Five years ago this time — March 2017

So much there!

Inspiring — teachers and schools, and terror

Posted on  by Neil

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 ShandMany 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!

Proud of my old school/workplace

Posted on  by Neil

I mention the old place quite often, but there is a special reason to do so today, thanks to the class of 2017:

sbhs

Chances are you have seen the story and the video, as it has gone viral. George Takei featured it on his Facebook page, for example, taking it from UK Channel Four News.

SBS reported thus:

A Sydney Boys High school student stands on the school’s grounds and looks into the camera.

“Feminism is important to me because a few months ago a guy decided for me that I wanted to have sex with him,” he says.

“I didn’t want to.”

For a moment the audience may wonder if he’s referring to his own experience.

Text appears across the screen: “We asked the women in our lives why feminism is important to them.

“This is what they said.”

The video, which students at Sydney Boys High School posted to Facebook for International Women’s Day, then cuts to another male student.

“Feminism is important to me because despite being a fully qualified vet, a woman recently told me I would not be able to go out to her farm and pull a calf because it would be too hard for me.

“I went out there and I pulled that calf.”

Another student says: “Feminism is important to me because when I give directions at work I get called a bitch rather than a leader, and bossy rather than assertive.”

And another: “Feminism is important to me because my Dad doesn’t think I can be an engineer and my Mum doesn’t think I can be an economist because that’s too hard for a girl.”…

Student leaders decided to produce the video to raise awareness about gender equality, deputy principal Rachel Powell told SBS News.

The boys were in a sport class at the time of publication and were not available for comment.

Ms Powell said it was disturbing that the boys were able to come up with such “shocking experiences of sexism so easily from talking to the women in their lives”.

The students have been taking part in ‘One Woman Gender, Inequality and Feminism’ workshops this week.

Sydney Boys High School will be fundraising for programs sponsored by UN Women by selling purple ribbons and holding a breakfast on Thursday.

Do also watch this video from the same school in 2011.

20 years on — who can forget?

I did not post on this yesterday because, as I said, it was actually on the morning of 12 September 2001 (our time) that the news came through. I first heard it on my clock radio, then got out of bed and turned on the TV… The first attack had occurred at 1am our time.

I have recovered, thanks to the Wayback Machine, my blogs (originally on Angelfire) for September and October 2001. Some extracts follow. Links all work.

2001

27 Oct 2001

From The Sydney Morning Herald…food for thought, nice memories and a bonus replay

Hugh Mackay is a regular columnist in the Saturday Herald. I am often in sympathy with what he says, and today’s column is such a case. He articulates much of my own unease in the current climate, with the world as it is and an election coming up here. You may not agree, but still, read it carefully.

– OPINION

BEWARE OF WARMONGERS AND LIES TOO EASILY TOLD

By Hugh Mackay

It is an extraordinary thought that a federal election campaign in a country like Australia – remote, peaceful, tolerant (though decreasingly so), hospitable (though decreasingly so), safe, secure and prosperous – could be hijacked by hatred and fear.

Even more extraordinary is the possibility that an unpopular, divisive, high-taxing government could be returned with an increased majority, mainly because voters were freaked by their fear.

Fear is a complex emotion but it comes in two main forms. There’s “anticipatory fear” where we perceive a threat, know what to do about it and take the necessary evasive action. That happens when you see a dangerous situation looming on the road, or someone threatens you with violence, or you face a difficult challenge like an exam, or a job interview. Anticipatory fear can usually be discharged quickly. We act, and we feel better.

Then there’s “inhibitory fear” where the threat is too great, too amorphous or too appalling for us to know how to deal with it. Because there’s no way discharge the fear through action, we are inhibited rather than energised. The term “paralysed by fear” is a good description of inhibitory fear at work.

The fear generated by terrorism is of that kind. It’s too huge and yet too vague a threat to be dealt with rationally. It comes from shadowy, uncertain sources. It has the potential to pop up in unexpected places and unpredictable ways.

