Sydney stabbings and more on China

Kudos to the three young English chaps who wrestled Mert Ney, the crazed stabber, to the ground in the Sydney CBD yesterday. Riveting footage from Channel 7 too. It appears this was not the terrorist attack most of us watching at home would have first thought, but obviously a very sad and bad event nonetheless. I was rather taken by a vox pop on Channel 7 an hour or so after the event. The interviewee turned out to be an American who had been in Sydney for just one day. He said: “At home he would have had a gun. It’s time we did what you have done.” Referring to Australia’s gun laws.


Now things continue to heat up in Hong Kong, and as I said yesterday I watch in some trepidation. Beijing has made some ominous noises and posted some blatantly obvious video threats, the latest of tanks massing in an “exercise” in neighbouring Shenzhen. Meanwhile this morning the ABC has revealed more examples of Chinese soft propaganda influencing Australian politicians, including in this case a government member. I do think it is something of a beat-up though. Yesterday’s Herald recycled as a front page story the views of “outspoken author Clive Hamilton.” I do recommend you look if you can at Linda Jaivin, “Red detachment: Is Chinese culture beyond reach?” (Australian Foreign Affairs Issue 5, February 2019) for a critique (pp. 45-49) of Clive Hamilton. “Hamilton, who does not speak or read Chinese, doesn’t get everything right about China.” She goes on to demolish his tendentious interpretation of that anthem of the Tiananmen protestors, Hou Dejian’s “Children of the Dragon.” And Linda Jaivin is better placed than almost anyone else in Australia to make a judgement about that!


Hou Dejian, second from the right, Tiananmen June 1989

See also Linda Jaivin 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.

Linda Jaivin also commends to those interested in Chinese dissident views Geremie Barme’s site I endorse that.

We should not, should we, be surprised at the fact of China attempting by hard, soft, or sneaky means to influence opinion overseas about its policies and actions. Have not others done the same for decades? What about Voice of America? What about Fox News? What about the CIA? And one could name Russia, and Saudi Arabia — which finances all kinds of things including here in Australia, including Islamic schools. Surely the thing is for us to be discerning and critical, aware that there are all kinds of influencers out there constantly seeking to shape public opinion. And of course our security people should be on the lookout for foreign interference or cyber attacks, wherever they might come from.

On which I commend another oldie but very goodie, which I have been reading courtesy of Project Gutenberg. Just finished it at the weekend in fact: Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, NY 1922. Dated of course, but surprisingly relevant, even in this age of the internet and tweeting Presidents.

Finally, let me share again what democratic China might some day look like, even if not in my lifetime. I posted Death of a Hero a while back. I repost now Liu Xiaobo’s brave manifesto:

What did he write?

Many things, but his participation in the Charter of Human Rights in China (Charter 08) has been the cause both of his Nobel Prize and his imprisonment.

II. Our Fundamental Concepts 
At this historical juncture of the future destiny of China, it is necessary to rethink the last 100 years of modernization and reaffirm the following concepts:
Freedom: Freedom is at the core of universal values. The rights of speech, publication, belief, assembly, association, movement, and to demonstrate are all the concrete realizations of freedom. If freedom is not flourishing, then there is no modern civilization of which to speak.
Human Rights: Human rights are not bestowed by the state, but are rights that each person is born with and enjoys. To ensure/guarantee human rights must be the foundation of the first objective of government and lawful public authority, and is also the inherent demand of “putting people first.” The past political calamities of China are all closely related to the disregard of human rights by the ruling authorities.
Equality: Each individual, regardless of social status, occupation, gender, economic situation, ethnic group, skin color, religion, or political belief, is equal in human dignity and freedom. The principle of equality before the law and a citizen’s society must be implemented; the principle of equality of economic, cultural, and political rights must be implemented.
Republicanism: Republicanism is “governing together; living peacefully together,” □ that is, the decentralization of power and balancing of interests, that is comprised of diverse interests, different social groups, pluralistic culture and groups seeking religious belief, on the foundation of equal participation, peaceful competition, public discussion, and peaceful handling of public affairs.
Democracy: The most basic meaning is that sovereignty resides in the people and the people elect government. Democracy has the following basic characteristics: (1) the legitimacy of government comes from the people, the source of government power is the people; (2) government must be chosen by the people; (3) citizens enjoy the right to vote, important civil servants and officials of all levels should be produced through elections at fixed times; (4) the decisions of the majority must be respected while protecting the basic rights of the minority. In a word, democracy will become the modern tool for making government one “from the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Constitutionalism: Constitutionalism is the principle of protecting basic constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms and rights of citizens through law and a rule of law, delimiting the boundaries of government power and actions, and providing corresponding systemic capacity.
In China, the era of imperial power has long passed and will not return; in the world, authoritarian systems are approaching the dusk of their endings. The only fundamental way out for China: citizens should become the true masters of the nation, throw off the consciousness of reliance on a wise ruler or honest and upright official, make widely public civic consciousness of the centrality of rights and the responsibility of participation, and practice freedom, democracy, and respect for law.
III. Our basic standpoint 
In line with a responsible and constructive citizens’ spirit towards the country’s political system, civil rights and various aspects of social development, we put forward the following specific standpoints:

