I was looking at the first chapters of Against Paranoid Nationalism that deal with the question of hope to write a short piece on the subject. Like re-reading White Nation its is amazing/depressing/etc. how not much has changed:
2001 was a good year in Australia as far as opposition to ‘racism’ is concerned, and 2002 is looking better. While not claiming to have investigated the matter empirically, my impression is that in 2001 a record number of Australians declared themselves to be opposed to the use of the terms ‘racist’ and ‘racism’. Everywhere I turned, people were courageously stating things like ‘I am not racist’, ‘That’s not racism’, ‘I did not mention race, I am talking about culture’ or ‘People will say I am racist but I am not.’ And, of course, to the delight of the connoisseurs, the famous ‘I am not racist, but…’ was everywhere. Anti-racist culture is flourishing. We’re clearly over the timid years of Hansonism.
It is true that in 2001 a considerable number of Indigenous people and Arab and Muslim Australians felt demeaned, inferiorised and excluded from the rest of society (‘Asians’ were breathing with relief in 2001 – at least they’d have time to replenish before the next round). But does being demeaned, inferiorised, treated insensitively and excluded mean you are being subjected to racism? It’s no longer easy to answer this question, for it is no longer up to the victims to decide if a person is racist. Racists declare themselves to be so. And the fact that no one in Australia has done so just shows the depth of anti-racism in this country. So strongly do the anti-racists feel that if you refer to one of them as racist without their agreeing, they are likely to sue you. I have tried to get some people I think are racists to sign a contract agreeing that they are racists before I use the term to refer to them, but I have not succeeded so far: it is clear that they are deadset anti-racists.
Strangely, many of the people who have been accused by some misguided third world-looking minority or another of being racist have been key figures in the promotion of Australia’s ‘anti-racism’ culture. They might have occasionally demeaned, inferiorised, treated insensitively or excluded people they have pictured as belonging to a tribe other than theirs, but obviously I cannot apply the slur ‘racist’ to them when they have such an established record of hating the very sight of the word.
This is especially so since in 2001 it was internationally established, at the United Nations conference on racism, that most colonised and previously colonised third world-looking people don’t know much about racism. They’ve shown themselves to be notoriously oversensitive and unreliable when it comes to this subject, and are very likely to misunderstand what is actually happening to them. To make things worse, those living in colonial and post-colonial slums and ghettos – the Palestinians, for instance – expressed their hatred of their colonisers. What’s more, the Palestinians do so in a totally vulgar and unsophisticated way. Clearly unaware of where such vulgarity might lead, other third world-looking people expressed sympathy with the Palestinians instead of being rightly outraged at the massive suffering inflicted on the Palestinians’ sensitive and civilised colonisers.
Luckily, countries such as the US, Canada, the European states and Australia used the magnificent historical record of their emergence as nations to enlighten everyone and explain that this hatred of the coloniser was the only real racism there is. It is now well known – and it was widely reported in the press – that by stopping this hatred of the coloniser being officially accepted and expressed by other delegates at the conference, they actually ‘saved the conference’.
Having done so much for anti-racism at that conference and everywhere else around the world, some people in Australia are rightly ‘offended’ when they are accused of racism. For instance, the Prime Minister has publicly declared himself ‘offended’ on many occasions; he even went as far as being ‘outraged’ once when faced with the term ‘racism’. More offended by it than by the sight of the dehumanising concentration camps he has used to cage third world-looking asylum seekers. In fact, in Australia today those offended by the term ‘racist’ almost outnumber those offended by racists.
Another measure of the depth of this ‘anti-racism’ is the degree of heroism shown by the people who are struggling in its front line. These courageous people might appear to be in power, they might appear to have pages of newspapers and endless radio and television time at their disposal, but every now and then the repressive conditions under which they are operating reveal themselves in the way they speak. They all say something along the lines of: ‘I know they will get me, but I am going to say it …’ Even the Prime Minister says it. ‘They’, in case you’ve been kept in the dark, is the formidably powerful ultra-left revolutionary council of political correctness. This council, all appearances notwithstanding, and as every ordinary mainstream, paranoid-and-allowed-to-be-relaxed-and-comfortable-with-his/her-paranoia Australian will tell you, is clearly still ruling the country. So one can appreciate the effort it takes the John Howards and Alan Joneses of the country to heroically squeeze their points of view across to the public despite the incredibly repressive measures being used against them by the revolutionary council. And let us not forget that these ‘heroes’ all volunteered to do so. Which goes to show you that you cannot repress Australian values.
One version of Marx’s theory of ideology, based on the concept of the camera obscura, is that capitalism creates an ‘appearance’ – a level of experience – that is an ‘upside down’ version of reality. This idea has long been academically discredited. But it clearly needs to make a comeback to make sense of the lopsided reality which increasingly engulfs us.
As this book goes to press I find myself right in the midst of such a reality.
In the aftermath of the April 2002 Israeli reoccupation and vandalisation of the West Bank, I initiated, with my colleague John Docker, a petition calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. A petition, one would think, is a basic and peaceful means of democratic expression. But not so for the editor of The Australian (well-known for standing up for the oppressed across the world), who captured its incredible violence by editorialising that the petition ‘verges on book burning’. On the other side of this camera obscura reality stood the Israelis’ medieval-like rampage in occupied Palestine, where books and documents were actually burning. Obviously, that kind of burning was too subtle for the editor of The Australian to smell.
But there is more. This was a petition that was initiated and signed by Arab-background and Jewish-background academics, precisely to avoid any sense of ‘communal chauvinism’. It was a petition that had been laboured over for many days to ensure that it was not open to claims of being anti-Semitic, and that was then signed by some of the most important Australian academics to have researched and written on racism in Australia. Here, the venerable editor of The Australian, and a minister of the government that brought us the Tampa crisis and the concentration camps and destroyed the process of reconciliation with Australia’s Indigenous people while tabooing the use of the term ‘racism’ to refer to any of this, finally broke the taboo, in the face of the horrendous assault on, and exceptional inferiorisation of, other fellow human beings that the petition represented, and called it … yes … you guessed it … racist! I guess even anti-racism can reach its limits of tolerance. Along with other academics, I had long dismissed Marx’s camera obscura theory. I didn’t know that a time would come where I’d be living what it described with all its nightmarish qualities. Sorry, Marx, I take it all back.