jihad Dib, refused and managed to see potential in an angry school kid.

See also Some thoughts on Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl (2014).

Listen to the guy! [Jihad Dib.] Carefully!

This has been one of Sydney’s least promising schools, on the face of it. Just a few years back it was getting the media treatment for other reasons:

Adam Shand: Today on Sunday, second generation Lebanese Australians, speak of life as foreigners in the land of their birth. They tell of the growing racism they perceive, their feelings of alienation and the price we all pay for this. They explain why they are angry.

Adam Houda: I see the situation escalating. I can tell you there is simmering tension within our community and they are just sick and tired of the relentless attacks upon our people and our community.

Dr Jamal Rifi: When you have people marginalised, pushed into a corner, they are going to bite back and they are going to do it in very unpredictable ways and very unpredictable fashion.

Adam Shand: The Mufti of Australia Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali has unwittingly revived a damaging debate about the sexuality of young Muslim men. His comments likening women to uncovered meat were widely interpreted as encouraging, even inciting sexual assault.

Prue Goward: This is incitement. He should be deported.

Adam Shand: Such views reinforced the notion that Australian Lebanese men can be mobilised to criminal action by their religious leaders — that the Koran comes before the law of the land.

Mohamad el-Assaad: I don’t think anything he said incited, I can listen to Tupac if I want to, I can listen to Nickelback if I want to, if I want to follow what this guy says, that’s up to me.

Adam Shand: And you also go to the mosque and listen there as well?

Mohamad el-Assaad: I go to the mosque, here and there.

Adam Shand: Many of these young men attended Punchbowl High School in Sydney’s south-west. The school is notorious for producing a notorious group of rapists who terrorised young women in 2000. The leader of the gang Bilal Skaf, now serving a 32-year prison sentence for his crimes, is always identified as Lebanese Muslim.

Back in 2003 The Sydney Morning Herald offered: Guns, gangs, poison: a principal’s battlezone.

This was life at Punchbowl Boys’ High School for its former principal Clifford Preece: a gang member came into the school, put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him. Students armed with knives threatened their classmates. Teachers had a toxic chemical put in their kettle, were assaulted in class and faced gang invasions of classrooms.

The school’s students were to become notorious: one was convicted of murdering schoolboy Edward Lee. Three other students were jailed for gang rapes – along with their gang leader, Bilal Skaf – who was a “regular intruder” at Punchbowl Boys’.

After five years as principal of the “Punchbowl school battlefront” between 1995 and 1999, Mr Preece says his 30-year career as a teacher ended with a breakdown.

In the District Court, Mr Preece is suing the Department of Education, alleging that it failed to protect his safety, and that as a result he has developed chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and cannot work as a teacher.

Mr Preece, 53, told Judge Christopher Robison he had nightmares when he read about former students M, who killed Edward Lee, and gang rapists Tayyab Sheikh (who was sentenced to 15 years in jail) and brothers Mahmoud and Mohammed Sanoussi (11 and 21 years’ jail)…

Edward Lee, incidentally, was once a student where I worked, and many of his associates I knew well…

My point: work out for yourself how this turnaround has happened. Note what the intriguingly named current Principal had to say. People like him have the knowledge that is needed, and I am pleased Julia Gillard seems to have noted it….

Jihad Dib is now a member of the NSW Parliament and Shadow Minister for Education.  He, and what we witnessed last night on Insight, remind us that in this respect Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is right and The Revenant and the self-appointed “patriots” are utterly wrong.

He rejected “entirely” a comment by Senator Hanson, leader of One Nation, that all Australian Muslim should be treated with suspicion, and criticised as dangerous attempts to “demonise” Muslims.

“Which is the good one?’ You can’t tell a good Muslim from a bad one,” she had told the Nine network.

Mr Turnbull said “the vast majority of Australian Muslims are patriotic hardworking, seeking to get ahead, committed to peacefully living in Australia and abiding by our laws”.

He said: “One of the arguments that those who seek to do us harm make — this is the terrorists — is they say that there is no place for Muslims in Australia.

“And that’s how they seek to radicalise and mislead young Muslims, Australians.”

And in a comment which indirectly included the One Nation leader he said: “What I must do as a leader, and what all leaders must do in Australia is emphasise our inclusivity, the fact that we are a multicultural society where all cultures, all faiths are respected and that is mutual.

