Representation Matters – on Islam, Star Trek, Dracula and the World.

Some of you may have noticed that the blog is late this week. Truth be told, I struggled with what to write. Once it was written, I struggled with whether to post it. But fuck it, here I go trying to distill my thoughts into a comprehensible piece.

The feedback received from regular readers has been positive regarding my in-depth character analysis of Daria, one of my favourite television programs. Yet I find myself at a crossroads. I have said all I want to say about Daria, for now. I was toying with the idea of doing something similar with my other favourite shows or movies, or books…or tearing shreds off of others.

Then on Saturday morning I woke to news of the situation in Paris. I sat staring at news feed on my phone for hours, joining the rest of the world in shock. In the wake of this horrific event it seems churlish to discuss anything else.

So, let’s talk about space flight.

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To quote the band Sifu Hotman, “The reason that I’m not a nihilist/ Is someday I’d like to live like in Star Trek/ And I know we’ll never build Star Ships / Until we tackle poverty, war and hardship.”

(Listen here)

Sure, we’ll probably not see Star Trek-style space flight within our lifetimes. But humanity will never see it at all if we refuse to embrace those who are different in culture, creed and race.

It was assumed very quickly that ISIS were behind the attacks in Paris. That we jump to this conclusion right away gives ISIS exactly what they want – to be considered a credible threat. That news groups were making statements along the lines of “it is yet to be confirmed that Islamic State is behind the attacks” is telling. In a post 9/11 world, an attack on the west is initially assumed to be perpetrated by the Middle East.  Never mind that Sandy Hook, Aurora and numerous other incidences worldwide were not perpetrated under the guise of religious ideology. The atrocities commited in the name of Islam and IS are claimed by the group, but not necessarily masterminded by anyone high up. On the off chance you haven’t seen it, Waleed Aly explains this concept perfectly here.

This immediate jump to conclusions serves to alienate the Muslim community.

People are determined to blame “The Other” for tragic events, if not “The Other” who worships a different god or comes from another continent then “The Other” with mental illness, or comes from a broken home, or had a traumatic childhood, the jobless, the homeless…anyone who could have been us but for a twist of fate. The reality is that these groups are just handy to point the finger at, to be blamed, turned into monsters, and then forgotten. But they are us.

When we continue to do this – blame and ostracise an entire group for the actions of a few – we show contempt for these people as a whole. Isolating and being actively contemptuous and hostile toward “The Other” causes people to feel isolated and contemptuous, making them perfect targets for radicalisation. If you leave people out in the cold, someone offering a warm jacket becomes an attractive proposition. Not everyone will accept the jacket, but some will.

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Media and popular culture has used depictions and allegories for fear of “The Other” to tell stories since we first developed the concept of tribalism. One classic example of this is the original Dracula novel. Published in May 1897, this novel was written at a time when Britain was enthralled by Invasion Literature. The country was convinced it was about to be invaded by Germany and/or overrun by migrants from Eastern Europe. Dracula was a charismatic character who came to England from Transylvania to spread the disease of vampirism and enthral beautiful English women. One of the reasons the novel became so popular initially is because the idea of “they’re taking our jobs and corrupting our women” is strong in a patriarchal society where women are commoditised. Take, for example, the 1915 film Birth of a Nation.  The film portrays fictional events set in the American Civil war, involving white women and children being rescued from aggressive black men by the Ku Klux Klan. This was one of the first commercial films to use artistic camera techniques, and the story revolved around an ‘us vs them, we must protect the women’ narrative.

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This idea endures to this day. Far right groups such as Reclaim Australia and the United Patriot’s front treat women with contempt on one hand while using ‘women’s issues’ as an excuse to deride Islam. They don’t care about women’s rights to safety and liberty, they just don’t want white women – who they see as their property – mingling with Muslim men. If they cared about women’s rights they would already know that domestic violence is a problem endemic to our entire country. They don’t care that the current count for women in Australia murdered as a result of domestic violence is up to SEVENTY SEVEN so far this year, as long as they can blame it on “The Other.”

Xenophobes didn’t care about women in 1897 and they don’t care about us now. Shielding  women is just a convenient excuse for hate.

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How do we know that extreme right-wing groups don’t actually care about women? Because after terrorist attacks like those in Paris, it’s Muslim women in the west who are physically assaulted in public spaces. The day after the Paris attacks, a Muslim woman in London was shoved toward an oncoming train– luckily the attempted murder was poorly timed and she bounced off the side, surviving with minor injuries. This was a woman going about her day without hurting anybody.

This sort of reaction is subtly reinforced by the language used in our media. “Migrants” rather than “Asylum Seekers,” is one example. That Paris got 24-hour news coverage while attacks in Beirut barely caused a ripple, is another. In the years following 9/11 we saw a veritable barrage of films about soldiers fighting in the Middle East, war-themed video games, and TV series such as Homeland. They follow the long tradition of dehumanising ‘The Other.’ At best, the average Muslim living in the west is under-represented. At worst, the majority of representations of Muslims in the media is hugely negative.

We tell Muslims that they don’t belong in the west, in countries where many of their youths were born. We tell them via the media, on social media and to their faces on the street. But they are us. The Muslim community living peacefully in Australia, the Syrian asylum seekers desperately fleeing ISIS, the refugees in detention… they are us. The longer these groups are excluded the more vulnerable we all become, but if we embrace the marginalised we will deny these extremists of new members. Love, acceptance and compassion are the answers. Do not raise fists in anger toward those who want only to live and prosper in peace.

People ask ‘what can I do?’ Boost signals. Share stories. Demand that multicultural societies be represented. Embrace writers, characters, directors, creators and stories from all walks of life. Reject stereotypes. Representation is more important than just trying to appease people, it’s about solidarity and inclusion. More importantly, we shouldn’t be kind to people just on the chance that their alienation will lead to them joining radical groups; we should be inclusive and kind because we are all human beings.

Words matter. Visuals matter. Hearts and minds matter. If we fight the fires of hate with a torrential downpour of love, acceptance and unity, we can achieve more than we ever dreamed possible.

Even space exploration.

 

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