Sunday, July 25, 2010

That’s Life - Shane Crocker on Hinch and Gay Marriage

above: Melbourne 3AW radio commentator, Derryn Hinch 

In this new article Shane Crocker commends Australian radio commentator, Derryn Hinch for his support of queer marriage.  Crocker also critiques the position of Bill Muehlenberg, who he identifies as a right-wing Christian opponent of Hinch.  The publisher of 'Left Focus' (Tristan Ewins) also explains at the end of this article that Muehlenberg does not speak for all Christians.

By Shane Crocker

Which TV/radio presenter has been married several times, has an opinion on absolutely everything, shoots from the lip before checking facts and has an ego the size of a planet?

O.K. Let’s narrow it down a bit.

Which TV/radio presenter has been married four times, has an opinion on absolutely everything, shoots from the lip before checking facts, has an ego the size of a planet, publicly admits when he’s been wrong and has played himself in a comedy movie sending up shock-jocks?

When Derryn Hinch started his in-your-face current affairs show, Hinch, back in the 1980’s I was not impressed. Here comes another self righteous, conservatively minded, loudmouthed bully, doing shock-jock on TV, was my first impression.

Hinch, like every other egomaniac TV presenter went too far too often.

Then Derryn Hinch started doing things that no other shock-jock/ current affairs personality ever did. He would apologise on TV when he got something wrong.

A shock-jock saying “sorry, folks, I got it wrong”. That certainly shocked me.

My opinion of Hinch went up even further when he sent himself up in the 1999 comedy movie The Wog Boy.

Hinch has been mellowing-out over the years. Maybe he’s been more reflective since being diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2007.

When Derryn Hinch was publicly abused by John Laws at a Sydney restaurant in December 2007 he went up yet another rung.

Today, I’ve moved Derryn Hinch to the top.

Last week he authored one of the most enlightened opinion pieces I have ever read. It was wrong of me to oppose gay marriage by Derryn Hinch was published in The Australian on July 16, 2010.

As I read the article last week, apart from being awestruck by his humanity, I was thinking “now let’s wait and see the backlash”

The backlash came today.

Bill Muehlenberg is an American born Evangelical Christian and right-wing conservative now living in Australia. He is the secretary of the Family Council of Victoria, an organisation which is active in misrepresenting gays and demonising Muslims, amongst other far-Right obsessions.

Muehlenberg’s website is a cornucopia of paranoia, xenophobia, bigotry and hatred of everything and everyone who does not conform to his own narrow version of conservative American Christianity.

An anti-Muehlenberg blog can be found here:

Today (July 21, 2010) The Australian published the response to Derryn Hinch’s article.

Heterosexual marriage is society's bedrock by Bill Muehlenberg

Here, Muehlenberg starts off with an attack on the position of Derryn Hinch, referring to an earlier work of Hinch’s in ‘The Australian’.

He then launches into a sermon on the absoluteness of human sexuality and marriage:

“It (heterosexual marriage) regulates human sexuality, and it procures the wellbeing of any offspring from the sexual union.”

Go to the nightclub strip of any city on a Saturday night. Heterosexuality is catered for almost exclusively, but you won’t find any “regulated” human sexuality there. There is also no guarantee of the “wellbeing for offspring” in heterosexual marriages.

Next he goes into full paranoia mode citing a conspiracy of the “homosexual lobby”.

Next stop, outright lying. “40 years of social science research” has proved children are damaged by growing up in households without both a mother and a father. He does not cite any source of this “scientific research”.
Last stop, full-blown hysteria:

“ every child should have the basic human right of being raised by his or her own mother and father…This of course is stolen from them in same-sex households”

I have to confess to being a little disappointed with The Australian newspaper.

It’s not that hysterical reactionary opinion pieces upset me. I’m used to seeing this sort of thing more and more often in the main-stream press.

It’s just that I thought that The Australian would make a bit better effort in finding a counter argument to gay marriage that rose to the high standard of Derryn Hinch’s article.

Isn’t there any reasonable argument against gay marriage based on enlightened, rationalist principles rather than fundamentalist religion?

Apparently not.

Note from the publisher ( Tristan Ewins ):

I’d like to qualify my publication of this article with a few points which are important to me.

Firstly, I am myself a Christian. That being the case, I wouldn’t accept a characterisation of Christianity which portrayed it as 'essentially' right-wing. For most of my life I have been a Christian, a liberal and a socialist.  Christianity, for me, is deeply concerned with human dignity, compassion and distributive justice.

