Banning the Burqa? Probably not a good time

It’s been a bad couple of weeks in the news for Australian Muslims, with a long stream of reporting on the terrors of home grown extremism. We had Prime Minister Tony Abbot announcing to the public that the terror alert was being raised from medium to high (meaning attack was “likely” but “not imminent”). Then there were the massive counter-terrorist raids in Sydney and Brisbane, preventing a plan which (according to the police) would have involved kidnapping a random member of the public and broadcasting their beheading. Just a few days ago an 18 year old “person of interest” who’d recently had his passport cancelled was shot and killed after he stabbed two police officers in Melbourne. This comes on top of the occasional reminder that there are 60-odd Australians (or 120-150 depending on who’s doing the counting) fighting with Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, as well as the government’s attempts to sell and push through a raft of new anti-terror legislation and amendments that have varied from adorably bumbling (y’aaaaw, he doesn’t know how the internet works) to genuinely concerning for a lot of people (like how the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – ASIO – would be liable if they kill or cripple someone, but hadn’t specifically been told they couldn’t torture people until recently) with the Islamic community feeling noticeably targeted.

Here in the capital of NSW (with a around half of Australia’s Muslim population) it’s been enough to get poor innocent white folk – the kind with only vague notions of a distant, mysterious and dangerous land known as ‘South Western Sydney,’ filled with mosques and kebab shops – quaking in their thongs (flip flops).

And then you had SA Senator Cory ‘If-you-think-I-sound-ignorant-now-just-ask-me-about-gays-and-climate-change’ Bernardi from the Coalition again calling for banning the Burqa, and Tas Senator Jacqui ‘Even-my-own-party-thinks-I’m-dumb’ Lambie both supporting him and possibly setting herself up as the heir-apparent of Pauline Hanson and One Nation‘s dubious crown. She certainly didn’t hurt her growing image as the new face of bigoted Australian politics when she struggled her way through an explanation of what she knew about Sharia Law and when she posted an anti-burqa meme (used first by far right group Britain First) to her Facebook page, which co-opts a photo of one of Afghanistan’s first female police officers, Malalai Kakar, who was murdered by the Taliban in 2008, in a way meant to look aggressive and threatening. The photographer calls it a desecration, though apparently Lambie reckons she’s honouring the fallen policewoman by using her image to try and scare people and dehumanise those who wear it (I don’t see the logic, and I don’t think anybody who thinks about it for more than five seconds does either).

In all honesty I hate the Burqa and the Niqab. They’re oppressive garments that rob the wearer of their face, their identity and their individuality, and that is wrong by my standards. But if they’re going to disappear from Australia it needs to be because the Islamic community agrees (which many of them do) and makes a determined effort to excise it from their faith and community (which many of them are), not because some dumbarse senator is worried that a Burqa-clad assassin is going to try and shoot up her office or some such shit. Certainly not because it conflicts with the western morals of a self-righteous inner-city white male like myself.

The rhetoric being flung at the Muslim community is not good. It doesn’t seem as bad as what was being thrown around right before (and after) the Cronulla Riots in 2005 but I think those very unpleasant days are what a lot of us in Sydney at least are remembering right now, and bizarre claims about the security risks created by a handful (relatively speaking) of Burqa wearers does not help matters. All it does is leave one side feeling even more targeted, victimised and isolated from the rest of the nation and gives the other side another caricature with which to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’.

I’m not saying these are discussions we shouldn’t be having at all. Far from it. I think inclusive debate allows us to hammer out social problems, reaffirms shared values and makes our communities stronger. But we need to pick times and contexts where one sides not pouring gasoline over the issue and daring the other side to strike a match, and ignorant fearmongering should never be used.

Besides it’s distracting us from our true enemies, those bastards in the English cricket and New Zealand rugby teams.

Can I still listen to their music?

I hate it when an artist I like does something I don’t.

Last week Max MacKinnon, also known as MC Eso of Australian hip hop act Bliss n Eso, came under fire after posting three misogynistic photos to Instagram with equally misogynistic tags taken during his visit to Madame Tussauds (a wax museum) in Beverley Hills, L.A. The worst was arguably a picture of him posting with an ‘angry’ expression and raised fist towards a wax statue of Rihanna with the caption “Where did ya throw those fucking car keys woman!?! #smackmybitch #shelovesthewayithurts.” (Haha, it’s funny because Chris Brown beat the crap out of her. Wait, no it fucking isn’t, and never will be). The other pictures were of him with his hand by the wax Lady Gaga’s crotch and crawling beneath Raquel Welch with a club, both with pretty bad captions. Outrage was inevitable, an apology was given, then another one on their Youtube channel (what I found most notable was that it condemned the threats and abuse that fans began throwing against the people upset by the pictures). Their management said it was a stupid lapse of judgement.