  1. Amend the Constitution: Based on the aforementioned values and concepts, amend the Constitution, abolishing the provisions in the current Constitution that are not in conformity with the principle that sovereignty resides in the people so that the Constitution can truly become a document for guaranteeing human rights and [appropriate use of] public power. The Constitution should be the implementable supreme law that any individual, group or party shall not violate, and lay the legal foundation for the democratization of China.
  2. Separation and balance of power: A modern government that separates, checks and keeps balance among powers guarantees the separation of legislative, judicial, and administrative power. The principle of governing by laws and being a responsible Government shall be established. Over-expansion of executive power shall be prevented; the Government shall be responsible to the taxpayers; the separation, checking and keeping balance of powers between the central and local governments shall be set up; the central power authority shall be clearly defined and mandated by the Constitution, and the local governments shall be fully autonomous.
  3. Democratize the lawmaking process: All levels of the legislative bodies shall be directly elected. Maintain the principles of fairness and justice in making law, and democratize the lawmaking process.
  4. Independence of the judiciary: The judiciary shall be nonpartisan, free from any interference. Ensure judicial independence, and guarantee judicial fairness. Establish a Constitutional Court and a system of judicial review; maintain the authority of the Constitution. Abolish as soon as possible the Party’s Committees of Political and Legislative affairs at all levels that seriously endanger the country’s rule of law. Avoid using public tools for private objectives.
  5. Public institutions should be used for the public: Realize the nationalization of the armed forces. The military shall be loyal to the Constitution and to the country. The political party organizations in the armed forces should be withdrawn. The level of military professionalism should be raised. All civil servants including the police shall remain politically neutral. Discrimination in employment of civil servants based on party preference should be eliminated and equal employment without any party preference should be adopted.
  6. Protect human rights: Protection of human rights should be effectively implemented and human dignity should be safeguarded. A Commission on Human Rights shall be established that is responsible to the highest level of authority representing public opinion. [This Commission] will prevent government abuse of public power and violation of human rights, and especially protect the personal freedom of citizens. All persons should be be free from unlawful arrest, detention, summons, interrogation, and punishment. The system of Reeducation-Through-Labor should be abolished.
  7. Election of public officials: The democratic electoral system should be fully implemented, with the realization of the equal voting right of one person one vote. Direct election of all levels of administrative heads should be institutionalized step by step. Free competition in the elections on a regular basis and citizen participation in the election of public officials are inalienable basic human rights.
  8. Urban and rural equality: The current urban-rural household registration system should be repealed. The equal rights for all citizens guaranteed by the Constitution should be implemented. The freedom of movement for citizens should be protected.
  9. Freedom of association: Citizens’ right to freedom of association shall be safeguarded. The current system for registration and examination before approval for civil society organizations should be changed to a registration and recording system. The ban on freely organizing political parties should be lifted. All activities of parties should be regulated by the Constitution and law. One-party monopolization of ruling privileges should be abolished. The principle of freedom of activities of political parties and fair competition should be established. The normalization of party politics and a rule by law should be realized.
  10. Freedom of assembly: Peaceful assembly, protest, demonstration and freedom of expression are fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. They should not be subject to unlawful interference and unconstitutional restrictions by the ruling party and the government.
