The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Russia, Turkey And An Enormous Grain Of Salt

The big news today (or yesterday, if you get news alerts) is that Turkish F16 fighters have shot down a Russian Su24. Despite the fact that something like this has been brewing ever since the great powers, and also Russia and Turkey, decided to play kingmaker in Syria, the usual panic-merchants, spin doctors and instant military experts are expressing shock, outrage and surprise. Yet again, we have been chilled by warnings of WWIII and bombarded with both Russian and Turkish claims of innocence and injury.

Russia claims that a pair of Su24 warplanes were innocently bombing ‘terrorists’ on the Syrian side of the border when, without warning or provocation, Turkish terror sympathisers shot down one of their planes. The Turks are claiming that two aggressive, apparently unidentifiable Russian warplanes violated Turkish airspace, were warned ‘ten times in five minutes’ and, when one of them wouldn’t leave, they were regrettably forced to shoot it down. It is possible that one of these versions of events is completely correct, but it is far more probable that neither bears more than a passing acquaintance with the truth.

Russian credibility has become something of an oxymoron of late and their statements on Syria are no exception to this tendency. Russian operations have been almost exclusively in areas where there is little or no ISIS activity, and yet the Russian propaganda machine continually spews out article after article claiming ISIS routs and casualties. Latakia, where the Russian Su24’s were bombing, is known to be primarily in the hands of factions backing the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Only the wilfully blind could fail to see that all that Russia has planned or achieved is to create a ring of fire around the Assad regime’s heartland, regardless of who they have to blow up to do it. And they have lied, brazenly, continuously and demonstrably, about their actions, their intentions and their priorities.

As for Turkey, the country is going through some very interesting times. Kemal’s grand secular experiment seems to be coming to an end, with Erdogan doing his level best to Islamise as much of Turkey’s government and history as possible. His key ally in this process is rampant nationalism, with constant references to Ottoman and Hittite* glories and their essential repeatability. The fact that a key rival both for regional hegemony and Western favour is currently burning to the ground has presented Turkey with challenges, certainly, but also with exciting opportunities. The problem, however, is that Turkey is currently a smoking hot mess, riven with internal turmoil, rolling border disputes, a disaffected middle class and, to top it all off, a refugee crisis that makes Europe’s look tiddling by comparison. If Turkey’s actions seem schizophrenic and unpredictable, this is partly because they are trying to juggle a myriad of factors and interests in the midst of a fluid and dangerous situation. And also because they lie pretty much as often and as whoppingly as Russia.

Anyone who knows anything about modern warplanes knows that five minutes is practically an eternity, and that it is impossible to put one in the air with an idiot in the cockpit. Incompetence or stupidity are not probable factors in this situation. What we have here is an incident that was at least partially deliberately engineered. Russian tactics in this conflict, and for most of modern history, are well known to be ‘probing’, which is diplomatic jargon for ‘invasive’ and ‘insolent’. It is not just conceivable, it is probable, that the Russian warplanes were deliberately probing Turkish airspace for both political and military reasons. As always, the situation is not particularly clear cut. Latakia borders Hayat, which is one of the places where the Sykes-Picot line gets a little bit confusing. And if we are to believe accounts that the plane came down in Hayat, then they were cutting it extremely fine at the very least. Little wonder then, that both Turkey and Russia have been able to broadcast absolute ‘proof’ that the warplanes either were or weren’t inside Turkish airspace.

Turkey’s Rules of Engagement (RoE) are very clear, and so is their position on violations of their airspace, but here’s the thing: supersonic jets operating in the vicinity of an invisible and, in this case, somewhat blurry line, present sovereign powers not with a threat but with a choice. They are probably going to violate what they perceive to be their airspace, especially if they’re Russian, but not necessarily deliberately or with hostile intent. Knowing this, a decision has to be made as to just how rigidly RoE will be applied. Considering how long Russia has been operating in border provinces like Latakia and Idlib (another ISIS free zone), and knowing how Russian forces tend to operate, it is difficult to understand why it’s taken this long for an incident to occur. Until we consider the fact that the latest rebel group to come under Russian fire have been the Turkmen factions fighting for the FSA against Assad.

And then it all suddenly clicks into place. Russian forces have been bombing ethnic Turks and Turkey wants them to stop. Russian forces just being themselves, in combination with stringent RoE, has provided a pretext for Turkey to make a very emphatic point about this. Turkey is well aware that, by itself, not many countries have very compelling reasons to listen to them. Shoot down a Russian jet, however, and people stop talking about Turkey and start talking about NATO. And pretty much everyone listens to NATO, even if, like Russia, they pretend very loudly not to.