As far as this kind of scandal goes, it’s pretty small-time. Bliss n Eso have managed some international success but this is really only news-worthy down here in Oz, and even then hasn’t exactly been filling the front pages. Then of course by most standards Eso’s actions (to be clear, not defending him here) aren’t even close to as bad as what some celebrities have gotten away with, or things that have been said and done that are ignored and forgotten. Repeatedly.

For the vast majority of people I expect it’s a bit of a “who cares?” moment. Well, I care, because Bliss n Eso’s particular message of peace and love (delivered with enough aggression and profanity to strongly imply an “or else we’ll break your face”) has had a spot on my playlists since high school. And as I read some of the better articles commenting on the inherent issues raised by Eso’s pictures (those issues being the fact that people find it socially acceptable to joke about domestic abuse and that others dismissed the outrage as simply “not having a sense of humour”) I began asking myself the question: at what point do you stop listening (watching/reading/paying-attention-to) an artist that has done something wrong?

It’s a subjective question with a lot of answers, but I think it roughly comes down to whether you can separate artist, art and action. Or, ’cause I’m starting to feel pretentious, can you separate the crap they do from the crap they make?

This is more difficult when the art in question is part of the problem. Take the music of everyone’s favourite chauvinistic punching bag, at least for a while, Robin Thicke (I’m using the word ‘art’ very loosely and Thicke because he’s a recent mainstream example). Blurred Lines, his hit song (for some god-forsaken reason I cannot fathom, since it’s a crap song even if you ignore the lyrics) garnered a whole lot of controversy, rightly or wrongly depending on who you listen to (as long as you don’t listen to Thicke himself). His following album Paula, an attempt to woo back his now ex-wife Paula Patton, didn’t fare particularly well either.

But where Eso and so many other artists are different is that it is not their creations that are problematic but their lives outside of it. Take for example Orson Scott Card, a man who’s Ender Saga books (the first of which, Ender’s Game, recently became a movie) is an incredibly well-regarded and influential piece of modern science fiction, but who is also a (now at least) very loud bigot. A lot of people I’ve known and a lot more people I’ve read who have loved Ender’s Game now refuse to buy his books any more (and warned me off buying them), with one of the key reasons being that they don’t want to give him any more money to spend on anti-gay campaigns. An alternate example is Roman Polanski, who fled to France rather than face sentencing for sexually assaulting a 13 year old girl, though that doesn’t seem to have hurt his career beyond needing to avoid countries with US extradition deals (for instance there’s cinematic classic the Pianist, which won 3 out of 7 Oscars it was nominated for including a Best Director for Polanski). Similar statements can be made about Woody Allen, without the conviction.

I suppose a key point here is that there aren’t any new albums due any time soon, nor are there any concerts that I know about or that I’m likely to buy a ticket for. I already own all of their music I’m going to listen to and I don’t expect I’ll be playing it where other people are going to hear it (I often seem to be one of those very rare people who actually admits to enjoying Aussie rap… probably for good reason), and none of that music to my knowledge condones violence against women (as above, peace and love or else). So surely it’s alright if I keep listening to the music I enjoy?

But.

There had been calls last week for Triple J, the big public youth station in Oz, to ban Bliss n Eso from their playlists similar to how commercial rock station Triple M (we love our triplets) removed KISS from their playlists after Gene Simmons told depression sufferers “Fuck you, then kill yourself.” Some news articles actually claimed the station has already done so, prompting the trio to denounce those articles on Twitter and Facebook, in a move that I expect was to prevent or limit some likely attacks by supporters against the station that has in the past ten years given them a great deal of airtime. I supported the Triple M KISS ban (’cause that kind of attitude towards mental illness is wrong), and if Triple J decided to ban Bliss n Eso I’d support that too (so is that kind of attitude towards domestic abuse). I don’t expect them to do it officially, just quietly keep them off the airwaves until the people that care don’t anymore. But I’d support a ban if it did happen.