So governments (including our own) try to manage it by reacting as if this is a conventional military threat to which they can respond in conventional military ways. We’re supposed to be hunting Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the attacks on the US, but, in effect, we have declared war on the Taliban in Afghanistan. We keep saying this is not like any other war, yet our leaders are approaching it as if it is precisely like any other war … right down to the disturbingly jolly television coverage of politicians joshing with the troops they are consigning to battle.

It’s no wonder we are afraid and unfocused in our fear. We’re jumpy about everything because we can’t quite get a handle on what is going on, what will happen next, or even what should happen next. (If the ground forces capture bin Laden and his al-Qaeda cronies, is that it? Do the troops arrest them, turn them over to “the authorities”, and then go home?)

It would be a tragedy for our democracy if the Australian electorate turned out to have been paralysed by fear at the very time when we were supposed to be pondering weighty questions about the character of our society and its future directions.

But it would also be a tragedy if we allowed the fear of terrorism – or even of refugees – to blind us to some other, more specific targets for equally legitimate fears. Let me offer you a few suggestions.

Be afraid of politicians who send us too easily to war.

Be afraid of those who, turning their backs on the entire history of our species, persist in the belief that killing each other solves anything.

Be afraid of those whose rhetoric is carefully designed to make it sound as if war is a noble thing and death in battle is glorious. The truth is very different: history says war is devastating for all concerned and the suffering of those who are killed or maimed, on both sides, is just like any other suffering. Their blood is like your blood; the mud and rubble and excrement in which they writhe are as filthy as any other; their families grieve with the same intensity as any other bereaved family.

Be afraid of those who present a complex truth as if it is simple. Be afraid of a propaganda war against bin Laden and the Taliban untempered by any acknowledgment that the US had encouraged and empowered the Taliban in Afghanistan when Russia was the enemy.

Be afraid of those who refuse, on the grounds of “patriotism”, to examine possible reasons for hostility to the US in certain parts of the world.

Be afraid of politicians prepared to exploit our baser instincts for political gain. Be afraid of the motives of a federal minister recklessly announcing that Australia now ranks third in the world as a terror target, as if our fears needed refuelling … and as if some terrorist had mailed him a hit list.

Be afraid of anyone who tries to justify enmity in the name of religion.

Above all, be afraid of the corrosive and paralysing effect of fear itself. If we allow it to dull the clarity of our focus on the local issues facing us in this election campaign, that will be a huge victory for terrorism.

* * *

14 Oct 2001

Sunday…and news so burdens the heart

The news is grim this morning. If indeed the recent cases of anthrax in the United States are part of the current terrorist program, let it be said at once that any God who tells someone to do such a thing cannot be God.

In a sweeping but in my view accurate generalisation referring to Old Testament prophets, fundamentalist Christians and the likes of Osama Bin Laden, Karen Armstrong in A History of God ascribes a clear link between belief in a highly personal God and attributing one’s own hatred, anger, resentment and other dark forces to the Almighty, thus legitimising them. One’s own welling resentments (or, in a somewhat more positive light, one’s sense of injustice) are projected heavenwards, so that they are no longer your feelings but the will of God. If you are charismatic enough to persuade other people that your anthropomorphic deity really feels as you do, you can then unleash very powerful forces onto the world. I really think there is something to this thesis.

Recently Mitchell told me he was reading the Old Testament for the first time, but was finding himself bogged down in the detailed laws of the Torah, the five books traditionally (and wrongly) ascribed to Moses. The detailed arguments on the origins of the five books of the Torah are well known and accepted by most Christian historians and scholars, and very many Jewish ones. The introductory matter to the Catholic Jerusalem Bible gives a moderately conservative but fair summary of the scholarly position: that the books reach back through oral tradition to the beginnings of Israel, but in the form we know them date from a time some 500 to 800 years after the Exodus. Only the most Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians deny this.

The books are important, however. There are gems within, and the Exodus has, as myth, inspired many an oppressed people, including African Americans in their struggle. Among the gems are laws which still govern our sense of what is just: “Do not deny justice to any poor man of yours in his lawsuit. Keep away from lies. Do not slay the innocent or the just, for I will not forgive the wicked. And do not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eye of the clearsighted and perverts the sentence of the just. Do not oppress a stranger; you know what it is to be a stranger, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.” (“Stranger” could well be translated as “refugee”.) —Exodus 23: 6-9 [Unless otherwise stated, I am using the rather good Christian Community Bible: Catholic Pastoral Edition, 2 ed, Claretian Publications, Quezon City (Philippines) 1988.]