So who’s telling the truth about this situation? Neither of them, and it couldn’t matter less. This is just another facet of a confused, confusing and morally toxic conflict, where human lives are used as gaming tokens and atrocities as diplomatic currency. While it is not impossible that a major war could accidentally snowball out of this incident, there is no indication that either Russia or Turkey want a deeper conflict. This is apparent in the unusually measured rhetoric of Vladimir Putin and the immediate way in which Turkey has fled under NATO’s skirts. If we can all remain calm, we will all have forgotten about this in a fortnight.

Apart, that is, from the pilots, their families and the poor bastards who were and are being bombed.


*It is worth noting that for a good portion of the history that Erdogan is glorifying, the biggest single enemy of the Turks was the Russian empire. I’m not counting the Hittites because viewing them with reference to modern Turkey is just bizarre. 


The Paris Attacks, ISIS, And Its Al Qaeda Roots

Much hay has been made of the fact that the core leadership of what is now called ISIS, ISIL, IS or Daesh was once booted out of Al Qaeda. Various propagandists and even analysts have made the argument that if an organisation as evil as Al Qaeda was unable to tolerate ISIS, then the rest of the world certainly shouldn’t. I certainly don’t disagree with the conclusion, but the argument is false.

Yes, Al Qaeda’s leadership was largely made up of a kind of intellectual elite who thought of ISIS (then AQI) as a barbaric and ignorant embarrassment. Yes, Osama bin Laden was famously horrified by the methods and even the existence of the thuggish, practically apostate Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. But no, it is simply not true to say that the two organisations fell out due to delicacy of feeling on bin Laden’s part.

When Osama bin Laden was killed, a large document cache was recovered. Amongst these was a wealth of correspondence between bin Laden and other militants in which the 9/11 mastermind made pronouncements on a range of different issues. Mujahideen operating in the Levant needed to know if they could accept funds and logistical support from Shiite jihadists. Osama told them they could – the just could be sorted from the wicked at a later date. Various affiliates expressed discomfort at the use of infidel technology to spread their message. The Al Qaeda leader advised them to shut the hell up because wars cannot be won without propaganda. The Shabaab in Africa were told in no uncertain terms that they were too grubby, insecure and haphazard to be officially accepted under the AQ banner. But Allah bless them anyway, and if they should win a major victory, Al Qaeda would smile on their efforts and, presumably, share in the credit.

Most notable in the light of current events, however, was a collection of letters apparently begging the leaders of the Iraqi insurgency to stop killing fellow Muslims and to focus their attacks on Westerners. It is understandable that these have repeatedly been misinterpreted, especially by the media, as showing a merciful side to the world’s most notorious terrorist. The letters were written in the archaic, classical Arabic favoured by Al Qaeda and which formed such a significant part of their revanchist appeal. The translations tried to catch the sense of this language, leaving us with English that smacked vaguely of the King James bible. On a casual reading, language like this can make things sound quite a lot more reasonable than they really are.

The truth of the matter was that the use of mediaeval language is simply a part of their Salafist image. A closer reading of the letters between AQ and AQI reveals that the heart of their disagreement was not about mercy, it was about military doctrine. Osama bin Laden was pushing the core point of difference that AQ had over every other Islamist terror organisation, which was their strategy of focussing their attacks on foreign soil. This approach had been the key to their success and had the added advantage of leaving local Muslim populations unharmed, significantly improving propaganda and recruitment efforts.

What bin Laden was trying to persuade Baghdadi and his insurgents to do was to take a leaf out of his own book. He worried that the Iraqi insurgency was diluting the overall strategic thrust of groups under the Al Qaeda banner. AQI’s leadership basically told him to bugger off. They saw themselves as a grassroots insurgency, a breed that couldn’t be more different from elitist Al Qaeda. And with their numbers being swollen by disaffected, well trained Iraqi military and security personnel, and coalition forces harried and bleeding casualties daily, they didn’t need advice from some fancy-talking throwback who couldn’t even go outside, thank you very much. The Al Qaeda leadership responded by taking away the right to use their brand name.

Their disdain for bin Laden’s advice would seem to have been vindicated early on. The newly minted IS rushed into the gap created by the Syrian rebellion and the Iraqi failure like a biblical plague, helped along by Western lassitude and Assad’s frankly insane tactic of releasing known militants in order to fragment the secular rebellion against his regime. IS broke every rule in the insurgent handbook and ended up in control of two major cities. They were stepping high and wide all over the Middle East and nobody seemed able to stop them. Until they did.

History will possibly remember this, if it does at all, as a victory of democratic leaders over democratic process. Despite the immense unwillingness of practically everyone, Obama and Co. embarked on an incremental escalation of force, salted judiciously with atrocity propaganda (made easier by the fact of real atrocities), and helped to create a situation where the ISIS advance was halted by force, practically against the will of the people. A key victory was won just before the Paris attacks, when the supply line between Raqqa and Mosul was cut by Peshmerga forces with coalition air and SF support. ISIS, which had basically morphed into a kind of flying mechanised cavalry column, was ‘contained’. It was the beginning of the end.

