It was a two parter: see Part 1 and Part 2. I have in mind Bruce’s post on this topic as well. I share with Bruce (and his first commenter) some disquiet about our recent growth of US-style patriotism, and I have addressed that several times before, for example Frothing at the mouth over the Aussie flag.
Compass Part 1 dealt most directly with the flag issue, while Part 2 focussed on the story of one young Sydney Lebanese boy. Bruce had reservations about Geraldine Doogue’s intros. So what did she say?
Tonight on Compass – Patriotism two years after the Cronulla riots here in Sydney. Of the many provocative acts from that time one incident in particular would focus the anger of the media…The image that’s seared into our collective memory – the sight of the Australian flag torn down and burnt by an angry mob headed by a young man born in Australia, of Lebanese background. Next week on Compass we bring you the remarkable story of his redemption. But tonight as a prelude, we’d like to examine the almost spiritual symbolism surrounding the Australian Flag and why it is so prominent in our lives theses days in a way it never really was in the past. We’ll look at the history of the Australian Flag How much do we know about our Flag? We speculate on its role in who we are today. Is it a symbol of inclusiveness in modern Australia, or are some of us of different faiths and backgrounds feeling left out?
Thanks for joining me. Tonight we conclude our two-part examination of Australian patriotism with a remarkable story you won’t easily forget. We follow a young man who accepts a pretty tough challenge to atone for his actions during the Cronulla riots and we watch a gradual build towards his moment of truth. Along the way we find out why he did what he did and a lot more, questions that strike at the heart of what we Australians aspire to, at our core.
I don’t have much problem with either of those.
Of course in Part 2 the RSL view on the one hand and Ali Ammar’s story on the other become the central dramatic interest, but the role of villain, if you like, seems most to be the talk-back radio ethos:
(ABC news footage)
News Reader: A Sydney teenager who burnt a flag will now carry one in next year’s Anzac Day parade. The RSL says it’s an attempt to create something good out of last year’s violence around Cronulla.
Narr: So the RSL in a bold gesture of forgiveness, hatched a plan for Ali to march on ANZAC Day. When the news broke that the flag burner would be become the flag bearer, talk back radio went wild.
(Talk back Radio) Caller 1: We don’t want him to be a hero, we just want him to go away.
Caller 2: He doesn’t deserve to go anywhere near that flag. And to be quite frank with you, he and his parents and everyone else can go back to where they came from.
Caller 3: That young fella should realise he’s living in the best country in the world. Instead of peeing on the flag they should pee on him.
Don Rowe (RSL): There’s lots of people said they were going to spit on him and abuse him and throw eggs at him and kick his arse every time they saw him. That’s just not on.
Ali Ammar: I felt like, did I hurt this much people? What I’d done. Like something so small but so effective.
Don Rowe: It doesn’t help the cause, it doesn’t help any young person who respects and relies on the values of what Australia is about.
Narr: And so Ali came to Kokoda…
I still see this program as a great example of personal transformation, of the virtues of restorative rather than punitive justice, and of the workability of Australian multiculturalism. Of course I might differ from some of the perspectives presented, though I have to say I am a great respecter of Kokoda per se. I too would be moved if I went there. That I share with Paul Keating, you may recall. I am not immune to or worried by a degree of emotion (magical thinking?) about such things, though I am very averse to bigotry and narrowness and parochialism.
No, I loved the programs, especially the second one.
Ali Ammar: I dunno, just a couple of things I want to let out and maybe some of you would want to know. There’s things I’ve done in the past. When the Cronulla riots were on, I was part of the burning of the Australian flag, and that’s why I’m here today. I’m not here because this is my consequence or anything like that. I’m here because I want to be here. I’m here because I hope that people that see me going through what I went through and the mistakes I’ve been through, and me admitting and owning up to my mistakes will change them.
A lot of things and a lot of people have done stupid things at that time, and, I dunno, I’m just owning up to it. And I’m trying, I’ve been trying hard, actually, ever since I got out of juvenile, I’ve been trying hard to make everyone understand and to make myself understand and to keep myself out of trouble. Don’t get me wrong I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. And the reason why I didn’t tell you earlier was because I didn’t want you to get a different picture about me. I wanted you to know who I really was first.
And coming here, coming here I was wishing I get a better understanding, a better understanding of how you guys feel about things like this and what is Australia and things like that. Different races, different things, everyone’s got a different opinion about each other. Don’t get me wrong, there’s bad people in each community and there’s good people in each community. But, I dunno, I think we should just socialise more and things like that. It’s just not going to work if we keep hating each other.
I don’t think the program patronised Muslim Lebanese Australians. Rather it went a very long way towards humanising this community, breaking through some very powerful stereotypes. So I say, well done. It was probably as good a corrective to moral panic about Lebanese youth as you could reasonably expect from a late Sunday night religious slot.
Kind of related
… if only just, the link being “Australian-ness”: Am I “indigenous” to Australia? on my English/ESL blog. And speaking of Indigenous Australians, I fear Bruce is really on to something in Beware the Bennelong Society #1. My Aboriginal nephew agrees. Well done, Bruce!