A story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald made me really, really stroppy. A private school in the Northern Territory of Australia encouraged pupils to dress up as literary characters in celebration of Book Week. One pupil chose to dress up as Adolf Hitler. It so happened that a group of exchange students from a Jewish school in Melbourne were present and found this representation of the man who attempted to annihilate their race in Europe confronting.
Now everyone is falling over themselves apologising and counselling one another and promising it will never happen again.
So why am I stroppy?
First, the presence or otherwise of Jewish children should have no bearing on the case. Hitler was an enemy of mankind and victimised Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, the handicapped, Catholic priests… please add to this list as you see fit.
Second, airbrushing events and individuals out of our cultural landscape, and therefore out of the knowledge that we pass down to our children, is a pretty good way of ensuring that the mistakes of the past are repeated in the future.
And third, dressing up as someone does not have to imply endorsement of their character, their politics or their actions. Prince Harry was castigated a few years ago – unfairly to my mind – for going to a fancy dress party as Hitler. Nobody has suggested that he did so because he wanted a revival of Nazism.
If one goes along with the mock-shock-horror and handwringing that followed an innocent child’s efforts to get into the spirit of Book Week, one should ask oneself which other historical figures should be off-limits. Genghis Khan? Henry VIII?
What about some biblical figures who had a pretty shady reputation when it came to human rights? Moses and Joshua come to mind. How would a descendant of the Canaanites feel if they saw someone dressed as one of those two genocidal criminals? And what about some other unsavoury characters who are still alive and at large?
PS If you think this post is gross, I would point out that it is my 144th.
Sometimes the best that a blogger can do is offer a link to something written by someone else.
Maher Mughrabi is Fairfax Media’s foreign editor. He was born a Muslim and, although he no longer counts himself a member of that faith, has an insider’s understanding of the compexities and contradictions that permeate the Koran itself, the interpretive work of Muslim scholars, the sectarian divides within Islam and the cultural practices that overlay and underpin people’s perception of what it is to be a Muslim.
I commend this piece that was published by Fairfax Media today. It contains links to some of Maher’s other writings. If you share my curiosity about this diverse, dynamic and problematic religion, and its adherents, please take the time to read some of them.
Maher mentions Pauline Hanson, who says she is studying the Koran to gain a better understanding of Islam. She will be familiar to Australian readers, but others may want to read about her at her own website or at Wikipedia.
OK, I know what you’re thinking: When is StroppyGit going to pronounce on the row in France over burkinis? Never let it be said that I am insensitive to popular demand, so here goes.
First, I completely agree with those who see the burka as an instrument and a symbol of patriarchal oppression of women. The great majority of women who choose to wear it do so because of the cultural/religious environment into which they had the misfortune to be born. Muslim women who live in Western societies and wear the burka in public must expect to have difficulty making friends and getting a job. They should also realise that they are reinforcing prejudice and hostility against their religion, whose values with respect to gender relations are utterly opposed to modern secular values. In any situation where security is an issue, faces must be revealed and body searches must be submitted to.
Having said all that, it does not follow that a bathing costume that covers everything except the face, hands and feet should be banned. Yes, it may be provocative inasmuch as it is associated with Islam, and most non-Muslims find aspects of Islam objectionable. But is it a religious symbol, in the way that a cross or a crescent or the star of David are religious symbols? I don’t think so. I see it rather as a cultural by-product that will fade away as the culture that spawned it matures.
I like this photo, by the way, which I took from a website – but I forget which one. If it was yours, or if you took the photo, please tell me and I will add an acknowledgement. It’s brilliant because of the almost-exact equivalence of the two women’s figures and movements; the matched horizontal stripes on both costumes; and most of all the happy smile on the face of the burkini-wearing woman. Well done, whoever took it.
Being practical, the case is very clear. Banning the burkina is even more provocative than wearing it. Making Muslim women display an amount of flesh that is for them unthinkable will simply amount to a ban on their being part of the beachloving community and enjoying the healthy pastime of swimming in the sea. It will further isolate those women from mainstream secular society and retard their advance towards enlightenment and freedom. And it is a propaganda gift to the Islamists who want to portray Western society as hostile, corrupt and ungodly.
StroppyGit has spoken.