It is at this stage, presumably, that those ISIS leaders who had their roots in Al Qaeda must have had a bit of a brainwave. As the major assault geared up and they saw that they simply would not be able to hold the line, it must have occurred to them that there might be something in what old bin Laden had to say after all. Faced with a situation where they were unable to win a victory on their own territory, they decided to activate multiple cells overseas. One of those cells, apparently reinforced and advised by jihadis blooded in Syria, was behind the attacks in Paris. And it worked. US backed forces had won one of the most significant victories of the campaign so far, but this news was simply swallowed up by events in Paris. If the goal of such attacks is to sow disruption and erode fighting will amongst the general populace, Paris was a near total success.

In a way, this would seem to be a posthumous validation of bin Laden’s military doctrine. Beleaguered at home? Then attack abroad. This is why, amongst the outpourings of grief and outrage, several quiet academic voices could be heard saying that we had no right, really, to be surprised. This kind of attack exists deep in the doctrinal DNA of ISIS and, even though they initially rejected it, ISIS reversals in the Middle East are likely to cause a return to this strategy. As coalition forces and their proxy militia consolidate their gains in Iraq and Syria, we in the West should brace ourselves for more attempts to attack us at home.

No, Hippie, We Can’t Beat ISIS With Hugs

There has been a lot of embarrassing commentary bandied about in the last few weeks. People who are otherwise perfectly sane have, for some reason, decided to channel the bronze age and declare that the conflict with ISIS is a competition between gods, requiring us to smite the unbelieving wherever and whomever they might be. This ignores, of course, the fact that there is only one god in question, and that the question isn’t really a very relevant one. And who could forget the hate-groups, leveraging the credulity of the public in general and Pauline Hanson in particular in order to pose as grassroots movements of ‘concerned citizens’, instead of revealing themselves to be the white supremacist filth that they really are.

While outpourings of hate and stupidity like these are deeply embarrassing to all paid-up members of humanity, by far the most embarrassing commentary, for me, has been from the hearts and flowers brigade. Now, don’t get me wrong: anyone who’s spreading a message of peace, tolerance and love is generally going to get two big thumbs up from me. And I should also point out that I understand what they’re saying – to wit, that one of the main aims of ISIS is to sow division, and that by coming together we can frustrate that aim. The problem for me is that this is a nuanced message and, as such, has been completely misunderstood by idiots on both sides of the political divide. And it was always going to be.

You see, the thing about a message that contains a complete idea, and is delivered in the form of a complete sentence, is that it’s always going to go straight over the heads of people who don’t understand the difference between words like ‘Muslim’, ‘Islamist’, ‘terrorist’, ‘immigrant’ and ‘refugee’. Beyond a vague idea that they might be spelt differently, that is. It’s also going to have limited success amongst people whose solution to everything is to buy a hobby farm somewhere and blog endlessly about falling in love with trees, fair trade cocoa beans, or their own goddess powers, or whatever it is small-earther hippies are into this week. The point is that when you know full well that the bulk of your likely audience is going to possess the political sophistication of a recently concussed duckling, there is really very little to be gained by talking to them like they’re grownups.

There is, however, a lot to be lost. Like clarity. Like sensible discussion. Like the ability to avoid the conflation of the related but very different problems that are terrorism and ISIS. Terrorism is a global phenomenon that’s been around for centuries and is probably a symptom of a broader systemic failure arising from the way in which world power is organised. There are people out there who realise this, and who are working on a solution. ISIS is a localised problem, stemming from a number of factors including our own actions in the Middle East, and there are only two possible solutions, neither of which have anything to do with hugs or flowers. We either need to arrange for the total military destruction of the ISIS regime, or prepare for a world which contains a new winner of this century’s ‘most evil state’ competition. Aggressively loving each other in public is going to achieve neither of these outcomes, and it is deeply unhelpful to suggest, even inadvertently, that it might.

So, to all those pointy heads on the right, please try to understand that no sane person is suggesting that universal love is going to result in the military defeat of ISIS. And to all the neo-hippies of the increasingly embarrassing left: There have only ever been a handful of major conflicts that have been won without casualties and using free love in favour of ordnance, and none of these have ever occurred outside of the Disney universe. If we can’t wrap our heads around the basic realities of the current situation, then I’m afraid that we will effectively forfeit any rights we might have in determining our future course. This would represent, to my mind, a disastrous failure of the principles of democracy. It is for this reason that I would urge all good citizens from both the left and the right to immediately book tickets for their return to planet Earth.

It’s Not A Defence Of Islam, It’s An Attack On Stupidity

In the wake of the Paris attacks, social media has once again come alive with people who see no problem with leveraging a global tragedy in order to promote an ideology of hatred. I’d like to say a majority of these people are in the Middle East and are called ISIS, but they’re not. They’re ‘ordinary decent citizens’ who are sick of what they see as government inaction and the ‘liberal left’ being ‘soft on Muslims’.