  11. Freedom of expression: The freedom of speech, freedom of the press and academic freedom should be implemented. Citizens’ right to know and to monitor supervise should be protected. A press and publication law should be promulgated. The ban on freely publishing newspapers should be lifted. The current provision of “inciting subversion of state power” in the Criminal Law should be repealed and criminal punishment for speech should be eliminated.
  12. Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion and freedom of belief should be protected. Religion and politics should be separated. Religious activities should be free from government interference. All administrative regulations, administrative rules and local regulations and rules that restrict or deprive citizens’ freedom of religion should be reviewed and repealed. Management of religious activities by administrative legislature should be prohibited. The current prior approval system in which religious groups (including places of worship) must be registered before obtaining legal status should be abolished, and instead, a new record-keeping system for religious groups and their worship places should replace the current one.
  13. Citizen Education: Abolish political education and examinations that are deeply ideological and serve one-party rule. Promote citizen education that encompasses universal values and civil rights, establishes civil consciousness, and promotes the civil virtue of serving society.
  14. Property Protection: Establish and protect private property rights, implement a free and open market economy, protect the freedom of entrepreneurship, and eliminate administrative monopoly; set up a state-owned property management committee that is responsible to the highest legislative agency, initiate property rights reforms legally and orderly, make clear the property rights of owners and obligors, initiate a new land movement, advance land privatization, and strictly protect citizens’, in particular, farmers’, land rights.
  15. Fiscal Reforms: Firmly establish democracy in finance and protect taxpayers’ rights. Build a public finance system and operational mechanisms in which powers and obligations are clear, and create a reasonable and effective division of power in finance among all levels of government; implement major reforms in the tax system to reduce the tax rate, simplify the tax system, and achieve tax equity. The administrative departments should not be allowed to increase tax or create new tax arbitrarily without a social public choice and resolutions of the legislative agencies. Pass reforms on property rights, introduce diverse market subjects and competition mechanisms, lower the market-entry threshold in banking, and create conditions for the development of privately-owned banking to energize the financial system.
  16. Social Security: Build a social security system that covers all of the citizens, and provide them with fundamental protections for education, medical care, elderly care and employment.
  17. Environmental Protection: Protect the ecological environment, promote sustainable development, and take up responsibility to future generations and humanity; enforce the respective responsibilities of the state and government officials of all levels; perform the function of participation and supervision by civil organizations on environmental protection.
  18. Federal Republic: Participate in and maintain regional peace and development with an equal and fair attitude, and create an image of a responsible great country. Protect the free systems of Hong Kong and Macao. Under the precondition of freedom and democracy, seek a settlement resolution on cross-strait relations by way of equal negotiation and cooperative interaction. Explore possible ways and an institutional design to promote the mutual prospects of all ethnicities with great wisdom, and to establish China’s federal republic under the structure of democracy and constitutionalism.
  19. Transitional Justice: Rehabilitate the reputation of and give state compensation to the victims who suffered political persecution during past political movements as well as their families; release all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and people who are convicted because of their beliefs; establish a truth commission to restore historical truth, to pursue accountability and to fulfill justice; seek a settlement of the society on this foundation.

