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COMMON DESTINY October 13, 2008

Posted by wmmbb in The Neighbours.

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the Bali Bombing, which caused the death of many Australians among others. It may be reasonable to those who commit crimes to be brought to justice, but we should not, as former Chief Justice Brennan has argued, be seen to supporting the death penalty for Indonesian citizens and not for Australians.

Many popular ideas are fashioned in the United States, but those that afflict some uninformed Americans is not sensible or politic to introduce here. We have to remember our geographic position, and who are our neighbours. The 220 million Indonesians are “many yet one” if their experiment in nation building works, which from the beginning has been supported by Australians, and continues to be our hope and consensus. Their have been a few hiccups along the way such as Confrontation, the post Sukarno massacres, Timor Leste, and perhaps others. Most of the time, Indonesia does not loom large, at least down in the south east of this continent.

We would do well, in my opinion, to respect the majority religion in Indonesia, even if we do not know much about it. The Islamic world is diverse, as is the Arab World. Arabic is the Latin of the Islamic World. It is useful to keep in mind that Islam like Christianity was successful because had appeal at the base of society.

As Juan Cole points out the Arabic speaking world is a significant part of the wider and more diverse Islamic World.

An Arab is a native speaker of the Arabic language, which is akin to Hebrew. The Arab civilization is one of the more glorious in world history, having bestowed on the world great scientific and cultural achievements. Arabic is spoken in North Africa and West Asia by approximately 250 million people, a group only somewhat smaller than the population of the United States.

Juan Cole includes this map:

via Juan Cole

via Juan Cole

Seen in the frame of this map, the invasion and occupation of Iraq looks like a de facto attack on the Arab world, fitting into the well entrenched pattern of imperialism that drew the current borders, as they did in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So historically we can observe that the contact with the Arabic Islamic civilization was the critical factor in the formulation of Western European civilization, from the transmission of innovation and ideas such as algebra, Aristotle and the Greeks, to notions (I suggest) of just war, and habits, such as bathing. The criticism is sometimes made that Australia has a derived culture, but is the nature of these things. It was true of the Greeks as well. Thales observed, proudly I believe, that he had spent five years with the Geometers of Egypt.

Unlike Americans, whom we indiscriminately adopt fashions and habits of thought, we actually live next to the largest Islamic country on earth. History is in this case our friend, as we intend to be friends with our neighbours. Furthermore, given that Indonesia and Australia are neighbouring countries they share a common destiny, which can and must be based on mutual respect and peace.

( I will endeavour over the next days get this post beyond the draft stage. Time now for bed.)



1. Judith Ellis - October 13, 2008

I was just thinking about this glorious culture while watching a rally goer describe Senator Obama as an Arab, as if the word itself was a dirty one and through association he became disqualified. I was quite offended by this. The fact that Senator Obama isn’t Arabic is another issue. The greater issue for me was the dishonorable implications inferred.

Proximity may have an effect on how we view each other. Often times we cannot see others for their simple being, their very existence unless they are like us. But it would seem that our likeness as human beings would be enough. Of course, we know that this is not so. What seems to be needed is a healthy dose of respect for otherness, taught by parents, teachers, and neighbors.

Children become leaders of the feature and we must show respect for others whether they are nearby or thousands of miles away, regardless of differences, for our children will one day lead. My mother saw to this by buying national geographic and books on other cultures and people around the world. We were required to say something thoughtful and respectful about others. Peace and love begin at home and are shed abroad, in our communities, in other countries, and throughout the world.

Thank you for this piece, wmmbb. This is a bit of history and perspective that I appreciate.

2. wmmbb - October 13, 2008

Thank you too for your post Judith at the Being Brand.

In fact, I was about to make reference to it because there are Australians who are Muslims, and people I know and respect and people who I sometimes have offended through my foolish sense of humour. Most of them come from the Middle East, and most are way in which the question of Palestine is being determined by violence and not justice.

The fact of matter is, regardless of where we might live on the Planet, as the financial crisis reminds us, we are all in this together, and as our actions might effect our “neighbours” so do their in a collective sense effect all other people. Let us dispense, as our civilizations insists, with the notion of non-persons, or unpersons, and have respect for all individuals everywhere, for their humanity and their culture.