What I’d most like to say to these people is unprintable. What I’d say next would be, “Take a long look at yourselves.” But when I consider the incoherent and asinine results of their having taken a look at contemporary issues, I lack faith in their capacity for self examination. Or sequential thought. Or coherent speech. So, finding myself the only person in these conversations who is capable of conversation, I am forced to listen to what they have to say and respond to it.

Let’s leave, for the moment, the moronic and borderline insane tendency to speak of a population comprising one and a half billion people as if they were a single, uniform group. And perhaps we should pass lightly over the fact that if we were to convert far right ‘opinions’ into policy recommendations, we would end up with what basically amounts to ethnic cleansing. And let’s ignore, as well, the simple fact that anybody who thinks that our current terrorism problem stems primarily from the existence of Islam cannot possibly be said to understand the problem, Islam, history, or the process known as ‘thinking’. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that screaming blindingly obvious facts into the faces of bigots is neither an effective nor a productive use of time. Let us, instead, focus on the accusation that ‘lefties’ are uniformly in love with Islam and everything it stands for.

This accusation, like everything else that comes out of the mouths of reactionaries, is a distortion and over-simplification of a complex truth. Like many functional mental defectives in history, this interpretation smacks of the sort of mind that is capable of taking political rhetoric literally, and then believing it. And I use the word ‘mind’ loosely. The simple fact of the matter is that Islamist terrorism is obviously going to have elements of Islam in it. Islamist terrorist propaganda is going to use Islamic language and archaic Islamic ideas in order to get its message across. And there are going to be elements of fundamentalist Islam that are actually going to be quite conducive to the idea of blowing yourself up in a market square because you’re a bit miffed about America, or short skirts, or whatever loopy objection to the modern world happens to be uppermost in your diseased mind at the time.

The thing is, though, that this fact is part of a nuanced reality. There is not a single organised religion on the face of the planet that could not be turned to the justification of this kind of activity*. What actually tips the scales is not the nature of the religion, but the political and social realities experienced by its members, the function that determines the likelihood of radicalisation having far more to do with socio-economic status, national self-image, recent historical narrative (both contrived and actual) and degree and type of political oppression. This, however, is difficult to fit on a meme. Much more dangerous than the vague and contradictory tenets of any religion, is the bugbear of every progressive: the insidious human stain that is bigotry.

Progressive rhetoric will always push hard to sell the idea that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, not because it’s the absolute truth, but owing to an assessment of what ‘ordinary people’ will almost always do when given an opportunity to ostracise and vilify people who look a bit funny. Like all political rhetoric, it needs to be taken with about half a metric tonne of salt, because this kind of rhetoric isn’t about information – it’s about reaction. A belief that the left is constantly defending Islam is symptomatic of the inability to understand subtleties that is endemic amongst the ranks of the bigoted. The natural response to an invalid attack on Islam is to attack that attack. This does not in itself amount to a defence of Islam. It is an attack on bigotry.

The unspoken truth of the matter is that most intellectual progressives believe the ‘great unwashed’ to be incapable of separating extreme ideology from the mainstream, or either ideology from the very real men, women and children who are going to have to live with the attitudes formed by what the populist right laughably calls ‘thinking’. An historical understanding of how bigotry forms and takes root is the primary factor informing the liberal response. Progressives believe that the only responsible answer to the specious, absolutist arguments of bigotry is the adoption of a position just as absolute. The assumption is that people who are prone to using stupid arguments are unlikely to understand complex ones.

If you think this attitude is high-handed, smug or condescending, you will find me in complete agreement. Unfortunately, a quick look at the reaction of the right wing all over the world will reveal that, as well as being all these things, it is also accurate.


*Yes, including Buddhism. 

The Relative Irrelevance Of Ideology… Explained Through Tinder

When I first heard about Tinder, I was very excited. You see, I’ve never really been interested in having a long term relationship with anyone, and the whole notion of creating a home and filling it with prototype humans has about as much appeal for me as a bareback ride on a machete. Of course, so many people have exactly the opposite view that it’s almost impossible to convince anyone else that this is a sincere or enduring position. People just smile puffy, self-satisfied smiles and say things like: “Well, you might think that now…” implying that my considered choices about my mode of life are just a temporary aberration that will be fixed when I finally decide to be just like everyone else. Maybe they’re right, or maybe not. It couldn’t matter less. What does matter in the here and now, though, is the fact that practically everyone who is single and my age is completely sold on the picket fence and SUV model for happiness, which brings up the practical issue of how to acquire sex without love.

So, Tinder is announced and the concept is one that seems tailor-made for my situation. It’s apparently a community of people who are interested only in “hookups”. Gone is the tiresome business of trying to determine likes and dislikes, political affiliations, compatibility of both the mundane and spiritual variety – it’s just a matter of liking what you see and then arranging to meet. To a person in my position, Tinder seemed to be absolutely heaven sent. A purpose-built community of people who, like me, do not see their future solely in the context of who else will be in it and who are nevertheless saddled with a practical need for temporary companionship. Perfect, right?

