jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

Tag: racism

bad time to be a refugee (as if there ever was a good time)

by tobybee

it’s a bad time to be an asylum seeker, trying to come to Australia. I suppose there’s never really been a good time, seeing as there has been an official White Australia policy, and there still continues an unofficial desire for a White Australia on the part of the various lawmakers and many members of the population. So last week a new report was released, commissioned in order to provide advice to the government on how to deal with those people who come to these shores by boat, seeking escape and safety. And instead the report recommended, and the government agreed, that offshore processing and indefinite detention should be embraced, to try to ensure that asylum seekers are not able to make it here, and that they are punished if they work with people smugglers to seek out freedom.

One thing is clear though, amongst all this demonising of people who do whatever they can, and pay whoever they can, to escape: if there had been more people smugglers working in Poland in the late 1930s and early 1940s, I’d potentially have more family alive.

And in the Jewish community, as I posted the other week, we’ve had to reckon with the unholy words of Robert Magid, who says that we shouldn’t show compassion, and that refugees are not refugees. So many, it turns out, in the community disagreed – there are now over 600 signatories to the open letter that was initiated by the AJDS. Quite an amazing thing, and quite an inspiring demonstration of the existence of a Jewish community that I’m happy to belong to.

Our friends over in Kingston who run the radio show radio613 interviewed me about the goings-on. You can listen to it, if you want. And you can come along to the next Jews for Refugees meeting, which is taking place at 4 pm, Sunday September 9th, Melbourne Multicultural Hub, White room. 506 Elizabeth St, opposite the Vic market.


fear and comedy

by anzya

Someone wise once told me that the opposite of love is not hate as is usually thought, but is in fact, fear.

I was thinking about this last weekend after I went along to a pretty wicked stand-up comedy night: a joint gig from the Melbourne comedy team “Fear of a Brown Planet” and the US group “Allah Made Me Funny“.

It’s not often that you get to see a multi-performer comedy show where none of the performers are white. And in the audience white folks were definitely in the minority too. The MC of the night, Azhar Usman, made a point of it when introducing the show. After asking all the Muslims in the audience to make some noise, then the Jews, Christians, and atheists, he paused and whispered conspiratorially “we can take them”.

I also realised that while I was giggling away for most of the night, there were people around me who seemed to find the jokes way funnier. And I realised (perhaps obviously) that what’s essential to comedy is that it can relate back, and comment on your own culture, and the beliefs, norms, customs and values that you were raised in/ adhere to/ are practised around you. Comedy, at its best, is insightful and self-revealing. And though even though a lot of the jokes about Arab superstitions, India and Islam went somewhat over my head, I think I still related a lot to the jokes about immigrant families and parental expectations, and to the jokes that referenced politics in Australia and abroad, or made fun of racist, ignorant and/or clueless people, and which could give a perspective on white, western culture from a standpoint of otherness.

All in all, there was a really friendly, warm, vibe about the show. Everyone in the audience seemed to be laughing, supportive, cheering and good natured. But about halfway through Aamer Rahman’s (one half of Fear of a Brown Planet) set, a couple walked out. (They actually weren’t the first – a woman had ducked out earlier in the night, which had prompted a string of jokes from Usman the MC, who reasoned that she must be a doctor and clearly had a medical emergency to attend to… But the same lady apologetically, and accompanied by further doctor related commentary by Azhar, returned to her seat a short while later.) So, maybe not expecting a the response he got, Aahmer said something like “leaving so soon?”, to which one half of the couple replied “well if it was funny we’d stay”.

I suppose it might not be a surprise to Muslim comedians making kind of provocative, political referenced jokes, to have walk-outs like that quite often. But it felt weird to me. Why would this couple find a joke SO offensive that they would walk out on a comedy show that they paid to see? Especially when they went in with the full knowledge that it was called “Fear of a Brown Planet”. And they left halfway through the show when there were a couple of different acts still to come. I mean, I’ve seen some pretty awful comedy shows in my time (the Mebourne Comedy Festival is always a bit of a gamble like that). And even when I’ve found comedians dull, sexist, moronic or excruciatingly irritating, I’ve never walked out on a show. In fact, there’s something so brave – even desperate – about a the act of putting yourself out there alone on a big stage with a single spotlight, trying only to get people to laugh; I find there is a kind of respect, or patience that goes hand in hand with this, that people necessarily give to stand-up comedians. Haven’t you ever got stuck in the front row of a really bad comedy show, and still laughed when the comic tried to crack terrible jokes? You do, even if you swear to yourself never to see that person’s gig again. It’s just, you know, human.

Though I’m not sure exactly what prompted this couple to walk out, they did so pretty soon after a joke Rahman was making at the expense of the Australian military, in which, to condense a longer, and funnier joke, he joked about how Australians were proud of their military incompetency, which is why they celebrate Anzac Day. It wasn’t that Rahman’s jokes weren’t funny or weren’t engaging the audience, cos they totally were. But a friend remarked afterwards that joking about Anzac Day is one of those taboos which make Australians uncomfortable. I think she’s right. Though I also think it’s odd that at the same time, Australians seem to think of themselves as being so good natured, and willing to laugh at their own expense. I think that in fact, while this is what many Australians might think, it isn’t true. Obviously, we’re pretty touchy about jokes about Anzac Day, especially when their made by a young, brown, politically engaged Muslim guy.

So, it seemed ironic that in a show that dealt with fear and racism, there was this obvious example of why Fear of a Brown Planet is so important and relevant, in the couple I watched tensely make their way out of the theatre.

I’m looking forward to catching Aamer and Nazeem’s gigs again soon, and to see these guys continue to make great comedy.