Carelessness and cruelty are evidence of wrongs, if not crimes. The package is thought, word and deed. The Latin saying cunningly observes, “What was first in intention, is expressed in action.” What we say might in most cases be reasonably be taken as how we expect to act.

It occurs to me that to observe the obvious, many, if not most people have similar opinions, if better expressed. What might be majorities in any one country would constitute a global majority. Most people, I am convinced care about consequences, particularly those who have been witness to sad and unnecessary outcomes, such as has befallen the people of Iraq, or Afghanistan. They appreciate violence to people and the living systems of the planet arise from a poisonous combination of arrogance, ignorance, hatred, or a failure to address injustice. None of us, regardless of our talent, is to be excused from our responsibility to seek the truth.

( Please read, if you have not already, Judith’s reference to the article in The Washington Post by Khaled Hosseini.)

3. Judith Ellis - October 13, 2008

“None of us, regardless of our talent, is to be excused from our responsibility to seek the truth.” This thought is beautiful. Thank you.

4. wmmbb - October 14, 2008

Judith, I am pleased you liked it. Then I thought I am getting a bit pompous perhaps, and I remembered why I came up with the formulation. The occasion was watching the “headbangers” (they give me a headache) on Fox and those people entering the McCain or Palin rally. It occurs me that weighing evidence is a requirement of anybody serving on a jury.

I know I should be commenting on your blog – and I will – but you did not make reference to National Geographic there. Your mum bought it, but we got that magazine and the maps sent to us from a cousin (nth removed) of my mother living in California.

5. Judith Ellis - October 14, 2008

Living in Australian, mostly in the Outback, for that nine months was like a living in the scene of a National Geographic. I loved it. There I even taught little Aborignial children English and music.

I also came to love the culture and the people. They reminded me very much of the aboriginal Indian tribes of America. Both people share some of the same ills too. I wonder, in part, if the cause is colonization and imperial ideology.

Yes, it would be good to have your perspective on my blog. But the fact of the matter is that I go wherever good perspectives can be found. This is the reason I come here.

Have you ever visited the US?

6. wmmbb - October 14, 2008

I am sure you are right about “colonization and imperial ideology”. The problem is always seeing social history and culture from the outside when as a person you are on the inside.

I have never been to the US, but then I am not a traveller.

7. Judith Ellis - October 14, 2008

I find that traveling, interacting with others, and reading help with the inside/outside dicathomy. It the very least gives one a broader perspective. While cultures differ, we share a common humanity that cannot be denied.

8. wmmbb - October 15, 2008

Your experience in Aboriginal communities must have been very interesting.

How did they take to you? How interested were they in your background, which in many ways is probably very different to yours?

9. Judith Ellis - October 15, 2008

The kids were upfront immediately. I had to earn the respect of the parents. The kids helped a lot with this process and loved it when I dropped by to talk with their parents. I listened mostly. My presence at their homes seemed to have made the difference. Though they had brick houses it appeared that they actually lived out in the yard, perhaps feeling closer to the earth and natural environment. I find that it does not matter where I have traveled locally, nationally or internationally people are the same and want the same things for their loved ones. Respect and thoughtfulness are essential to perceived otherness.

10. wmmbb - October 16, 2008

Cultural difference is a greater challenge than prejudice. Majorities tend to be unthinking as they tend to conformity imposing. Aboriginal society is composed of people with different cultures, and sometimes people whose first language is not English.

11. Judith Ellis - October 16, 2008

We appreciate cultural diversity and do not tolerate prejudice. I have nieces whose mothers are Pakistani and Canadian (white). I also have a sister-in-law who’s from Kenya.

12. wmmbb - October 16, 2008

I tend to think that multi-culturalism in all its forms is a very good thing, and yet I remember the disasters that have happened when polarization has been contrived between sets of people, even with inter-marriage and co-existence for generations.

Gandhi addressed this potential problem with his concept of “heart unity”, which translates something like establishing a true human community with diversity. Can that be done in such a way that it does not fall apart, as for example, between Hindus and Muslims?

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