Sri Lanka


Alas! Just what the world does not need: more murderous fanatics with demonic God-fantasies!

Stephen Fry on Twitter: ‘One of our old names for Sri Lanka, Ceylon, puts me in mind of the hymn we used to sing at school: “What tho’ the spicy breezes Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle; Though every prospect pleases, And only man is vile?” In the light of today’s horrors, how true. Man is vile indeed.”‘


Christchurch: Wollongong

I wasn’t in town yesterday, but quite a crowd was — and I am proud of my city! Here is Wollongong yesterday:


And proud of my Friday lunch companion Chris T, who posted this on Facebook:

O.K. I’m not Robinson Crusoe here. I have spent the weekend watching the horror that is the A.B.C news and trying to come to terms with this atrocity. I have, like all of us been trying to come up with the answer to the obvious question, what can I do about it. The answer is always the same. Little or nothing. Not acceptable to me. I must do something. So I make this promise. I have Fridays off and usually do very little with them. From today I will spend my Fridays outside my local Mosque during Friday prayers. I’m not a hero and I assume that this action is entirely symbolic but my message is simple. If you want to go in there and kill Muslims you will have to kill at least one White Christian first. I invite you all to join me. I doubt that anybody will turn up with a gun but if they should perhaps they will think twice before killing people who look like them.

Repost from 2015 relevant to Melbourne

In the light of recent additional details emerging, for example Sheik Mohammed Omran tells ‘bloody PM’ Morrison: ‘blame police … not us’, I have decided to repost Some reflections on the late teen suicide bomber. Before I do, let me point out that Sheik Omran plays a part in the story behind that post. See too Wikipedia. Sheik Omran is a Salafist. Do also read Dr Roger Shanahan Bourke Street attack: What we get wrong when we talk about terrorism. Dr Rodger Shanahan is a research fellow in the West Asia program at the Lowy Institute. A former army officer, he had extensive service within the Parachute Battalion Group (PBG) and has had operational service with the UN in South Lebanon and Syria, with the PBG in East Timor, in Beirut during the 2006 war, and in Afghanistan.

Now the repost.

As promised yesterday.

There is much out there already; again I commend as a start ‘Jihadi’ Jake Bilardi – from Australian suburban schoolboy to Islamic State suicide bomber from ABC’s 7.30.

I looked at his school. Seems a good place. How hard it must be for them right now, and even more for the family.

Bilardi’s blog reveals a teen not unlike some I have taught or met over the years, especially perhaps since the 1990s. A digital native. It strikes me that he was “radicalised” as much by, say, John Pilger or Noam Chomsky as the Quran or Islamist sources — or by any of a whole range of left to far left news, history and current affairs sites – some of them often very useful as a counterweight (or counterpunch?) to the mainstream. The speed with which he worked through all this stuff over five years from atheist 13-year-old to 17-18 year-old fanatic ready to kill or be killed is quite amazing.

One really does wonder what realistically anyone can do about such radicalising influences. Shut them all down? Do a great firewall of Australia? Hardly likely, and hardly desirable as a lot of the stuff Bilardi must have consumed is in its own right legitimate.

I noticed too that some of what Bilardi says in that January 2015 blog post is not dissimilar to some of the things those students I knew in the mid 2000s were thinking and saying – not surprising since the issues and events that concerned them – and many of us who are not Muslims – are reflections of realities that are often highly unpalatable. But that such interests and views must lead to murder and suicide is clearly not inevitable, a proposition I tested by tracking what some of those students I knew in 2005 are up to now. What I found is encouraging.

There are more positive paths.

Here is the blog of one of those students from ten years ago* who seems as delightful today as when I knew him then. In one post he reflects on events we actually shared in, though from different sides in many ways – generational, and cultural. Here is some of what he says:

— I note this blog is now restricted by its author. In keeping with that I have anonymised some of it — a shame though, as it is excellent! — 14 Nov 2018

My story knowing F– [a fellow student] began in high school …. Whilst we played cricket and soccer together and undertook similar subjects (like French with the intimidating Mr. Davies) – I believe our friendship like the other MCs really blossomed through our involvement in setting up the Islamic Society of …, the only kind of such organisation at a high-school at the time. We organised social activities, provided prayer spaces and opportunities to share and learn about our religion. It was through our combined efforts along with our fellow Muslim and also non-Muslim classmates that we facilitated seminars on Islam to share Islamic culture and ideas and remove myths and misconceptions with the wider school community.