Wrong. The problem with Tinder is that it became phenomenally popular. And the whole thing with popularity is that it enforces, with crushing inevitability, the Poisson curve of statistical normality. Completely disregarding the deliberately shallow, hardbitten engineering of the system and ideology behind Tinder, the hookup app became overwhelmingly a dating app. What started as a simple means of obtaining casual sex became, under the pressure of sheer single-minded human banality, yet another place where people emote at each other and look for love. Don’t get me wrong – there is still a minority core of sex addicts and other assorted extremists who wish to use the app in the spirit in which it was intended, but they are  drowned out by the sheer volume of people using Tinder as a low-budget form of eHarmony. Even when they say they’re not.

And this, really, is my point. Systems, ideologies, creeds, faiths – it doesn’t really matter what they are: people will just be people. And it is this fact, so obvious that it attains the status of a truism, that many of us seem to have difficulty understanding. Take the people who think Islam is the root cause of violence and extremism in the Middle East. They smugly quote passages of the Quran, share around images and video of extremist nutbags saying extremist things and then use these things as ‘evidence’ that Islam is somehow intrinsically evil and directly responsible for everything that’s wrong with the world today. The massive, ten million dollar problem with such a view is that it ignores the reality of human experience  – that depressing Poisson curve of normality.

It really doesn’t matter what your religion says – people are pretty much just going to go on being people. Christianity can be interpreted as a mystical creed of universal love, abnegation of the self before God and the embracing of poverty, which clearly explains why Christendom has become one of the most peace-loving and frugal regions of the globe today. No, wait… bad example. Buddhism is a creed of universal love, tolerance and the transcendence of base human impulses, which clearly explains why Buddhist nations like Sri Lanka and Thailand have embraced ethnic minorities and… no, hang on – another bad example.

It really doesn’t matter what any creed or code actually says – get enough people involved and they will basically screw it up by being themselves. There are constants in human behaviour that can be identified across more than ten thousand years of civilisation and, while the exciting backdrop of philosophies and systems flickers and changes over time, human behaviour does not. I could start a religion today that advocates the worship of Satan, whose primary virtues include rebellion against God and the state and promiscuity. I guarantee you that as soon as it has a large enough membership, it will be filled with people who pay their taxes and raise children in nuclear families. And it will probably contain a fringe element of weird beards who actually read the holy texts and call the rest of the congregation apostates. Sound familiar? That’s because it is – it’s the story of every established religion in the history of humanity. The reality is that people ignore or twist ideology and faith to provide sovereign justification for whatever it was that they were always going to do in the first place. Which is why Tinder is just another dating site, and Islam is just another religion.

On Remembrance Day…


Image sourced from the Australian War Memorial

Image sourced from the Australian War Memorial

Tomorrow marks the 97th anniversary of the end of one of the greatest catastrophes in modern history. Millions upon millions were killed, nations were swallowed up, overrun or erased and whole empires shattered. And then there was the meatgrinder of the Western Front, the shocking, mobile attrition of the battle at sea, the hellish nightmare of the sappers, the Eastern Front – I could go on, but I think we all know these things all too well. Remembrance Day, originally called Armistice Day, was instituted to remind us not so much of all these horrors, but as a memorial to those who fell. As time went on, and the hollowness of the epithet ‘war to end all wars’ became apparent, the day was expanded to include all of the fallen from all of our wars, and further invested with symbolism by the poignant burial ceremonies of Unknown Soldiers from various countries, including our own in 1993. This makes it a truly national and international day of reflection and one that should, by all the normal laws of decency and basic humanity, be free from politics, hatred or partisan or sectarian squabbling.

Would that it were so. With depressing regularity, pointy heads from both sides of the political spectrum choose this day to come out and push the more hateful parts of their ideologies. On the right, for reasons that beggar understanding, the world’s various fascists choose this day of all days to push the idea that white countries belong to white people, that exclusion is the key to national happiness and that everything is the fault of brown people. Which is ironic when you consider how many Nepali, Indian, Bangladeshi, African and Aboriginal troops were under arms for the British Empire. But, irony, logic and fact-proof as ever, the extreme right will share its poppy photos on social media and pretend to be decent citizens and human beings right along with the rest of us in the hope of gaining a new audience for the hate that they spew from their hatches.

And let’s not forget our friends on the extreme left, who are convinced that any kind of patriotism or commemoration of our war dead plays into the hands of the control of plutocrats, or capitalists, or alien lizards who have taken over the CIA, or whatever other garbage they’ve managed to convince themselves of this week. That’s right – these very same people who we applaud for throwing half-bricks at fascists have a horrifying tendency to paint the ANZACs as sex-offending, murderous war criminals. Which is to ignore the fact that such was the rate of volunteerism that pretty well all of our Imperial contingent was made up of perfectly ordinary, decent men and women. The very same ordinary people that these idiots purport to defend. And more to the point, many of them died in the belief that they were defending our future. So the hardline lefties can shut up too.