I still wanna listen to them though.

Bugger it, I’ll just listen to some Seth Sentry instead.

Kitty not a cat, Aldi and Dahl, turning the Valve

Couple things caught my eye this past week.

Weird stuff first, turns out Hello Kitty isn’t a cat. Seriously, not a cat. Because that would be ridiculous. It certainly makes the fact that she owns an actual cat herself a little less creepy. Adding to that, according to the complex mythology of the Hello Kitty world, turns out she’s a pom. Lives in the suburbs of London eating apple pie. I’m gonna call bullshit till we see the quality of her dental work, but that’s just me.

The folks running the Aldi Supermarket chain pulled copies of Roald Dahl’s classic kid’s book Revolting Rhymes from the shelf, because in the story of Cinderella the supposedly charming prince calls the poor girl a ‘slut’. Y’know, cause kids are fine with images of handsome princes chopping off the heads of people he doesn’t like, but say a naughty word and they’re guaranteed to end up delinquents and drug addicts and something else unpleasant that begins with D (for alliteration purposes). A lot of people seem to be having a go at Aldi for bowing to the pressure of a few wowsers, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Because it’s god-damned Roald Dahl. I pity the child that doesn’t get to enjoy his wonderful prose (revolting or otherwise) because mum freaked out over a word that rhymes with nut.

Third, the Australian Competition and Consumer (ACCC, the national consumer watchdog) is taking everybody’s favourite game publisher, Valve, to court over the returns policy of its popular digital distribution platform, Steam. More appropriately, they’re suing over its lack of a returns policy since Steam has long maintained a stance of not offering refunds or exchanges for games under any circumstances unless specifically required to by law.

Valve are saying that they’re cooperating with the Australian government, but I expect that a lot of people, and not just Aussies, are hoping for an ACCC win in this matter in the hopes that it might force the folks running Steam to change some pretty lousy terms and conditions. Australia is a multi-billion dollar market for games, and Steam has a market-share worth hundreds of millions. It might be bugger all when compared to the US, Japanese, Chinese and some European markets but it’s large enough to effect some change if the courts side against them. There’s been a lot of damn near unplayable and falsely advertised ‘games’ (notice the use of quotation marks) released under Steam’s Early Access and Greenlight programs, and I’ve heard a few people say that the possibility of returns might be the thing that finally forces some much needed quality control. Probably not, but one can dream.

The News Last Week (18/8/14)

It’s that time of the week again, when I look at the things that caught my eye in the seven days past. Where shall we begin?

Pleasantly, I think. Microsoft has sealed a deal with Square Enix in which upcoming game Rise of the Tomb Raider (the sequel to last years fantastic Tomb Raider reboot) will be a limited exclusive for the Xbox One (also popularly known as the Xbone). The game will eventually be released on Sony’s Playstation 4, but Microsoft is not unreasonably hoping that this will boost sales of the Xbone which have been trailing the PS4 at a rate of 3 or 4 to 1 (depending on who you listen to) since it adds another proven franchise to their stable of exclusives. As an Xbone owner and someone who loved Tomb Raider, I can’t say I mind the news.

It took two days and a public rebuke from PM Tony Abbot, but Joe Hockey finally got around to actually apologising for his ‘poor people don’t own cars’ remark. I don’t know about you, but the apology still came off as a bit of an attention-seeking woe-is-me whinge. No Joe we don’t think you’re evil or have evil intent towards disadvantaged folks, and you’re honestly just making yourself seem more out of touch with the concerns of average Australians. But I’ve already talked enough about this.

A medical clinic in West Point, Liberia, was attack yesterday by an apparent armed mob. The clinic was home to 29 people (9 of whom died some days ago), who were being given preliminary treatment for Ebola before they were due to be sent to a hospital. 17 of the patients mingled with the crowds and left while the remaining 3 were forcibly removed by relatives. There are also reports of bloody mattresses being taken- wait, seriously? I know they think their President’s full of shit and this whole ‘epidemic’ is made up but you’d think someone would go “Y’know what? Let’s not touch the things covered in body fluids that might be infected with an incurable disease that spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Just in case…” It really shows how serious an absence of trust in your government can be in times of legitimate crisis, and this isn’t even the only case of patients being busted out by their relatives, or the only country where such distrust is posing a significant health risk.