There are of course laws that are blissfully ignored today: “If you lend money to any of my people who are poor, do not act like a moneylender and do not charge him interest.” Exodus 22: 24 Others, probably most, are ignored–thank God: “If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she profanes her father and shall be burned in the fire.” Leviticus 21: 9 “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20: 27 [1611 King James Version] And in the same chapter, verse 13, “If a man lieth with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” [KJV]

The last one has had a somewhat more enduring influence than the one just before it…

Here endeth the lesson.

10 Oct 2001

Poetry, a letter, and a dizzy old queen…in reverse order 😉

Yes, the dizziness was mine, and literal: I am having it checked out.

The letter was from Shanghai Bob, an ex-student, and is quoted below. It is a really nice letter…

Shanghai Bob’s Letter

Date: Tuesday, October 09, 2001 1:03 AM

Hi Mr W,

It has been a while since we last talked, I’ve been quite busy and believe that you are more busy than I am. However I’ve been reading your Ninglun Diary recently, first just wanted to have a glance but was attracted to your many insights on daily issues, and so read all your September and October diaries. (^_^)

On that terrorist issue, I totally agree with your views, especially on how we should not associate all Muslims to terrorists, just as we cannot call all Americans murderers by the act of Timothy McVeigh.. But sadly, many people (at least some of my friends) have adopted that thought, having very negative views on Muslims on the whole. And some of my atheist friends developed the idea that “if there wasn’t religion, the world would be at peace.” One very atheist friend even said, “religions are utterly stupid and evil, people should stop them.” Much of the world’s ill comes from a lack of empathy, understanding, compassion and respect for differences, and when this develops to a larger scale, it results in larger conflicts like violence and even war. But sadly, this ill is so rooted in every human being (ie. everyone, whether the person is Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc etc etc), that often we just turn out to hurt others without even realising it.

You also wrote that you are a religion seeker today. I remembered before that you told me you were a Buddhist, to what extent do you believe in Buddhism today? Recently, I too am very interested in the many religions of the world, and have searched the net to get to know some of them. My grandma is a Buddhist, so is my uncle and aunt, and so is Xiang. However their beliefs are quite different too. My grandma believes that chant the name of Buddha and scriptures can help bring peace, and good will be repayed for good. My uncle and aunt believe that only the actual practice of cultivation (by sit in meditation) will free people from the cycle of reincarnation, and open up the window of wisdom, and become Buddha after death. (a bit like Falun Gong, though they’re not Falun Gong.) Xiang believes in Tibetan Buddhism, and follows Dalai Lama as his living God. The religion of Buddhism has diverse denominations with its huge amount of scriptures and different doctrines. What is your personal belief in Buddhism? (^_^)

It’s also interesting to know that you were a Christian involved in an evangelical union when you were young. I guess I am likely to face similar problems in understanding the Bible. Many issues like homosexuality (I am not homosexual, but am far from homophobic), and the law of the Old Testament are the difficult areas. But I do trust the love of God, and the wisdom of life that the Bible teaches. I’ve also read articles about Christian Fundamentalism; it gives me the impression that it lacks humility, compassion, understanding and love, which are the essence of the Bible, for “God is love.” 1 John 4:8. Many Fundamentalists also tend to read the Bible out of context, and also tend to take metaphors literally. So these are some areas I will take note.

On whether the Bible is inspired by God or just made up by people, I do not know much. But what amazes me is the Bible’s many accurate prophesies, such as the ones in Isaiah about Christ the Messiah, how he came, how he lived, how he died, everything so specific and so accurate. It’s so accurate that many think it must be written after Jesus but claimed itself written earlier, but last century the Dead Sea scroll was found, and it was a manuscript of the book of Isaiah carbon dated almost 200 B.C. The Bible’s many scientific knowledge is also extraordinary. The Old Testament says that the earth is round and is held in mid space, written many centuries B.C. where people had no idea of what the earth looks like, (it was thought to be flat until only around 300 years ago). But anyway, whether it is really revelation by God or not, it is still an extraordinary and valuable book I think.

