Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gripes -

I must be getting crabby. All I want to do tonight is complain.

I did not sleep well last night. Then when I finally got up it was still dark because of extended daylight saving. Today the cleaners come, so I had to tidy the house so they could clean. Two hours later I left for work.

Then I found the Sydney Morning Herald was continuing its campaign. I almost got crabby enough to bring forward the comments I had planned for Saturday Morning Musings.

At this stage let me just say this.

The Herald is discussing problems that I have been talking about for some time. Yes, there is racism against our Aboriginal peoples. But the problems the paper is talking about have little to do with racism, everything to do with with structural change and systemic problems that affect all members of the communities in the areas we are talking about.

This is my core point. If the National Party was not so obsessed about its future as a "conservative" party and could go back to its roots as the Country Party, then those like me who care might have a voice.

On a different matter, I fear that the SMH article on the most violent pubs and clubs had the wrong effect. I could not find the article with the top 100 on line, but my daughters and I went through it in detail.

Now I would be the first to agree with Puritan Kev, our new moral bulwark following John H, that there is a problem with excessive drinking by young people. After all, I only have to look at eldest's eighteenth! More kids now get blotto than happened in my generation, and we were no angels.

Why, then, did the article have the wrong effect?

Well, we all went through it to see how many of our pubs were there. I actually outscored my daughters!

Drinking among young people is a major problem. But the Gen X's who now seem to be setting the agenda and who have become the new moral puritans, the wowsers to use an old Australian phase, appear to have little idea as to what is actually happening on the ground.

You have no idea how much pleasure it gives me to say that! After all, in generational terms I am a builder, a war baby. It is only by accident of history - an unusually late marriage - that I am moderately current with today's young.

I find it very interesting that our house has become a small party point. Youngest's friends in particular come here because we have open house, are relaxed.

I am not saying that we do not have rules. We do. We also worry. But so far at least, touch wood, our children and their friends are quite capable of sorting out problems that might arise.

In all this, I remember a comment from my mother. Many years later, I found out that she had real reservations about some of my friends. When I asked why she had not said anything, she said "Dear, it was better having them here (at home)". I agree with her.

I have often complained about the black arm band view of Australian history, the way it had destroyed some of my pleasure in the past. Now I want to extend this argument in a very different way, applying it to the Muslim world.

Growing up, I was a bookworm. Further, I lived in a world that now seems very old fashioned, even racist. Yet it was also a world that now seems remarkably tolerant and accepting.

I was a strong Christian living in a Christian world. I studied an enormous amount of history. I also did geography honours. I lived in both a local and international world. All this affected all sorts of things.

On one side of the ledger, I had a sympathy for the crusades. The crusades were everywhere, from history to the Waverley novels that my overseas relatives gave me for Christmas. I thought it self-evident that Christianity was the truth.

On the other hand, my view of the Muslim world was not one dimensional.

Yes, I would have liked Saladin to have lost. Yes, I was glad (and still am) that the Muslim invasion into Europe was defeated. But I also saw the Muslim world through all sorts of overlapping perspectives.

In looking at the crusades, I was struck by the narrowness and bigotry of the Europeans. The historical novels I read featured North African raiders. I read alternative history showing different outcomes.

All the European histories featured different perspectives of the Ottoman Empire, one of the world's great empires. Try reading the Hornblower series to see what I mean.

Yes, many of the perspectives were negative. But they were varied. The Turks were great fighters, Ataturk built modern Turkey out of the ruins of Empire, King Farouk was very different.

In all this, when I first met people of the Muslim faith in the 1960s, I did not think of them as Muslim. They were Indonesians, Malaysians, Pakistanis first, They were Muslim in the same way that I was Christian.

I was Australian first, but expected them to respect my Christian faith. They were Pakistanis or Malaysians first, but I had to respect their Muslim faith.

Today with our habit of labelling and our modern narrow prejudices, and I do think that we live in a very judgemental world, we have lost sight of the essential variety of life and belief.

I find that this distorts thinking, including my own.

When Uncle Jim first argued at Liberal Party preselection meetings back in the late 1960s (and to the surprise of delegates) that the rise of Muslim fundamentalism was the central challenge the Western World would face, he was not being anti-Muslim.

Rather, as some one fascinated by Indian history who had seen the bodies piled in river beds at the time of partition, he knew the power of certain types of religious beliefs. His argument was that the West had to find a way of accommodating to, of controlling, very different belief systems.

I do not have an answer to all this. Rather, my concern is to find a way of understanding and enjoying history without too much distortion by current concerns.


Anonymous said...


Your very last sentence is the most thought-provoking for me. I cannot see how anyone can achieve a clear-eyed view of anything when that thing is within personal experience, or within the experience of someone of influence (Uncle Jim?) in your life.

Your speak of labels and I agree. Perhaps the worst label of all may be 'history' if applied to what are essentially current events?

It seems to me that the further away from an event, the clearer, more dispassionate is its contemplation. And also the easier it becomes to incorporate/recognise influences which if seen up close do not appear to be relevant.

So maybe when you write of things post Boer War (picked at random) you should tag your comments as being about "current events" rather than "history"?

This is not a criticism - or maybe it is, but made in the wider, less emotive sense of that word. And it doesn't solve your problem - just maybe attaches a more accurate tag.

Perspective from a misty Valley.

(or should that be 'misty perspective from a Valley'?

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, KVD. Your last line really made me laugh.

In a sense you are right, of course. In fact, when I first did history there was a strong line of argument that said just that, that discusion of more recent events should not be classified as history at all, but as current affairs.

When I first studied modern Australian history, interpretation of the immediate post second world war period was very much set in a cold war context. Not only did this affect interpretation, but writing was also affected by previous intellectual and political debates between left and right writers.

It is only now and especially with the release of archival material that we can see that some of the previous discussions in perspective.

The difficulty in all this is that all historical writing suffers from the problem of the present. It is a matter of degree.

In my post on Kostova's The Historian - - I looked at the way in which my views of the history of the muslim world were affected by western European perceptions.

This post returns to that theme, but from a different perspective. Now here I have a problem looking at my words in that they may be misinterpreted. So just to restate a little.

My first point was that my views of the muslim world were affected by my past. However, the thing that I found interesting and disturbing was that that partial view of the past was in fact far more complex, far more multi-faceted, than some discussion today set within a framework created by "the war on terror". So I am comparing my own past and partial view with the current.

When Jim spoke about the muslim issue, and I did not make this clear, he was talking about one very specific thing, the rise of muslim fundamentalism. He was also talking about the way in which religion could create violence - in this case muslim v hindu.

I get crabby where I see current views and concerns creating distortions, recognising that this is always true. I get crankier still when I find, far too often, that my own views have themselves become distorted.

One of the great things I have found with blogging is the way it exposes my views to continuous test!