Then there’s Ferguson, USA. What a nightmare. The shooting of an unarmed black male named Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer when he had his hands up and was surrendering, triggered protests (and riots) that were responded to by officers in armoured vehicles, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Things look like they’re getting a bit better since the Missouri state governor Jay Nixon put Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson in charge of the situation, an African American officer who marched with the protesters when he arrived in a well-meant and well-received symbolic gesture. Tensions are still high, something that all involved seem to understand, at least from the perspective of a white bloke on the other end of the world.
Edit: I’m not even gonna pretend I’ve got any perspective on this issue, just hope that it gets sorted more peacefully than it’s been so far.

ISIS (ISIL? The Islamic State?) has finally gone and convinced US President Barack Obama that they need to be broken, and American air power has begun supporting Kurdish soldiers and militia (why haven’t we given these guys a country yet? They’re tough as Israelis) as they push towards the stronghold of Mosul. In other good news (extremely relatively speaking), US personnel found fewer refugee Yazidi on Mount Sinjar, which was being besieged by Jihadist forces. While the situation is still atrocious, a great deal of aid had managed to get through and air strikes had successfully allowed many of the refugees to escape, so it wasn’t the humanitarian nightmare some were expecting.

PM Tony Abbot got in a bit of hot water over remarks about Scotland’s independence that did not go down well, saying “I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and that the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.” I understand why the Scots aren’t overjoyed, and it seems a lot of Australian opponents breathed a sigh of relief that he could stuff up internationally after his recent run of serious foreign policy success (*cough* MH17 *cough*). Personally, I don’t think it’s too bad. He’s not the only leader to tell Scotland to stay in the Union, he’s just the bluntest (and using language I’d normally associate with the Super Friends). And I mean, it’s Tony Abbot, a man about as subtle as a kick in the budgie smugglers. Should we have expected him to wink at Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and make a crack about not contributing to the rising divorce rate? I don’t think he should have weighed in at all, but since he’s an outspoken monarchist I’m not surprised that he did.

In an interview with SongFacts.com KISS bassist and frontman Gene Simmons told people suffering from depression “Fuck you, then kill yourself.” As you can imagine, and especially with the news soon after of Robin Williams suicide, this did not go over well. A number of people have responded with variations of the theme ‘Gene Simmons is a douchebag who needs to pull his head out his arse’ (Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx probably said it best with “I don’t like Gene’s words. There’s a 20-year-old kid out there who is a kiss fan and reads this and goes, ‘He’s right. I should just kill myself.'”) and Australian Radio station Triple M took the step of removing all KISS songs from their playlists. Simmons has since apologised on twitter for his remarks, but a lot of people are still unhappy.

And with that, let’s leave it and see what happens this week.

The news last week (4/8/14)

And so the world has spun right round (right round) another seven and a bit times. What’s been happening?

A tentative ceasefire between Israel and Hamas broke after it was believed a young Israeli soldier was kidnapped/captured (tomato/tomato), who has since been killed in action (though whether by Palestinian suicide bomber or in the assault meant to rescue him is unclear). Despite hopes that Israel might be planning on withdrawing ground troops now that it’s objectives are supposedly close to completion, and despite heavy international pressure (on both sides) for a diplomatic solution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to talk tough, saying troops were being redeployed not withdrawn. Meanwhile confusing statements by the IDF and the collapse of a humanitarian ceasefire have left many Palestinian civilians stranded in live fire zones.

The bloodshed in Ukraine looks like it might finally be coming to a conclusion, with rebel strongholds Donetsk and Luhansk being brought under siege by government troops. They have a long way to go, since the rebels are still apparently receiving support from Russia (who just don’t know when to quit, do they?) but Kiev is confident of victory, or at least looks confident. Colonel General Valeriy Heletey, the Ukrainian Defence Minister has said that while they are close to the rebel controlled crash site they will not fight over the area until international forces have completed their search for remains and evidence. Dutch and Australian police have spent the last week combing the area for the remaining (up-to) 80 missing bodies.

In lighter news, the Aussie PM has apparently shelved his ridiculously unpopular Paid Parental Leave scheme until next year, rather than go through the embarrassment of having it voted down by members of his own party. It was unpopular with voters, unpopular with business (who were the ones who were going to pay for it) and it was unpopular with Coalition MPs and Senators, many of whom seem to be indicating it’s less breaking an election promise and more finally bloody pulling his fingers out of his ears and opening his bloody eyes.