It was by reading your Ninglun website that my interests in these subjects are aroused, indeed you’re making a brilliant site! Please do keep up the good work!

Take care, keep in touch.

Your student as always,
Bob

Letter published with Bob’s permission.

2000
Class of 2000: L-R Xiang, Mitchell, me, Shanghai Bob, Zhaonan. 2021: Xiang is now a mathematician, Mitchell is a teacher, Bob is a doctor, and I think Zhaonan studied Engineering.

08 Oct 2001

The world in turmoil…but quiet in Surry Hills

I first heard about the attack on Kabul when I went for the morning paper and saw the special 4am edition of the Daily Telegraph. Well, I guess we all await developments.

I took my copy of Karen Armstrong’s A History of God with me as I set out for Cafe Max to have a quiet morning coffee. It is a calm and dispassionate account of the subject–no, not really dispassionate, as Armstrong clearly has a passion for the idea of God and its evolution in the three major Middle Eastern religions–Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She does also allude to other traditions, such as Buddhism, but her focus is on the diverse monotheistic “people of the Book(s)”.

chris_and_dim
Cafe Max – Madam and Dimmi 2003

I can’t help agreeing with A N Wilson, as cited on the cover: “This is the most fascinating and learned survey of the biggest wild goose chase in history.”

Why on earth have we come to two conclusions: 1) God is absolutely fascinated with the Middle East and 2) He talks to people and makes them write things? This book helps one understand how this came about. Armstrong does believe in God, by the way, but is chary of the idea of literal revelation. She certainly is learned and fairminded.

The book is worth it for a clearer and less hysterical take on Islam, just for starters…

23 Sep 2001

State of the world

On world affairs yesterday, and in the diary for the day before, I raised a few questions. Looking back, I realise how devastated I have been by the events that have unfolded since September 11. One symptom is how the time elapsed since then seems almost a blur, almost unreal. I think I am settling back now, but I still feel a deep apprehension. My unease, combined with the usual end-of-term stresses, may even have impinged on my personal relationships, I suspect: perhaps in the form of leaning on some too heavily as a respite from the gloom.

I recommend looking at this article in Asiaweek, which goes some way towards realism about the way the rest of the world might feel about how the United States responds to September 11. The Economist examines the questions “Who is to blame?” and “Why do they hate us?” rather well. This article is pretty close to what I think; however, I think, while agreeing that the motives of such crazy people may be hard to fathom, that the U.S, policy issues raised in that editorial may have more significance, at least in creating a climate for hatred. Finally, The Atlantic Monthly has some good background articles, one set of which is at the other end of that link.

Religion

I am reading The History of God by Karen Armstrong (a former nun), partly to background current issues, but also to review my knowledge of the Bible, religious history and so on. Illuminating on the three monotheisms–Judaism, Christianity and Islam:

We shall see that Yahweh did not remain the cruel and violent god of the Exodus, even though the myth has been important in all three of the monotheistic religions. Surprising as it may seem, the Israelites would transform him beyond recognition into a symbol of transcendence and compassion. Yet the bloody history of the Exodus would continue to inspire dangerous conceptions of the divine and a vengeful theology… The myth of a Chosen People and a divine election has often inspired a narrow, tribal theology from the time of the Deuteronomist right up to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalism that is unhappily rife in our own day. Yet…In all three faiths, (God) has inspired an ideal of social justice, even though it has to be said that Jews, Christians and Muslims have often failed to live up to this ideal and have transformed him into the God of the status quo. [p.28-29]

Mitchell recently said that the religious are often the nicest people on campus, and he is right I suspect; I was in the Evangelical Union myself and like to think I was one of the nicest people on campus in my day 😉 Today I am a religious seeker as much as ever, I think; but I have seen through and beyond the simplifications and circular arguments (and self-satisfaction) of the “simple faith” that believes the Bible is the Word of God because it says it is; Christian theology then becomes a matter of ignoring the embarrassing bits in the Bible, ironing out or glossing over inconsistencies, and getting into more and more desperate trouble trying to sustain the unsustainable. And yet there is in the Bible a core that is absolutely wonderful.

