So about a month back I wrote an article and submitted it to the Grapeshot magazine for publication, the monthly theme of the magazine was pop culture and it was immediately following the newly proposed terror laws. The article got rejected. Right now I am convincing myself that it is because the content was too provocative and they didn’t have the literary kahunas to publish it. This is the version with a couple of the more enjoyable filler elements chopped out in order to fit the word count. As I don’t have a professional editor checking my blog posts before I publish them I should probably revise and edit any errors that I may have glossed in the wee hours that I wrote the article up, however I am way too lazy right now and will instead delegate that role to any readers.
There is a lot of useful stuff that we as individuals within a society learn from movies and film. I’m not just talking about documentaries and those gaudy films substitute teachers used to show you in Year 8, I mean the ones with soppy romances, heads being chopped off and superheroes clad in lycra so tight that even you’re mum would be embarrassed to wear it. These films shape our culture, values and allow us to orient ourselves within a complex society. They tell us what to hold dear and what to fear what to love and even sometimes what to hate.
I, however, got a somewhat different cinematic education because I grew up in an Ultraorthodox Jewish household where TV and movies were banned. I still watched movies, just maybe different ones to the rest of the world and they have given me a particular perspective on the politics of Australian counterterrorism and security today. You may say that it’s a little bleak, exaggerated and dark, but when I hear some of the things said on the news or by our leaders, these ideas pop up in the back of my head.
Growing up in my family, we got our dose of explosions and witty dialogue on film from two sources. First there was my dad, he would trawl through the newspapers and TV guides and record any program that covered the Holocaust. He amassed cabinets of VHS tapes with their titles written and rewritten in permanent marker occasionally being crossed out to be replaced with programs covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though my brother and I were never allowed to watch them we would often sneak into his office and relish in the explosions and violence with complete detachment from the human suffering that was implied. What I got from these holocaust movies was not just a desensitisation to violence but also a careful ear for the policies and politics of racism, subjugation and demonising the human ‘other’.
The second cinematic influence on my childhood was Star Wars. I saw Return of the Jedi at a friend’s house and was obsessed. There was just no way to keep that out of the house and so we nagged my mum till she had migraines. Star Wars IV, VI and V (that was the order we watched them in) were never really digested with any great understanding of the plot, but when The Phantom Menace came out we watched with trepidation as Obi Wan and Anakin grew and developed, while Palpatine slowly sowed the seeds of their future. His masterful manipulation of the Intergalactic Senate allowed him to declare the end of the republic and the rise of the empire “for a safe and secure society”. The response, of course, is an overwhelming applause.
OK, snap back to reality. We have recently been experiencing a series of threats to Australian society, terrorists or would be terrorists appear to be making headlines every day. Without dancing around the issue, the blame is being increasingly placed upon Muslim communities rather than individuals. The Daily Telegraph ran a headline telling us that Man Haron Monis, the Martin Place terrorist, was not even on the top 400 Islamists recognised as posing a terrorist threat in Australia and that ”we now know that there is over a thousand like him lurking amongst us” (23/02/15). We are told to be afraid of an invisible entity within our society that can only be identified by their community, or that the entire community is that entity.
Recently Tony Abbott addressed the Australian public over Youtube, assuring us of his “pledge to keep our country as safe and secure as we humanly can” and promised that we would “promptly take any necessary remedial action”. He did not stop there, but continued to list the instances where he felt the benefit of the doubt should no longer be given: not to those on Centrelink, those on the boats, those applying for residency and “those who got bail but clearly should have got gaol” (very poetic ). In the mind of our Prime Minister these problems are all linked. It is while on the dole that young Australian Muslims are being radicalised and it is by the boats that they arrive.
So what does Tony Abbott intend to do? He intends to keep us as safe as he “humanly can”, if Star Wars taught me anything it is that even with the foresight of the force absolute safety is un maintainable. I however, have absorbed enough of the dark side to foresee some future where it can be minimised. We are, according to the Prime Minister, “considering additional legislature on data retention” and strengthening security agencies. But why stop there? What will we, as citizens be able to do to recognise those who threaten our free country? Maybe we could make them wear armbands? Sew badges onto all their clothes?
In Penrith there is a strong opposition to the establishment of a new Islamic centre with one councillor stating that “I grew up in Auburn and their first mosque in 1979 and now they have three and it is not a safe place to walk around at all (Daily Telegraph 28/10/14).” But why stop there? Why not create designated areas for Muslims to live? You may call them ‘ghettos’ but really it is necessary for our safety and for theirs.
Then there is the would-be-ISIS fanboys (shall we call them Separatists?). They are all sitting at home living off the dole too, that’s when they get radicalised, bloody bludgers. The government is almost paying for their trip to Syria! So we are going to take away the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink. That’ll show ‘em. But really, why not make them work? After all “Arbeit Macht Frei”.
Or maybe we should take a moment and think about what sort of society we want to live in. Tony Abbott promised to push through legislation as quickly as possible, but it is very important that this does not happen. Quick legislation often creates long lasting problems. We need to take the time to think out what the implications would be upon our society. Will it protect us? Or will it divide us? None of us have the powers of foresight but after a childhood of watching the worst possible outcome I think we ought to be careful about what we allow governments to do in the name of security, lest we slip over to the Dark Side.