Looking at the SBS coverage of the Coptic celebration of Christmas tonight, I am struck by the clever way in which they have handled the media. Very effectively they focus on presenting a peaceful, compassionate image, through engaging in those public rituals that resonate with the Australian public – releasing doves,
holding pictures of those killed, speaking about each victim individually, releasing balloons and so on. They include a quick explanation of some of their religion, showing how similar it is to mainstream Christianity. I am thinking, surely there are ways that we can learn from this example and incorporate similar strategies in our own public grieving of disaster and untimely or unjust death.
For example, although releasing balloons is environmentally a disastrous thing to do, and doves that are released are probably killed by the local birdlife, could we not rent a hall, invite local dignatories, read out the names of those killed, call on the government for justice, and maybe pledge funds for a well or other charitable cause in the name of each person lost? I am sure there are many more ideas that could be collected and enacted if we actually think and organise for such an event.
Regrettably however, we tend to react as out of control victims. When there is a catastrophe, there is first the grief, then the conspiracy theory, then the anger which leads to street protests and placards. At each of these events we tend to have a small group of totally out of control “Akbar heads” as I’d like to call them – the young men who get fired up, like Massai tribesmen, jumping up and down yelling “Allahu Akbar! La illaha illah!” pushing people out of the way, rudely shoving others aside, and drowning out intelligent talks and supporters from Muslim and non-Muslim sources. Even though I recognize some of these angry young me - and they scare me - I have on occasion stood in their way as they advance steadily through the crowd. Because I’m one of those ‘untouchable’ women, they have to work their way around me because they won’t talk to me, and they won’t dare get so close as to touch me. Its a very handy way to use my feminism to stop them taking over a sensible meeting, just by continually stepping in the way. Once they got so frustrated that they brought the loud speaker to just a few centimeters from my face, angrily – almost violently – shouting their slogans and telling me to get out of the way. Unfortunately, I’m just as stubborn and stare them right back, despite the spit, red faces and deafening, virulent anger.
Even as I watch SBS now I see a documentary on the Second World War, and listen to readings of surviving Polish Jews as they describe how their Polish community was gradually walled into ghettoes, brick by brick, and the progressive, personal, humiliation. I can only think though about what is being done to the Palestinians in exactly the same fashion today. It reminds me of a child who witnesses the brutality of a violent father, only to turn on his own wife and child in similar fashion – is this what has happened to the now powerful Jewish community? Are they recreating their own violent past? Do they only understand such brutality as being part of being in power? And yet, despite the self-evident and clear oppression that is happening in Palestine, our Muslim community is incapable of seizing on it, or acting on it in any way to our own advantage.
Today I had my carpets cleaned. The steam cleaning guy walked in, and in a friendly manner pointed to my ipad and told me “the government keeps track of you with things like that. Your iphone too!” Before even beginning to look at my carpets, here I was engaged in a feisty discussion about conspiracy theories regarding the Masons, the Jewish community and of course, the media. It wasn’t until half way through this discussion that I discovered that he was a Lebanese Christian! I told him – they can track me all they want, but I have nothing to hide. (I forgot to mention that all phones can be very easily tracked these days!)
Today is a propaganda battleground. The tools of war are image, fact, spin and above all, seizing every opportunity to invest money in quick, timely responses. It is through propaganda that business (the real force behind most of the wars today) can be brought on side and that populations can be encouraged to support policy for or against a nation and its peoples. The skills of this type of battle require enormous confidence, quick thinking, and a keen understanding of the mental strategies of the players. It is like playing chess – predicting responses, attitudes and the next move of the media, or these days, the vast web of social networks. Conspiracy theories on the other hand sap strength and confidence. They make victims instead of conquerors; encourage fatalistic attitudes of “they’re all against us anyway” thereby justifying futile anger, stupid comments and ultimately stupid actions.
Here in Australia and across the Western world, we have highly educated and intelligent Muslim women, men and youth. I feel that they are steadily preparing to cross the squares of the propaganda chess board, developing their skills to graduate from mere pawns to powerful castles and noble knights. The one chess piece however which should be leading this development, but which sadly is sacrificing the chess pieces in front of it, is the Muslim equivalent of the bishop – our Imams. Terribly out of touch, and unable to lead at all, they surrender their pawns and more skilled pieces beside them while they crouch in fear on the back line, unable to move and stymieing every successful move on their side. Perhaps we need a revolution on our own backline, one that roots out the backward influence of our narrow minded Imams, replacing them with the spiritual leadership, ethics and foresight shown by the greatest of our Muslim leaders in this subtle, but equally dangerous battleground. Eventually, the Copts may look to us for inspiration.