Today I would recommend anyone interested in the Bible should of course read it. But they must learn to see it historically, not as a magic thing, a box of texts all of equal relevance. Guidance may be had from believers and unbelievers alike: David Marr, The High Price of Heaven (Sydney, Allen and Unwin 1999); Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible (Penguin 1992); Bishop John Selby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (Harper 1991).

17 Sep 2001

An evil man

Much may (I think) rightly be said about the folly of American foreign policy, or its arrogance–and America has sometimes set a nasty hypocritical tone to an outsider like me: supporting corrupt and tyrannical regimes, engineering the downfall of governments they do not like (as in Chile), callously speaking military-talk about “collateral damage”, and so on. On the other hand, this is a country free enough to allow those thoughts to be expressed, as they are by many: Noam Chomsky to name one. Dissent is more viable in America than in most other nations. The world is paradoxical.

On the other hand, having just watched an excellent documentary on ABC (Australian that is) Four Corners on Osama bin Laden: oh my God! What an evil bastard that man is.

I find myself looking again at the model of a post-Cold War world given in Samuel P Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations (1996) and find it compelling and prescient. I still feel he draws the lines too starkly, and disagree with his proposed policies, except maybe to pull back from insisting on the “Westernisation” (as distinct from “modernisation”) of the rest of the world. Huntington also presents a very flawed view, a straw man view, of multiculturalism, something he does not understand in the way it has been understood in Australia for example. He does not give sufficient credence either to the fact that cultures actually can change, compromise and meet. In a sense he is agreeing with the extremists who so bedevil this world. Nonetheless, it is one of the best available models for making sense of what is occurring at this moment.

12 Sep 2001

Dies irae

Horrible. What more can I say?

When I was seventeen the following poem (I print here the first and last stanzas only) was one we did; ever since it has recurred to me when the world has displayed yet another atrocity:

SEPTEMBER 1 1939

W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

*

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleagured by the same
Negation and despair
Show an affirming flame.

2021

Do visit The New York World Trade Centre attacks on 9/11 is a moment we must remember — Virginia Trioli. And here is a must read: 9/11 conspiracy theories debunked: 20 years later, engineering experts explain how the twin towers collapsed.

June 2006 really surprises me — 2

Believe it or not I do not spend all my days combing my archives, but with the new month I first checked that I did have a June 2006 archive and then, having found it, surprised myself! So this is the second of up to 3 reposts! I may add in some pics…

Crash-tackling the stereotype

Some of you remember my fifteen minutes of fame in 2002. There had been mutterings around The Mine about “Asians” and “coaching” (cheating?) and not playing Rugby…

How amused I was then last night to get an email from one of my (“Asian”) coachees to say he couldn’t attend this week as he would be playing Rugby League in The Shire.

He’s an athlete too.

As time goes by… Meeting Madam and a Buddhist.

It has been a week for running into people, one way or another. Delenio will know who I mean when I mention that I saw G, a former colleague, especially in many a GPS debate, a couple of days ago. He looks different, healthy and very friendly. He’s pretty much done with teaching and is very much into Buddhism these days. He hadn’t heard about my becoming involved with South Sydney Uniting Church, but could relate to the need for a spiritual home. He certainly seems to have found his, and that is great.

By the way, I do not put great store on the exclusive truth claims of any religion, including my own; as soon as religions seriously go down that track you can be sure they are wrong. But that’s a matter for another day.

Tonight I saw Madam in Elizabeth Street, and this will mean most to The Rabbit, after whom she asked. She was pleased to hear about the English teaching. She is still doing some catering, she tells me, has some Japanese students staying with her, and is enjoying the freedom of not running a cafe. She seems to be over her Bulgarian period. (Mind you, I liked him.)

Her cafe was a bit like Rick’s. If smaller. Much smaller. And there was no piano. But it was as much a haven for all kinds of refugees as Rick’s ever was. I am sure The Rabbit remembers it with as much affection as I do.