The point is that radical groups from both extremes come out of the woodwork on days like Remembrance Day, with the sole purpose of hijacking an anniversary that belongs to civilisation in order to push decidedly uncivilised ideas. The point is that we cannot and should not let them. I’m not suggesting that we attack, refute or argue with these people. That just wouldn’t be appropriate – not on a day as solemn as tomorrow. But we should definitely enforce the principle of silence. Let our moment’s silence spread so that it encompasses the silent rejection of all those who would outrage the memories of history with their hideous, politicised filth. When we see vile material from the likes of the UPF or Britain First, or any other extremist group, we should let them know by simply ignoring them that we are not disposed to discuss their lunacy on any given day, and especially not on a day that is dedicated to the heroes of generations past.

So You Want To Be A Starving Artist…


Last week, I met a good friend for a couple of beers. We talked, we laughed, we declared undying friendship to various groups of complete strangers and, all things considered, I think a good night was had by all. The following morning I did the usual two litres of water, three rashers of bacon and eighteen metric tonnes of remorse. I also did a check on my bank balance.

I discovered that the night had cost me a grand total of $58. At first glance, it would seem that I got off very lightly indeed. And I did, really, but there’s no changing the fact that this sum of money represents 89% of my fortnightly food budget. Couple this with the fact that my rent is roughly 75% of my income and that most of the rest of my cash goes to Sydney’s hideously expensive and frequently eccentric public transport network, and I think we might begin to appreciate the reality of being a starving artist in one of the most costly cities in the world.

You might ask how I can expect to earn a decent income when, as a novelist and hack reporter, I must spend most of my day either contemplating my navel or arguing about the impact of new formalism on post-modern thought in smoky bohemian cafes. My answer to this would begin with a long stream of profanity. I would then point out that I work an average of between 70 and 80 hours per week. My time is divided between pretending to be a journalist on a US news aggregation site, plugging away at the sisyphean task of writing a novel and working on various creative projects that have absolutely no chance of earning a single cent at any time within the next six months. In order to be able to eat and sleep in a location that has walls and a ceiling, I spend time on top of this workload tutoring HSC kids in English literature. I average four hours sleep a night, and generally not all in one go.

So kids, before you decide to really chase your dreams, you should be aware that this mainly involves constant labour, a Mee Goreng diet and turning down social invitations. And it’s not just the poverty. Creative work comes with many potential rewards, but the only guaranteed returns are criticism and abuse. In some industries, jobs which involve dealing with constant abuse are remunerated on an astronomical scale. In the creative field, you literally get your kicks for free. Sometimes it’s because people don’t understand your work. Other times it’s because you’re too far ahead of your time, or too highbrow, or too unconventional. But mostly (read ‘always’) it’s because creating on a full time basis means that a portion of your work is always going to be embarrassingly crap. And it’s those times that the criticism hurts the most.

Of course, having decided to do what I’m doing, I have absolutely no right to complain about it. One thing that I have over a lot of other people is near absolute job satisfaction. I will never again have to look in the mirror and see a person who has sold all the years of his adult life for a mortgage and the ability to eat overpriced brunches in streetside cafes. This provides a kind of smug satisfaction that cannot be bought.

Thing is, though – my poverty is a considered choice. I don’t really have to be poor – I could go and do something else, but I’ve met many people who can’t. People who are poor not because of their vocation, but in spite of their best efforts. Men and women who are stuck in labouring, service or process jobs that eat up all their time and pay only infinitesimally more than the dole. People who are attempting to raise children on incomes similar to my own. People who have to save up for four weeks in order to buy a ninety dollar pair of shoes and who are expected, by bootstrap trickle-down economists, to somehow improve their situations in life by working even harder than they already do.

It’s this more than anything that makes it worthwhile. A world in which the working poor exist is a world that needs changing. And I don’t care what they say in all those hippie internet memes: there’s really only a few ways to change the world, and one of them is through the creative arts. As long as there are people out there who are as poor as me, and don’t want to be, I have absolutely no problem with living on plain flour and promises. I’ll take a pure mission in life over a salary package any day of the week and twice on Sundays. In fact, I already have.

Sticks and Stones: The Language of Racism and Section 18(c)

When I first came to this country, it was still considered the height of comedy to pull at the corners of one’s eyes and yell, “Ching ching chong!” at Asian looking people in the street. In my early primary school years I remember having one single, solitary friend. I think his name was Paul, and it was his habit of unscheduled, location-independent defecation that placed him on the same social footing as myself. For the rest, I remember those years as one long, unhappy, hate-filled series of fist fights. It was here that I was first taught that stand-by of the persecuted, the aphorism: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” which was presumably meant to make everything better. It didn’t. Fights and screaming matches over my race coloured my life well into adulthood.