“So, trying to demonise all Muslims is only confirming the lying, dangerous message of the terrorists.”

He repeated a quote from his host, President Joko Widodo: “Indonesia is proof that Islam, democracy and moderation are compatible.”

Mr Turnbull said: “The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Muslims in Australia are utterly appalled by extremists, by violent extremism, by terrorism.

“We have to remember that the vast majority of the victims of ISIL, or Daesh, are Muslims.

“Islam is practised by about a quarter of the world’s population and in this country we see — a country with which we are building closer ties — we see that democracy, Islam, moderation, tolerance are compatible.”

Related is my current reading, Gabriele Marranci, Wars of Terror (2016). More about that later, but do look at his blog, Anthropology Beyond Good and Evil. Thought-provoking in the best way:

Australia is under attack. There is no doubt about it. Yet what exactly is attacking it remains unclear: it is not a country with an army, it is not even an organised movement such as al-Qaeda, but instead it seems a dark magma of different forms of frustrations that are sometimes channeled into fascist religious ideas. We have a chaotic reality that harms community relations and polarises opinions.

Among Muslim communities there are a majority who are silent and may fear both to become a victim of terrorism and victim of right-wing anti-Muslim propaganda and who condemn terrorism and the killing of innocent people. There are also Muslims whom point to the double standards of the West, yet they use very similar rhetoric to that of extremists except they do not advocate violence.  Finally there are those who, openly or latently, support Daesh and wish to see the black flag, hijacked by the group as symbol of death and destruction, flown in Australia. Unfortunately, many who hold such views are very active in the social media sphere.  Since these extreme messages attract attention, the people on the fringes of Muslim communities who create them and spread anti-Australian and anti-Western hatred will shape perceptions of Muslim Australians despite that a majority want nothing to do with such discourse.  This sad fact may increase the anxiety among non-Muslim Australians who are unaware of that and believe instead that there exists an ‘enemy within’.   

This dynamic reminds me of what people told me in Northern Ireland about how the paramilitary organisations, in particular within the Protestant communities, started to form. It was fear, and a fear which spread from one side to the other, that brought such disaster to NI. People want security and security is paramount to normal ordinary life. Security, however, does not exist per-se, as it is a cognitive category, an idea. Hence security, or the illusion of it, can be achieved through action, since inaction can make people feel even more insecure.

When a community feels threatened, and especially if the community is in the majority, it is not unusual that vigilante groups develop. As NI teaches us, the jump from vigilantes to paramilitary groups is easy.  Daesh calls for random attacks on soft targets. This, when there are evidences that some are listening, creates a deep and diffuse suspicion and fear towards anything that happens to be Muslim or Islamic. Organisations such as Q-Society provides the “intellectual” background to the less intellectual and more hooligan style organisations such as the Australian Defence League, and more recent anti-halal movements have shown to attract fascists. Of course, these movements claim to be peaceful and simply exercising their freedom to oppose what they dislike — but so does HT in Australia, which the Australian government wants to ban

However, if the above mentioned groups never transform into paramilitary organisations, they are the kind of group which may facilitate the creation of vigilantes and paramilitary groups through their line of thought and become the pool from which members may be sought. 

The risk that Australia and, in particular, the state of New South Wales are facing in the medium term is to see the formation of anti-terrorist paramilitary groups that inevitably will target innocent Muslims, and this will produce the counter-effect of Muslim paramilitary groups, which however will not be directly linked with international terrorist organisations.

Are we today doing enough to prevent such a trajectory and is such trajectory even preventable?  I have the impression that not enough is done. It is clear that the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims is widening in this period. The responsibility for this does not lay with one single side. I think also that a different approach to the issue of terrorism is needed in Australia. Yet we must also re-discuss how the ideology of multiculturalism has been implemented (or not implemented) and the confusion that it has created among the generations who grew up with it. Yet this topic is for another post to discuss.

Update: I note the recent vicissitudes of Punchbowl High, but do not trust the Telegraph spin/reporting on the matter. See New principal takes reins after predecessor’s sacking. That Andrew Bolt is on the case makes me hesitate to assert where the truth really lies. Too many axe-grinders on all sides!