Ah, Cafe Max. I haven’t really taken to its replacement.

chris_and_dim
Cafe Max – Madam and Dimmi 2003

Rick’s Cafe Casablanca

I really love the movie Casablanca, which is the same age as I am, or pretty close…

And now it appears, so I saw on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent tonight, that an American named Kathy Kriger has brought it to life in the city the movie celebrated. It looks great, and the Rick’s Cafe website is just a delight. She has a blog too: Salon Privé.

Welcome to my Salon Privé and please take a seat at the table. This is a dinner conversation and all the usual subjects are welcome: politics, food, music, film, design, religion, travel, drink, business, gossip, shopping…ok, even sports. So make sure your glass is topped up, and let’s start the meal…

Do yourself a favour: go there online like me or, if you are very lucky, in actuality. Looks like a great idea beautifully done.

I found this suitably humbling…

I have said quite a bit about refugees and asylum seekers at various times: those links search my Big Archive. But I was suitably humbled by MyScribbles writing about June 20: World Refugee Day.

June 20 was the World Refugee Day. Did anyone notice it? Despite being an Afghan refugee and a member of the largest single refugee group in the world, I didn’t notice it come and go. Although I do not believe in the symbolic efficacy of the day, I do believe that if such days are marked properly with awareness programs, a real change can be brought about in the lives of refugees.

I believe that in an overwhelming number of cases, people become refugees when the profits of a multinational corporation are at stake or when a number of immoral, corrupt leaders play dirty politics on the international arena. However, I also strongly believe in the power of the collaborative strength of the human beings as an agent for real change. Therefore, when a day such as this is used to educate the general public and urge them to take action, it can have a real impact on the lives of the refugee population of the world…

I am not going to improve on this teenager’s statement. Visit his page and read the rest.

Later

MyScribbles’ Refugee Day entry was read aloud at this morning’s service at South Sydney Uniting Church. Vlad had also alluded at some length in his reflection to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003).

If you go to MyScribbles and read his previous entry, No Radical Islam, Only Radicalized Muslims, you will find a statement that may cause you to do a double-take:

The creation of Al-Qaeda by the United States was a step in the direction of creating one such group. Al-Qaeda not only interpreted Islam militantly, but also used it to radicalize and inspire many Muslims to join them.

But he does have a point. As Wikipedia says:

Sources differ on the origin of the name. Robin Cook, the late British member of Parliament and former foreign secretary, wrote in 2005 that “Al-Qaida, literally ‘the database’, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.” [1] Supporting this most likely origin of the name, Dr. Saad Al-Fagih, a surgeon at Peshawar (where the recruiting happened) explained that creation of the computer database (Al-Qaeda) was necessary to fix problems associated with a lack of documentation about the fighters who were recruited. [2] Some others have said that the name means simply the base as well as claiming that the organization chose its own name.[3][4]

The origins of al-Qaeda can be traced to a few weeks after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, when a cadre of non-Afghani, Arab Muslim fighters joined the largely United States and Pakistan-funded Afghan mujāhidīn anti-Russian resistance movement (a guerrilla war against Soviet occupation forces and the Soviet-backed Afghan government). Osama bin Laden, a member of a prominent Saudi Arabian business family, led an informal grouping which became a leading fundraiser and recruitment agency for the Afghan cause in Muslim countries; it channelled Islamic fighters to the conflict, distributed money and provided logistical skills and resources to both fighting forces and Afghan refugees.

See also “What is al-Qaeda?” by Jason Burke, and Burke’s book Al-Qaeda: the True Story of Radical Islam (Penguin, rev ed. 2004). The first edition (Tauris, 2003) was called Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror.

Congratulations to my young Afghan friend

On my WordPress dashboard I just noted:

Fastest Growing WordPress.com blogs

1. MyScribbles: Write-ups of an Afghan
2. THEOcracy
3. hot BODS’ abode
4. The Rambling Men
5. Canucklehead
6. Evolving Trends
7. Brechi Reborn

Well done!