In less lighter news Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is disputing claims by psychiatrist Dr Peter Young that the department specifically told International Health and Medical Services to not publish a report about the rates of mental illness amongst children in detention. True or not, a growing number of Christian leaders are calling upon Abbot and Morrison (who claim to men of faith, though I’m unconvinced it’s the Christian kind) to get these kids out of prison camps. What was that Jesus said about “As you do unto the least of these”?

God this is depressing.

Argentina has defaulted for the eighth time on July 30. There’s still a chance they can salvage the situation quickly enough to avoid serious damage to their economy (S&P reversing their downgrading of Argentine debt, for instance) if they can find a solution that both satisfies the so-called ‘vulture’ funds and doesn’t make the President and her government look stupid after all the time they’ve attacking said funds (and the New York judge, court appointed mediator and banks). I’ll admit I’m not feeling a lot of sympathy for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her economic ministers (not quite a SCHADENFREUDE! moment, but not far off). Could be I find it hard to feel sympathy for a government that believes populist name calling and political melodrama are viable alternatives for, ya know, a negotiated solution that minimises or negates economic impact. Or it could be I don’t like her hair and taste in clothing. Who knows?

The Commonwealth Games have come to a conclusion and Australia’s made it through with a solid medal tally. Massive props to all of those who wore the green and gold. I’m gonna miss all the ‘I shoulda won! The ref was corrupt!’ rants from the losing boxers.

And that was a bit of what happened last week.

The news last week… that I cared about (6/7/14)

So, let’s talk about the news this past week. This is something I’m thinking about doing weekly, a sort of quick run down of the goings on in news and politics that caught my attention. Not a summary of everything, just a bit of commentary.

In Iraq and Syria, ISIL (the terrorist organisation formerly known as ISIS) has declared an Islamic Caliphate and demanded that Sunni groups including Al-Qaeda submit to their authority. The Iraqi army is claiming that they’ve started to push ISIL back (or is it now called ISIS, formerly ISIL? Or something else completely? I’m honestly not sure), something which the newly-minted Caliph and his followers are firmly denying. The rest of the world seems to be wondering when these morons will realise that simply declaring yourself an independent nation does not cause the bureaucracies, institutions, laws, tax-codes and fiscal mechanisms required to govern and maintain a country to spontaneously spring from the earth or fall from the heavens. It’d be funny if not for all the people they’ve killed, are likely to kill, and are currently having to live within the Caliphate’s unrecognised borders.

Moving to lighter news in Australia. Prime Minister Tony Abbot put his foot squarely in his mouth (again) while talking about the value of foreign investment when he described pre-British-colonised-Australia as “unsettled, or, um, scarcely settled.” This was followed immediately by the collective groans of people like me asking “Did he really just say that?”, by the hordes of left-wing stereotypes who seem to take great glee in pointing at the PM and Coalition and yelling “RACIST!” (SCHADENFREUDE!), followed by a whole lot of groans from Mr Abbot’s people also asking “Did he really just say that?” It was a stupid thing to say, one that he’ll cop some flak for until the next time Scott Morrison strings together a sentence longer than “I don’t comment on operational matters.” What really disappoints me though is that you can use Australia as an example of positive foreign investment in nation-building, British Imperial investment, without essentially declaring that the pre-European Aboriginal population doesn’t count. Mind you a big part of that argument involves casually shrugging your shoulders and saying “at least it wasn’t Spain.” I think I might go into more detail later this week.

In video games this week the conversation over whether developers, publishers and PR teams understand that women play games, and maybe would like to sometimes play as a woman too. First upcoming game Far Cry 4‘s creative director Alex Hutchinson making a point that half the game’s main antagonists and one of the main allies (as well as a good chunk of the nameless NPCs) are female. Hell, the game’s “packed to the gills with women.” For now, we’ll just call this lame as hell. Second was a Finnish Hearthstone e-sports tournament that only allowed male players, because the International e-Sports Federation has been segregating men and women in their competitions. The Finns (God bless’em) petitioned for this to be changed, and the IeSF (who did actually have their hearts in the right place, believe it or not) have changed it. And there was much rejoicing. Yay.

 

Anyway, I quite like this. It’s giving me a few ideas about what to write about and how to start organising the blog. Let’s do this again next week.