Current Affairs: Scott McIntyre, Charlie Hebdo, the Greens, #Bali9 and PEN

Looking at the Scott McIntyre firing, #Bali9 executions, Charlie Hebdo and PEN, and the Greens, the concept of “freedom” in its many forms stands out as the issue of the week in Michael Burrill’s #CurrentAffairsWrap.


If you’re one of my more reactionary fans (reality TV teaches us that humans will gleefully bombard themselves with people they hate in order to feel marginally better about their own pitiful existence), you may have found yourself pleasantly surprised last week, if only briefly, as you found me criticising the Greens…at least…before slowly feeling the bile crawl back up your throats with the realisation that I was doing so for the Greens’ not being strong enough on that thing you don’t really believe in. After that little hit of excitement, this week I’ll be providing you with the instant displeasure you are used to. In a possible sign she makes up one of this column’s 17.5 readers, Christine Milne has carried out her role of parliamentary eco-terrorist with more vigour this time ’round, labelling proposed emissions cuts of 30 percent by 2025 and 40-to-60 percent by 2030 “too weak,” calling for cuts of 40-to-50 percent in 2025, 60-80 percent in 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. Milne went on to explain, “The work of the Climate Change Authority is based on achieving a 67 percent chance of avoiding runaway global warming. The Australian Greens want targets that would provide a 75 percent chance of stabilising global temperatures at two degrees and a 50/50 chance of stabilising at 1.5 degrees.” The first thoughts that spring to mind are, “That’s a bit more like it,” closely followed by, “Too bad they’ll never get elected; bring on the surge in extreme weather, sea levels, and – according to the Australian Academy of Science – mosquito, water and food borne diseases! Maybe I’ll build myself a raft out of discarded Earth Hour posters.”

The government withdrew their ambassador to Indonesia amid the smoke cloud of millions of burning Bintang singlets, after Bali 9 duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by firing squad this week, news which was met with widespread disdain. While some eloquently expressed their strongly felt opposition to the ritualised state vengeance of the death penalty by pointing out what they perceived to be the similarity between Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s surname and the term for a phallic shaped sex toy, overall it was hard to tell whether the collective outrage was directed at killing as punishment in general, or, as the general indifference towards the other people executed suggests, at killing as a punishment for two seemingly reformed Australians. For all the campaigning on Chan and Sukumaran’s behalf, it could be suggested, with Tone and friends’ constant bleating about sovereignty, that when considering Australia’s own sketchy human rights record and previous violations of Indonesian sovereignty (such as accidentally entering their waters on numerous occasions, rather ironically, in the implementation of Operation Sovereign Borders, or attempts to tap previous President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone), Australia’s chiding over the executions was only ever going to be taken as another attempt to tamper in Indonesian affairs and therefore only serve to make Widodo more resolute. Indonesian attorney-general Muhammad Prasetyo’s assertions that the death penalty was a necessary unpleasantness needed “in order to save the nation from the danger of drugs,” don’t fall too far from the widely used rhetoric of the global drug war – a war Australian governments have historically been happy to advance, and are indeed today with all the talk of the “ice epidemic.” In this participation in the propagation of damaging and distorted attitudes toward drugs, whatever the stance on capital punishment, there is a largely ignored level of complicity. Not just in the most recent round of avoidable deaths, but in all the avoidable deaths that have and will occur due to the war on drugs.

Thirty-two writers and members of the American branch of literary and free speech organisation, PEN, will boycott its awards gala next month in protest at the planned presentation of a “Freedom of Expression Courage” award to Charlie Hebdo. A letter signed by PEN writers denounced the killing of Charlie Hebdo employees but claimed “There is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression,” and that “in an unequal society, equal opportunity offence does not have an equal effect.” Salman Rushdie, having been targeted by radical Islamists himself, decided he was the perfect impartial voice, arguing, “This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non Muslims, into a cowed silence” (despite his description of the initial six boycotters as “pussies,” suggesting he may share similar views with the enemy regarding the weak and submissive nature of femininity). Rushdie also added, “I hope nobody ever comes after them.” Now, while I by no means intend to devalue his troubles, if the common wisdom is to be believed, jihadists are after all of us these days and unlike slick Salman, instead of our own personal team of bodyguards, all that most of us are getting is a slow evaporation of our rights (including freedom of expression), justified with similar “battle against fanatical Islam” rhetoric from our politicians. Just look at Charlie Hebdo fan Julie Bishop’s depiction of IS as “the most significant threat to the global, rules-based order to emerge in the past 70 years.” Whatever the case, with both Salman Rushdie and Charlie Hebdo not only far more popular than me, but far more unpopular (having considerably more people hate them than who know who I am), offending jihadists may be my path towards fame. I was gonna do some jokes about IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s incapacitation due to spinal injuries inflicted by a US air strike but then I realised I might inadvertently offend other sufferers of spinal injury, possibly even making them sympathetic towards al-Baghdadi in the process. So I settled on “al-Baghdadi is a charlatan and a butcher.” There’s a lesson for Charlie in there somewhere…

(Eds note – As an aside, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Renald Luzier has decided not to draw cartoons of the prophet Muhammad anymore because in his own words ,”He no longer interest me”! It’s hard not to wonder whether it was also in response to the atrocity of the attacks against Charlie Hebdo last year, but we will take him at his word, of course…)

Lastly this week, former SBS sports presenter Scott McIntyre may be feeling as though he’s been persecuted for exercising his supposed right to free expression, after being fired for making tweets critical of Anzac Day, which he described as “cultification of an imperialist invasion.” Scott McIntyre also referenced “summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these brave Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan,” claims which – however offensive they may be to some – have historical basis. Isn’t the stated purpose of SBS to reject the idea of one dominant view of Australianess and therefore the repeatedly divisive concept of un-Australianess? In firing Scott McIntyre for questioning Anzac Day’s mythologising and glorification of war, they have enforced cultural tyranny, rather than combating it.


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