See also from this year How 15 years ago my blog reached into Afghanistan and encouraged at least one teenager…

Post Script

In the previous post in talking about Lord Malcolm and Lillian Crombie, I linked to the page I posted at the time of Malcolm’s death, 1 June 2007. Looking at it again I noticed among the many comments this one:

 MyScribbles: Write-ups of an Afghan Says:
June 16, 2007 at 3:54 am May he rest in peace. I offer my condolences to his family and friends.He must be feeling proud of having friends like you who remember him and pay such nice and sincere tributes to him after his passing away.

Yesterday was World Teachers Day

So watch this!

On Facebook yesterday Sydney Boys High — the school I last worked in — posted on the retirement of the Deputy Principal, and on the twenty year service in tandem with Dr Jaggar, the current Principal. I was working at the school until the end of 2005, with an odd job or two between then and 2010.

Dr Jaggar on the right — not sure about the other one!

On Facebook I said:

International Teachers Day conversation 1 at Diggers — with Leo Tobin, who was around the teaching traps down here in the Illawarra even before I was. Many a story we swapped about Wollongong High and Brian Downes, the legendary “Basher” Downes! 50 years of memories.

Conversation 2 — by phone — with Kim Jaggar, Principal of Sydney Boys High on his 21 years in the job there. On ticklish issues like what to do about students running away to join ISIS! (Kim was absolutely brilliant and those kids are now OK and no longer kids!)

So much that man has accomplished in the old place.

On that “ticklish problem” (in 2015) see Bringing it home.

So imagine my feelings when Prime (7) News rather prominently featured this story last night:

TWO brothers blocked from leaving Sydney Airport under suspicion they were heading to fight in the Middle East were award-winning students at the prestigious Sydney Boys High public school.

The boys, aged 16 and 17, were prominent members of sporting teams at the selective school, one of eight Great Public Schools (GPS) in Sydney, with the older brother also excelling academically and in debating…

That is as it appears on the Daily Telegraph website this morning as the Channel 7 version has disappeared. (The front page was devoted to a particularly bizarre murder trial that finished yesterday.) Last night on Facebook I commented:

I hate the way this is being framed. The school is simply NOT one of Sydney’s most exclusive schools. It’s a state school like any other but academically selective, old and (oddly) competes in GPS sport. I went there. I taught there. I know many of the current staff. The principal is undoubtedly the best I ever worked for. I fear that the way this plays in the media will block real understanding of what might have got into the heads of the two brothers, assuming the allegations are accurate. Coincidentally I have blogged recently on matters relating to ten years ago, but can’t and won’t say anything about this latest, except to utterly support the school.

There are also over one thousand students at SBHS. It has a very well developed, supportive welfare system; I was myself on the welfare committee when I worked there.

To cut the long story short, despite media and other pressure, the school supported the students involved. They have both moved on from that flirtation with being jihadis, and are doing well.

9 September brings pause

Yesterday I recalled the wonderful events of September 2000, both here and on Facebook, but of course there was another anniversary concerning the following year. How different an anniversary that one is, even though the events this time were far away. All our lives have been marked one way or another by those events.

Today I will look back at my blog for September 2001, which is still preserved in the Internet Archive. But briefly back to the year before. I was in both years still working at Sydney Boys High. Here I am with members of the Class of 2000.

2000

So last night SBS showed the PBS documentary about George W Bush. Excellent it was too. Certainly brought back those times, confirmed much we had known or thought, but added perspective. There is another episode next week.

That clip is an excellent preface to these preserved memories of mine.

02 Sep 2001

Spring again and another Yum Cha

“Although it is Spring and Father’s Day, it was a bit cool and windy today. A good Yum Cha took place at the East Ocean Restaurant with the Empress (of course), Malcolm, Sirdan, James, PK (with whom I have had some good talks recently), Bob (a rare visitor) and myself. It is interesting as this diary has been faithfully kept for the best part of eighteen months to look back at Yum Chas past: last September for example Sydney was gearing up for the Olympics and was just getting into the mood; we had a couple of Olympic visitors at that Yum Cha.

