If only Tony Abbott could bring the conviction and even eloquence he demonstrated in Baghdad to bear on the Budget back home! He was right to visit the Middle East at this dangerous time. The war in Iraq is not some far-away conflict that is none of our business. ‘Knocking off’ ISIL is important to our future and the future of the world – as is recognized by the UK, France, Canada, Turkey and the United States (not to mention the Australian Labor Party.) Abbott put it well in Baghdad: ‘We are determined to deepen our cooperation because where our vital interests are threatened, where universal values are at stake, Australia should be a strong partner.’ We cannot shrug and do nothing. Our vital interests are threatened in the Middle East. ISIS has killed off tens of thousands of people and displaced millions. Last week it called on its supporters in Australia (and the United States, France and Britain) to further action: ‘Every Muslim should get out of his house, find a crusader, and kill him.’ Universal values are at stake when, as Abbott put it, ISIL proclaims its ‘beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions and sex slavery’ in the ‘dark age’ which Northern Iraq is now enduring under ISIS domination. None of what he has said or done in Iraq – the increased humanitarian aid and the pledge to ‘deepen cooperation’- will turn around the unsatisfactory polls in Australia or reconcile voters to the budget and economic reforms to which Abbott and his government committed themselves. But he has spoken well, cautiously and eloquently in Australia’s interest and for prudent internationalism.
The cartoonist Bill Leak did his bit to back up Foreign Minister Julie (‘I’m no feminist’) Bishop’s concern about the surge in the number of Western women including Australians who have travelled to the Middle East to enlist in the misogynistic Islamic State – and the silence of radical feminists about a movement which approves honour killings, female genital mutilation, and forced Islamist marriage. Leak’s cartoon in the Australian was a diptych depicting ‘The Feminist Evolution’. In one panel a caveman is dragging a grim-faced woman by her hair through a skeleton-strewn track into his cave. She is defeated and demoralized. In the distant background are a dinosaur and empty hills. In the second panel a modern Islamic State terrorist is dragging a delighted feminist by her hair through the strewn skeletons into his cave. She smiles hugely as she points triumphantly to the feminist symbol on her tee-shirt. In the distant background is a motor car and a modern city. Most of the letters to the editor published by the Australian supported Leak’s take on the ‘evolution’ of radical multi-culturalist feminism. Rosemary Yeoland of Sandy Bay summed up: ‘Bill Leak’s cartoon says it all – reverse evolution, and the civilised world remains silent…’ Not all agreed. One feminist from Perth wrote that she usually ignores Leak’s ‘tasteless cartoons’. But this one ‘takes the cake’. It is ‘outrageously offensive and demeaning to women and Muslims’. It is also ‘bereft of humour or satire.’ Needless to add she is a Greenie.
The signs were all bad. But as it turned out the SBS program is not as bad as promised. The three-part series on race and racism in Australian history is called ‘The Great Australian Race Riot’ with a subtitle: ‘The mob that shaped the nation.’ The idea is that Australian history is the record of one long race riot, whether the target of ‘the mob’ was Aborigines, Irish, Chinese, Germans, Italians, Arabs or whatever. The series is not recommended for anyone under 15. The usual suspects were lined up for commentaries. Race riots, the program said, have ‘defined’ us. No other country was examined for riots – although Wikipedia lists the riots of 40 countries from Angola to Zambia, including even Israel and Singapore. Riots in the United States, France and England have notoriously been far worse than anything Australia has produced. Yet one new theme was acknowledged in the program. Despite the extraordinary, deplorable, racist and xenophobic pressure from the Australian ‘mob’, as manifested in a variety of riots, the rule of law and liberal principles always prevailed. This is the real lesson of the riots. The Australian authorities took the side of the targeted minorities and punished the leaders of ‘the mob’, sometimes with capital punishment. As the principal commentary, delivered by Peter FitzSimons, stressed in the program, the sanctity of British and Australian law, however and whenever threatened, always defeated the insurgents in the end. Leaders of opinion in the Press and on public platforms continued to proclaim the superiority of the Chinese, Indians and Japanese in civilization and morality – a superiority which one Irish Australian said was already obvious when our ‘white’ ancestors had not yet come down from the trees to start rioting.
One indication of some new awareness of the facts of Australian history is the acknowledgment in the SBS program that, following the anti-Chinese riots in Victoria in 1857 and New South Wales in 1861, the authorities in both Colonies paid compensation to the Chinese targets of the riots – 7300 pounds in Victoria and 4240 pounds in New South Wales. FitzSimons says this was not enough but concedes that the wheels of justice were turning. A few years ago there would have been no mention at all of such compensation and apology in this sort of program. To the best of my knowledge it was never mentioned in any of the histories of these events until Keith Windschuttle’s The White Australia Policy appeared in 2004. So there is some progress even among historians!
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