Now, I don’t want you to run away with the idea that I’m playing some kind of tiny violin for myself. My experience of Australia has been overwhelmingly positive and, when all is said and done, it’s my country and I’m proud and happy to be a part of it. No, the reason I mention these things is to establish my authority as someone who understands, first hand, what the language of bigotry does to people, and how much better it is to live without it. Experiences like this twist a person. I now, for example, cannot enjoy the rich vein of comedy that is afforded by the existence of Chinese people. The front of my brain knows that when Alan Davies does his Charlie Chan accent, or when somebody makes a joke about Chinese philosophers and egg foo-yung, that there really is no malicious intention. But my hindbrain doesn’t. Years of mockery and abuse have created a sort of Pavlovian reflex of hatred. I understand full well that this is my problem and nobody else’s, but I think various random people along the way have helped me to develop it.

We also shouldn’t run away with the idea that I’m one of these racialist activists who think that we should edit English language and thought in order to render it impossible for any minority group of any kind to ever be offended in any way whatsoever. I see these efforts for the steaming piles of faeces that they actually are. No normal person should give a flying toss about the number of times the dreaded ‘n’ word appears in Huckleberry Finn, or take personally anything Rudyard Kipling has to say about any race whatsoever (especially white people) – it’s just important that people are not subject to abuse.

Which leads me to the time when all this nonsense suddenly ceased, as if somebody had found the racism tap and decided to turn it off. I wasn’t to know then, but this sudden and dramatic improvement in my circumstances roughly coincided with the introduction of section 18(c) of the Racial Discrimination Act, which made it illegal to “…offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; …[when]… the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.” Political correctness gone mad, if you like, or possibly a dangerous attack on free speech. Sure, why not. But the net result of this legislation, from my ant’s eye view, is that the children of my generation of immigrants are perceptibly lacking in the kind of hate that lives deep down inside me. Asian immigrants, that is. The Muslim newcomers, unfortunately, are all over it.

I think the drafters of this little bit of legislation understood what the language of racism actually does to people. They understood that it’s not about the intent of the speaker, and that it’s not just a question of simply growing a thicker skin and shaking it off. Allowing this kind of bigotry creates a regenerative cycle of hatred and exclusion, one that is ultimately toxic to society and to individuals, and that can legally be defined as actual harm. Sure, when we look at it objectively, and without reference to the tiny minority of Australians who don’t happen to be white, 18(c) can appear to be an unwarrantable attack on our right to be obnoxious and offensive to anybody we choose, but I don’t really believe it is. As George Brandis says, everybody has the right to be a bigot, but do we or should we have the right to inflict that bigotry on others? I don’t know. But what I do know is that subjecting people to bigotry has a deep and lasting impact – one that often leads to violence.

So really, that old aphorism needs to be edited. I propose: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names are where it starts.”

A Three Point Plan For Dealing With Muslims In Australia

A deeply worrying number of otherwise rational people seem to be calling, with ever-increasing fervour, for the removal of all Muslims from this country and the utter obliteration of the religion of Islam. They believe that Islam is a cult of death and violence whose continued existence can only mean the eventual destruction of the West. We hear a constant stream of assertions regarding Islamic intolerance, terrorism, misogyny and absolutism, amidst calls to ban the migration or residence of Muslim people anywhere in the world at any time.

I’m not going to repeat here the simple, plain facts of the matter. I’m not going to point out that the fundamentalist proportion of not only Islam, but of every other religion, is miniscule. I’m tired of re-iterating the easily provable fact that terror organisations of every stamp are primarily political and not religious, and that this becomes confusing when we are talking about a part of the world that has not fully embraced the separation of church and state. I’ve become completely nauseated at the prospect of once again highlighting the logical contradiction inherent in believing that all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are nihilistic terrorists and simultaneously being alive and well and unconquered by Muslim extremists. And I am absolutely sick to death of pointing out that cherry-picking violent verses from the Quran doesn’t prove a single, solitary thing, especially in light of the fact that the same thing can be done with the Torah and the Bible, and that drawing conclusions about Islam on such a basis rests on the (false) assumption that all Muslims are fundamentalists.

So I’m not going to bother.

Instead, what I am going to do is a thought experiment, which, as it involves thinking, will probably seem to pointy-headed fascists like some form of sorcery. Let’s have a look, shall we, at how we would actually enact the wishes of those who wish to see Islam eradicated from Australian culture.

Firstly, the banning of Sharia law. This is pretty easily done – Sharia law isn’t formal law in any Western country, and no Western judiciary is ever going allow it to be written into common law. Any ban would therefore be wildly successful, and an utter waste of millions of dollars in order to outlaw something that is not actually in any danger of being instituted.

