Andrew Bolt usually gets it, but all too often he overlooks the most important thing: Wally is a Mohammedan agitprop who does exactly what an enemy agent does: he sows doubt, he ridicules, he changes perceptions and questions everything we hold dear, he vilifies and accuses, he denigrates the infidel society that allowed him to assume the role of a fairy prince and elevated him to a position he would never be in were he just another white Aussie. Wally should be treated with contempt. Don’t these silly females around him see that he is in no way different from Keysar Trad or Catmeat sheik Hilali?
Waleed Aly on stripping Australia of pride
Waleed Aly claims that if we were truly honest about Australia’s history – which he seems to think shameful – we could never take pride in this place:
We struggle with our history because once we admit it, we have nowhere to go with it; no way of rehabilitating our pride; no way of understanding ourselves. As a nation, we lack a national mythology that can cope with our shortcomings. That transforms our historical scars into fatal psychological wounds, leaving us with a bizarre need to insist everything was – and is – as good as it gets.
He’s wrong about our past; he’s wrong in thinking it responsible to strip Australians of pride in what they have.
Exactly how will a country with no pride attract the loyalty of newcomers, especially those of Aly’s inordinately proud faith?
If I get the time to fisk this I will. There is a video if you click the link, I couldn’t be bothered to watch.
Is this Sunrise segment racist?
Thelma Plum calls Sunrise racist after failing to include an Indigenous person in a debate about whether James Cook’s arrival was an invasion or not.
Every country has its weirdness, its reflex points that trigger spontaneous, uncontrolled actions that look almost comically irrational to the observer. It’s the kind of thing you can only comprehend once you know the anatomy.
Take, for example, the United States’ permanent weirdness on guns. Viewed from Australia – a nation that embraced gun control with relative (though not total) ease after a single massacre – it’s gobsmacking that repeated mass shootings seem only to entrench positions rather than inspire a solution.
It’s only when you grasp how guns have become totems of individual liberty and a principled distrust of government – and that these ideas constitute nothing less than the country’s very reason for being – that you can begin to make sense of the madness.
Illustration: Andrew Dyson
So, beneath every weirdness most likely is a revelation. Not about the substance of whatever issue is in play, but about the essence of the nation grappling with it.
For Australia, it’s Indigenous history. The US may be caught in a cycle of tragedy and denial, but we simply do away with the cycle. For us it’s a founding tragedy, then steadfast denial ever since. The specifics might change – terra nullius, the stolen generations – but the constant is a remarkable jumpiness at the very thought of facing the past. A jumpiness so powerfully reflexive, it doesn’t matter how insignificant the stimulus.
This week it’s a guide on “Indigenous Terminology” from the University of New South Wales. As documents go, it’s resoundingly minor: an advisory list, likely to be read by very few people, that “clarifies appropriate language” on Indigenous history and culture. But that was enough to start the nation’s most prolific outrage machines to humming.
Illustration: Simon Letch
“WHITEWASH”, boomed The Daily Telegraph, taking particular exception at the guide’s suggestion that Australia was not “settled” or “discovered” by the British, but rather “invaded, occupied and colonised”. This instantly triggered the talkback reflex, with lines of angry callers – historians all, no doubt – venting with all the gusto Alan Jones or Ray Hadley could inspire in them. For colour, and certainly not content, Sydney radio host Kyle Sandilands joined the party, ensuring the meltdown covered all frequencies.
Where do you start? Perhaps with the Tele‘s remarkably sloppy allegation that “UNSW rewrites the history books to state Cook ‘invaded’ Australia”. Of course, UNSW did no such thing. The reference to Cook is entirely a Telegraph invention. The guide talks of invasion but doesn’t attribute it to James Cook, who had no army with which to invade. It’s an extrapolation showing that not only does some editor or other know nothing about the history they’re so keen to defend, but that they’re also quite keen to rewrite the present.
Or perhaps you might begin with precisely which historical account does the rewriting: the one of “settlement” with its implications of an uninhabited continent, or the one whose language of invasion and colonisation implies the significant resistance of Indigenous people and the slaughter that flowed as a result?
Invasion or settlement? Hundreds gathered at Spring Street to protest Australia Day, or Invasion day, on January 26 in Melbourne. Photo: Chris Hopkins
All that history is well trodden. For now, it’s the weirdness of this, and what it reveals, that interests me. Specifically: why is this hysterical response so entirely predictable? Why is it that the moment the language of invasion appears, we seem so instinctively threatened by it? This isn’t the response of sober historical disagreement. It’s more visceral than that. Elemental even. It’s like any remotely honest appraisal of our history – even one contained in an obscure university guide – has the power to trigger some kind of existential meltdown. What strange insecurity is this?
An American observing this, perhaps even while carrying a gun, would be entitled to be bewildered. Theirs is a dark history too – one that encompasses indigenous dispossession, slavery and segregation – but it’s a history they can hardly be accused of denying in the way we do.
Sure, indigenous American history is frequently ignored, but this is partly because it is buried beneath the sheer tonnage of black history that is so constantly rehearsed. There will be people in the US south who lament losing the Civil War, and who cling to the Confederate flag. But it’s hard to imagine a public freak-out because a university wanted to discuss slavery. By now, slavery and its abolition are central parts of the American story. There might be varying degrees of honesty in the way the US tells that story, but it has typically found a way to incorporate its warts.
Why do we struggle so much more? Demography, sure. It’s harder to brush aside the claims of 13 per cent of the population than the roughly 2 per cent of ours that is Indigenous. But it’s also a function of national mythology.
The US is built on the idea of constant progress through individual liberty. It’s a nation that is never finished, never perfect, but always being perfected. Its historical scars are therefore not fatal to its identity. Indeed, they are essential because they allow Americans to tell a story of their own perfectibility. In these hands, slavery is not simply a stain, but a symbol of how far they’ve come. So, in the process of acknowledging slavery, the US is celebrated, not condemned.
We’re not like that. We struggle with our history because once we admit it, we have nowhere to go with it; no way of rehabilitating our pride; no way of understanding ourselves. As a nation, we lack a national mythology that can cope with our shortcomings. That transforms our historical scars into fatal psychological wounds, leaving us with a bizarre need to insist everything was – and is – as good as it gets.
That’s the true meaning of the love-it-or-leave-it ethos that so stubbornly persists. We don’t want to be improved in any thorough way, because for us that seems to imply thorough imperfections.
Instead, we want to be praised, to be acknowledged as a success. It’s a kind of national supplication, a constant search for validation. And history’s fine, as long as it serves that purpose. But if it dares step out of line, it can expect to be slapped swiftly with the Sandilands dictum until it changes the subject: “you’re full of shit, just get on with life”. Then we can be comfortable again.
Waleed Aly is a Fairfax Media columnist, winner of the 2015 Quill award for best columnist, and a lecturer in politics at Monash University.