Despite all of our efforts, unfortunate external events generated much attention to our small organisation and our school. This situation blew out in 2005 after one of the seminars on Islam in the aftermath of the July London bombings. Whilst we saw the media attention and negative publicity, F– and his father were the ones who dealt with the media and the school principal, Dr. Jagger. It was actually many years later that we learnt about the pressures that he had faced. I think that it was incredible how a 16 year old was able to handle all of that pressure. And he went on to be School Prefect, GPS Debating champion and achieved such incredible results in the HSC and post-school. This is all part-and-parcel of trying to achieve success and to promote justice and the truth.

It was in those few years that our group of friends realised our potential, our purpose and duties growing up in Australia and what we would need to do as active citizens to hold Islamic values whilst fully functional in the wider society.

What made that experience special and the key qualities that developed was that we were truly all-rounded. We played sport together, hung out at recess and lunch, visited each other’s houses and studied together – and even sold chocolate boxes together.

F– and his multifaceted intellectual pursuits

In much of post-industrial societies, people tend to specialise in certain professions and as a result lose knowledge about other fields and the “bigger picture” issues. Writing at the turn of the 20th century, Emile Durkheim once noted “Not only has the scholar ceased to take up different sciences simultaneously, but he does not even cover a single science completely anymore”. This is something that I can say I’ve come to appreciate very strongly in F– and that inspires the friends all around us. He actively pursued Qur’an, Arabic and Islamic studies alongside law, economics and also philosophy. Moreover, he encouraged us all in this way. This is the sort of multi-disciplinary knowledge that we should all promote and inculcate a passion for in our youth today. So that they may have a greater impact as future leaders.

Non mutual exclusivity between religious and secular pursuits

The key lesson from our group was the pursuit of excellence in religious and secular pursuits. There is no mutually exclusivity in academic rigour, sport and culture and religious duties and community service. Everyone has the potential to make a contribution in their own way and this needs to be supported. This attitude and approach to life was very much developed through our group work starting back in high school – with F– at the helm of our group’s leadership!…

Interesting too is this 2013 post Reading Half the Sky is a Painful Experience (Part 1).

I would read a few pages at a time and would have to stop or look away. Seated 38 000 feet above the ground and after enjoying a warm meal on my flight from Sydney to Dhaka on Thai Airways – I wanted to look away into the distant sun or the large span of water (i.e. the Bay of Bengal) to find some sort of solace and hope. Why are people so incredibly cruel?

I have only gotten through the first 100 pages or so where sex slavery is being recounted by the authors. Whilst it was frightening and painful to read of the stories of these girls and young women who were brutally raped and mentally and physically traumatised – there was also hope in what some of them were doing to fight back and to bring positive change in their communities. I’ll account some of these in the next post Insha Allah. Whilst this comforted me a little – it also highlighted my own incapacities and how I could be doing so much more in my own enjoyable life. It saddened me that we didn’t come to the rescue of these women and that we simply didn’t do more!…

That spirit, I suggest, is many miles from the hate and disillusion that seems to have swallowed poor Jake Biladi. I say “poor” because it is such a waste of a boy who was obviously talented. But his way is far from the only way.

How the authorities can hope to monitor all threats in this world of unparalleled access to whatever information you want boggles the mind. They have taken to stopping and searching people at airports. Dr Jamal Rifi thinks this is a bad idea. Jake Biladi of course didn’t “look the part” so very likely would have got through. (He doesn’t fully explain in that WordPress blog entry how he did it.)

My former student does “look the part.” He is clearly sub-continental and may wear some kind of funny hat. He possibly carries Islamic literature. But of course it seems clear to me that he is a zero security threat – in fact, an asset to this country and, through his work, several others.

I just hope we can all make such distinctions: but unfortunately the common talk makes this difficult. We become obsessed with damnably stupid ideas about the significance of halal markings on chocolate – though not apparently by statements about the same item probably also being kosher. We start to see all Muslims as terrorists, or at best not to be trusted as not being sufficiently “Aussie”!

I do despair: but all praise to people like T– (the blogger quoted above) and friends. There may be the hope we need.