Now, the idea of ‘getting rid’ of the Muslims. This could also be done quite easily. All we’d have to do is find the roughly 2 percent of Australians who identified on the last census as Muslims and deport them. Of course, a significant portion of these people were born in Australia and only have single nationality, so we’d be technically making them stateless. As such, removing them from our soil would be illegal, but that’s not a problem. We could just put them in detention centres, or camps somewhere, until we can come up with a final solution.

Then there’s the far more insidious problem of Muslim ideology. Obviously it’s virulent, because radicalisation is so contagious that it’s effected a staggering 300 odd people out of 22 million. Clearly a five alarm, brown trouser time crisis. But how do we fight it? How, indeed, does one kill an idea? We have a few models from history for this. There’s the Maoist method, where we simply round up everyone we suspect of ever having had an idea, as well as all their families, and starve them to death somewhere or, if they can afford the bullet, shoot them in the head. Or there’s the Stalinist method which involves rounding people up into labour camps and starving them to death or shooting them. Or the Pol Pot method… actually, scratch all that. There’s actually only the one method, and it’s about camps and mass executions. Which integrates nicely with the ‘putting stateless Muslim deportees in detention centres’ policy.

And then, finally, we’d have to make sure that Islam could never raise its ugly head again, which would mean banning its practice by law. This would of course necessitate re-writing or amending part of the constitution and destroying the provisions for freedom of religion which exist in law, but we’ve demonstrated again and again that we don’t give a tinker’s cuss about our civil liberties anyway. Of course, having laws about one religion would mean that we would have to institute a kind of religious law to protect the faiths that we do like, but needs must and so on.

So, to sum up – in order to effect the policies of people who think Islam is dangerous and should be banned, we need to enact the following provisions.

  1. A program of non-judicial detention and deportation against people on the basis of their faith
  2. The attempted genocide of a group of people who we have decided are ideologically unacceptable
  3. The institution of religious law

None of which should be very difficult as we currently have a live, working model of such policies from which we can observe and learn. It’s called ISIS, and it operates in Northern Iraq and Syria. I suggest that those who wish to see these kinds of policies enacted should fly immediately to Raqqa or Erbil so that they can learn exactly what it is that they are asking for.

GBAV – Genesis 9

In which we learn that it’s apparently OK to have sex with your family, but don’t ever, ever accidentally see your dad naked.

Gn 9:1-3And God blessed Noah and his sons, and he said to them “Go and re-populate the earth. And because I killed everyone, that means you have to have sex with your family. Sorry about that. But on the plus side, all the animals will now be terrified of you, probably because you just killed a lot of them in that tasty, tasty BBQ from Chapter 8. So you can kill and eat anything that lives and moves about, except your family of course, because you have to have sex with them. Sorry about that.

Gn 9:4-5“Actually, now that I’m thinking about this a bit more, best not to eat anything that still has blood in it.

Gn 9:6-7“Also, whoever sheds human blood, then by humans shall their blood be shed. I think this is a good, unambiguous rule, and I can’t see any loopholes – periods. But anyway, go and have sex with your family. Sorry about that.

Gn 9:8-11“And I will make you a deal. Never again will I kill everyone in a worldwide flood. But I reserve the right to kill most of you with a flood, or kill all of you by some other means, like making Donald Trump president.

Gn 9:12-17And lo, I will use rainbows as a symbol of my promise. Every time I see a rainbow, I will remember not to kill you all with a worldwide flood, because I will probably forget otherwise. And every time you see a rainbow, you will remember that I love you so much that I won’t kill you all with a worldwide flood. Again.”

Gn 9:18-19The sons of Noah were Shem, Ham and Japheth (Ham was a shifty bugger). And after a bit of adultery and incest, they populated the whole earth.

Gn 9:20-22Noah needed some beer goggles for incest, however, so as soon as he got off the ark he went and planted some pinot noir. And then he got blind drunk, and passed out naked in his tent, which makes Noah the most awesome 600-year-old in history. And then Ham the shifty bugger walked in to Noah’s tent, and saw his father naked, which can’t be a good experience for anyone (no offence, Dad). So he did what most of us would have done, and ran outside to tell everyone.

Gn 9:23-24But Shem and Ham weren’t really interested in seeing their father naked, so they walked into his tent backwards and covered his naughty bits. And then Noah woke up in a really bad mood, probably because he had a raging hangover, and he realised he had to have sex with his family, but mostly because Ham had seen his naughty bits.

Gn 9:25-27“Screw you, Ham!” he said “You will be a slave to your brothers! And I will make Japheth fat, and he can live in Shem’s tent!”. And Shem said “But Japheth has his own tent”. And Noah told him to be quiet.

Gn 9:28And Noah spent the next 350 years getting drunk and passing out naked and cursing anyone who accidentally saw his naughty bits. And then he died. Probably because he had liver failure, and skin cancer on his naughty bits.


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