“Twenty years ago this month myself, Rob (rest his soul), John Hawke and a couple of others began the young writers’ magazine Neos. (Simon H. was there in the background too.) The magazine went on until 1985, attracting a pretty fair reputation, including one Literature Board Grant and Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Award for services to youth. My mother was particularly proud of that. Funnily, it was also a time when my own life was at a low ebb, but I survived.

“It was towards the end of that time that I “came out” at last, and also began my current principal means of employment….

11 Sep 2001

Thoughts of a survivor: Guest article by Ian Smith, the Dowager Empress of Hong Kong [RIP 1953-2010]

“It is difficult to give advice to any one regarding HIV/AIDS. However here are a few thoughts from a long-term survivor.

“Do not panic. This is easy to say, but the best thing you can do, is ignore the virus as much as possible, within reason. If you are on medication, never miss a dose. Always have safe sex to avoid passing the virus to someone else, and keep alcohol and other recreational drugs down. By this I do not mean give everything up, just try cutting down. Think, ‘Do I really need that E tonight?” If you do, take only half, or less. This has the advantage of saving money. It also has the advantage of not damaging your immune system as much….

12 Sep 2001

Dies irae

Horrible. What more can I say?

“When I was seventeen the following poem (I print here the first and last stanzas only) was one we did; ever since it has recurred to me when the world has displayed yet another atrocity:

SEPTEMBER 1 1939

W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

*

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleagured by the same
Negation and despair
Show an affirming flame.

13 Sep 2001

Local but global…Australia and asylum seekers

“In the background as I write the TV here in Sydney is still devoted to full coverage via CNN etc of the horrendous events of a few days back; rightly so. Perhaps later I will dare to say something.

“Meantime the bizarre events surrounding the Australian Government’s treatment of asylum seekers (mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan) continues. Being relatively sane, I do not advocate open borders, but the current saga is odd to say the least. I still smell electoral advantage as a motive: why even Pauline Hanson has complained that the Government has been stealing her policies (and her voters?) The level of public discussion–at least in pubs and on talkback radio–has often been frightening in its ignorance and, indeed, racism….

17 Sep 2001

An evil man

“Much may (I think) rightly be said about the folly of American foreign policy, or its arrogance–and America has sometimes set a nasty hypocritical tone to an outsider like me: supporting corrupt and tyrannical regimes, engineering the downfall of governments they do not like (as in Chile), callously speaking military-talk about “collateral damage”, and so on. On the other hand, this is a country free enough to allow those thoughts to be expressed, as they are by many: Noam Chomsky to name one. Dissent is more viable in America than in most other nations. The world is paradoxical.

“On the other hand, having just watched an excellent documentary on ABC (Australian that is) Four Corners on Osama bin Laden: oh my God! What an evil bastard that man is.

“I find myself looking again at the model of a post-Cold War world given in Samuel P Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations (1996) and find it compelling and prescient. I still feel he draws the lines too starkly, and disagree with his proposed policies, except maybe to pull back from insisting on the “Westernisation” (as distinct from “modernisation”) of the rest of the world. Huntington also presents a very flawed view, a straw man view, of multiculturalism, something he does not understand in the way it has been understood in Australia for example. He does not give sufficient credence either to the fact that cultures actually can change, compromise and meet. In a sense he is agreeing with the extremists who so bedevil this world. Nonetheless, it is one of the best available models for making sense of what is occurring at this moment…..

27 Sep 2001

Last for a while….

“….Another influence is reading Four Quartets (T S Eliot) again, and finding it actually resonated, as it didn’t when I was eighteen! And Bishop Spong is an inspiration that one can be spiritual without believing one hundred and one impossible things before breakfast, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll. One does not have to subscribe to an infallible teacher, an infallible book; one looks within and perhaps joins with like-minded people. I am still looking…

Some say my teaching is nonsense
Others call it lofty and impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
the nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who have put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that grow deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate towards yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

“That is from the Tao Te Ch’ing, not an infallible book, that offers the best theology: “The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.”

“Taking a break from diarying now for a week–a discipline I am imposing on myself. See you later. Sweet dreams to all my readers, especially you….”

Notice I was still calling it “diarying”, not “blogging!”