Thursday, November 1, 2018

Metropolis Talk (This was the text of a short talk I intended to give at Metropolis but a change of format meant that I delivered most of it as part of a Q&A type panel)

I am sorry if I didn’t join you from the start of this session but I am not in a rush to hear what the minister of immigration has to say. The minister belongs to a side of politics that despises academics, has nothing but contempt to people who are sympathetic to the plight of refugees and loathes people of arab-background. I am all three, but especially now that any semblance of respect towards academics has disappeared with the brutalizing of the ARC grant process, I don’t feel obliged to be polite at all. I have nothing to say to them and they have nothing to say to me. 
In my ethnographic research on Lebanese immigrants in Lebanon I have seen many houses of returnees adorned with an Australian flag. I have heard people passionately describe how ‘wonderful’ and ‘beautiful’ Australia is. I have witnessed Lebanese Australian immigrants engage in games of competitive story-telling trying to prove to and convince Lebanese Americans or Canadians or Brazilians that Australia was best whether in terms of natural beauty or as a society. Sometime the people doing so have bitterly complained to me about racism when in Australia but when in Lebanon the memory of this racism fades. 
What marks these moments of Australian nationalism is the absence of ‘Anglos’. Or to be exact since in quite a few cases these families do have Anglo partners or friends etc, what marks them is the absence of those White/‘Anglos that endlessly yap about national cohesion whether in or outside of parliament.
Indeed from these variety of observations I have come up with a general one: the less there are Anglo Australians pestering everyone about the need to put Australia or Australian values first the more nationalist, or able to express their attachment to Australia will Australians of immigrant background be.
Note that I am not necessarily saying that this is a positive development. Lebanese-Australian nationalism can be as masculinist and as blind to the indigenous history of dispossession, exploitation and extermination on which Australian prosperity was built as any other nationalism. Still it is worth noting that it only comes to express itself freely when exists when it is not stifled by that equally masculinist and blind variety of White/‘Anglo’-Australian nationalism.
Anglo-Australian nationalism comes in two varieties, both are masculinist and colonialist but one is more celebratory of an Australian strand of anti-authoritarianism and one is celebratory of nothing but is merely authoritarian and paranoid. The difference has been characterize in different ways: the nationalism of the working class and the nationalism of the petit-bourgeoisies, the nationalism of the convicts and the nationalism of the warders. I like to charactrise it as the difference between the nationalism of those who idealise Ned Kelly and the nationalism of those who idealise the policeman who shot him. It is that petty, ugly, paranoid, violent and policing nationalism that is rising and rising today and the one immigrants have to increasingly contend with. And make no mistake it is just as present in society at large as it is present in formal political circles.
My point is that this nationalism has been the most destructive force as far as the development of a collective sense of Australian sociality. Yet here we are indulging these unsubstantiated white fantasies and debating yet again the relation between migration and social cohesion. Why? There isn’t a single bit of evidence that migration is the most important negative force affecting social cohesion or a sense of communality in Australia. There is plenty of evidence that this violent policing white nationalism has again and again played the role of injecting venom and animosity and dividing, alienating, and separating Australians from each other. So if we want to get real about Australia’s sense of communality (I am not particularly fond of the term social cohesion, but even if it is social cohesion that concerns us) than what we should be investigating is not migration but how to defeat this surge of racist policing nationalism. Let us take the policeman that shot Ned Kelly to jail rather than lay the ground for another assassination of our bushranger.