For my own part, I believe queer unions can involve the same depth of commitment as heterosexual unions, and should involve the same legal status with regards treatment for tax, welfare and other areas. This should be legally recognised by the state. 

Personally I believe it is usually best for children to be raised by their natural parents: but this applies in the sense of being favourable to alternatives regardless of sexuality.  Sometimes, though, adoption is the best option, and parents in that context can be both loving and dedicated.

There is controversy amongst Christians about the will of God in these and other areas.

In Australia, we live in a liberal and pluralist society. Religious bodies cannot impose their values upon broader society, and broader society recognises the liberal rights of civic organisations, including religious organisations.

For those organisations, though - including Jewish, Christian and Islamic – who hold as a matter of doctrine that they not facilitate same-sex unions, and not recognise them as holding the same status as heterosexual unions – it would not be right to attempt to force such a position upon them.

Many in faith-based communities are regularly faced with dilemmas: where the reason and secular conscience of their members is at odds with the laws and tenets of their religion. Some distort the tenets of these religions into a message of hate; but it is true also that fear and expectations of unconditional obedience – are at times intertwined. For the faithful and those of deep social conscience these are profound challenges.

The liberal, pluralist and secular political regime that defends the rights of religions also protects the rights of sexual and other minorities. Freedom of speech, assembly and association are generally assumed. At times when we make exceptions to this regime, we potentially weaken the consensus upon which liberal rights rest.

Religious bodies should be able to hold their own doctrines; but association with such bodies must be voluntary; and there must remain separation between church and state.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

There Are No Innocents in Gaza

above: the author, PhD candidate and blogger Dubi Kanengisser

In this thought-provoking analysis, Israeli social commentator and PhD candidate Dubi Kanengisser considers the human rights of Gazan Palestinian citizens, challenging arguments that conflict with Israel somehow 'negates' these basic rights.

By Dubi Kanengisser;  originally published June 24th, 2010

taken from the 'Pogg' blog; for more info see:

I’ve recently read Lene Hansen’s Security As Practice. The book offers a methodological framework for post-structuralist discourse analysis.1 I must admit the book got me quite excited, in as much as one may use terms like “excitement” when discussing methodology, and I’m now considering revising (slightly) the goals of my thesis so that I may base it on a variation on her method.

At any rate, for the methodology not to be completely disconnected from practicality, the second half of the book is an application of the research design she described to the case of Western discourse surrounding the war in Bosnia in the 90′s. In the concluding chapter, which also reviews the benefits and limitations of the methodology, there was one sentence that I copied down as of particular interest, not because it is relevant to my research, but because I felt it says something substantial about the current situation in Gaza, the flotilla, and the whole discourse and counterdiscourse surrounding the siege.

The Discourse of ‘humanitarian responsibility’ “constituted a ‘civilian victim’ to whom humanitarian responsibility was extended, but this subject was only ethically privileged insofar as it maintained a separation from the realm of political and military agency. ‘Innocence’ in turn was depoliticized and dehistoricized”.2

I think one may see a parallel between the situation described by Hansen and the situation in Gaza today, at least with regard to the rejection on the side of Israeli discourse of the idea of humanitarian aid to Gaza. For example, many argued against the flotilla that they don’t really want to bring humanitarian aid, but rather that this is a political act. Again, as in Bosnia, humanitarianism is perceived as relevant only if it is disconnected from politics, and the two cannot co-exist. There cannot be a political act of humanitarian aid, since these are polar opposites.

Similarly, when they addressed the question of the justification of providing humanitarian aid to Gaza’s residents, the objectors raised the argument that the Palestinians in Gaza voted for Hamas (and therefore lost their right for minimal living conditions, if this is what Israel decides is the most expedient way to preserve its interests). The very fact that Palestinians have become political agents denies them the right for basic living conditions. One might see here an almost Hobbesian view of the act of voting – by electing the Hamas, the people of Gaza not only gave their vote to this party in a geographically and temporally bounded elections, but they actually invested their very selves in the hands of Hamas so that every action by their government is for all practical purposes their own action.

It is interesting to remember, of course, that Israelis, even those who support the government, don’t attribute such mystical characteristics to their own act of voting — one need only think, in this regard, of the responses to the cancellations of concerts by Elvis Costello, the Pixies and others recently, responses that may sometimes be read as a sort of farce on the criticism against the siege.

(An interesting example of this sort of thinking was recently published (Hebrew) in the right-wing Channel 7 radio station. A rabbi heading a pre-military academy, Rabbi Zeev Sharon, was interviewed saying that a soldier who killed a civilian during war time should not be put on trial, because the civilians of the enemy are themselves the enemy. A similar example was revealed by human rights organization Shovrim Shtika – see the discussion and video on one soldier’s account of getting orders to this effect here.)

My argument here, I should emphasize, is not similar to claims against collective punishment, or those that state the siege makes no distinction between Hamas supporters and their opposition (and one might add that it strengthens the former and weakens the latter) – although I do use such arguments myself often. In this current context, it should be clear that such arguments fall right within the boundaries of this “humanitarian aid” discourse Hansen identified: they deserve humanitarian aid, because they are not all political agents, because they are innocent victims, not part of the political, violent factor.

I have a feeling, which isn’t substantiated in any way in the book so I will leave it with this definition, that there is a link between this discourse of depoliticized humanitarian aid, and the notion of “terror”. The Geneva conventions dealt, primarily, with the question of how one should treat one’s enemy’s soldiers in a humanitarian way. The whole concept of humanitarianism arose from the crazy idea that even soldiers on the battle-field have a right to medical treatment, regardless of the proximity of their own side’s medics. The humanitarian discourse, then, did not start out with this distinction between humanitarianism and politics — who else but the soldier represents the state on the battle-field? But even he deserves medical attention and basic rights once the need arises. If we apply this to Gaza, Israel is fully within its rights to lay a siege on Gaza if it perceives all who are in it as enemy soldiers (and I will beg the question if this perception is justified or not), but it must then supply those “enemy soldiers” with all their basic needs.

The new humanitarian discourse that Hansen identified in Bosnia and I claim exists also in the case of Gaza, rejects the possibility of the two co-existing – a person who is a political agent cannot be eligible for humanitarian aid.

I can hypothesize two non-exclusive tracks that led to this change.

One, again, is terror. The shift to a-symmetrical war in recent decades has taken the sting from the Geneva conventions – and if one side is not committed to them, naturally the other side cannot be held to them either. If Hamas doesn’t see a need to provide the Red Cross with access to captured soldier Gilad Shalit, then Israel shouldn’t have to provide the Red Cross, or any other humanitarian organization – let alone political ones! – access to Gaza. Any agreement by Israel to transfer humanitarian aid into Gaza, then, is beyond the strict requirements of law, and therefore Israel may set whatever restrictions it damn well pleases on this aid without harming the humanitarian discourse in its new form.

If, however, we reject the stipulated contradiction between eligibility for humanitarian aid and political agency, then the actions of Gazans have no bearing on their ethical privilege to receive humanitarian aid.

The second track has to do with extending the humanitarian ideal far beyond aiding soldiers in the battle-field. Ironically, extending the humanitarian idea to larger and larger parts of the needy population (as opposed to developing other ideas of aid, for example, such as charity), eventually caused the exclusion of combatants from that very ideal. How, after all, can you include starving children in the same group with fighters armed to the teeth, and demand the same treatment for both?

What conclusions can we draw from this? One of the inherent limitations of Hansen’s framework, which she readily acknowledges (and actually argues that it is derived from the very view of post-structuralism, which, as I noted, I have no idea what that is), is that one cannot derive practical conclusions from discourse analysis. It allows us to understand situations, but not to analyze causal chains. Therefore, we cannot develop policy based on such an analysis.

I see myself as less committed to Hansen’s view, and therefore think one can derive policy prescriptions from this analysis – about the best means for challenging this discourse, the best ways to oppose the policies derived from it, and the best alternative policy given the current conditions. I believe such conclusions can be drawn. I just don’t know what they are.

(Originally posted on my ie: Dubi's - Hebrew blog on June 17, 2010. cross-posted on IsraLeft.)


I’m not big on theory, and if you ask me what’s post-structuralism I probably won’t be able to answer. In fact, I wouldn’t have known her approach is post-structuralism had she not said so herself. The book itself avoids jargon most of the time and hardly ever refers to all sorts of French people like Derrida and Foucault and other people who wrote books I can’t read. Even when she does reference them, she explains exactly what she means, so even morons like me can understand. [↩]

Lene Hansen, Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War (New-York: Routledge, 2006), 212. [↩]

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