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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

John Howard's ability to polarise Australia has not been mitigated by his retiring from federal politics, as we saw last night on the ABC's Q and A program, where an audience member, telling host Tony Jones to "Take this as a comment" - a now-humorous line that was made famous by the same host on the same program - stood up from his seat in the audience and threw his two shoes at the the former conservative government leader, who was the only guest on the panel. "That's for the Iraqi dead and this is for the Iraqi living," he shouted.

Howard's decision to follow George W Bush to war in Iraq in 2003 is the screaming subtext for the act, and more specifically an event that took place in Baghdad during a press conference in 2008. From Wikipedia:
During a December 14, 2008 press conference at the Prime Minister's Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, [Iraqi broadcast journalist Muntadhar] al-Zaidi threw both of his shoes at then-United States President George W. Bush. The throwing of shoes is an act of extreme disrespect in the Arab culture. "This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog," yelled al-Zaidi in Arabic as he threw his first shoe towards the U.S. president. "This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq," he shouted as he threw his second shoe.
In Sydney, where the most recent abuse of footwear took place, Tony Jones was deeply embarrassed by the disrespect shown to his guest, and stood with a hand raised as though to ward off injury as you can see in this screen-shot from the video which this morning has been posted on the websites of Australia's leading mastheads.


The shoe-thrower has been identifed as Peter Gray from Newcastle. It was reported last night that he asked ABC staff if he could retreive his shoes later. He was refused. A young woman accompanying him also left the auditorium, shouting "You've got blood on your hands!" The audience snarled at the two young people as they left the space.

I didn't watch the program and instead took, again, to reading Gautam Malkani's Londonstani, a 2006 novel about young South Asian men living on the outskirts of London. The book is written entirely in a patois based on the ideosynchratic way the young men have of speaking and on the vocabulary of text messages. Despite this encumbrance it's an engaging and entertaining book that paints a picture of dislocation and resentment among an important component of the community. On the one hand, the kids take every opportunity to get back at white Londoners out of a sense of grievance at the racial discrimination they perceive everywhere. On the other hand they are embarrassed by their upwardly-mobile first-generation parents, with their strange accents and strict rules of propriety. It's the story of a potentially lost generation of youths with tremendous potential for societal contribution who feel alienated by the community and who draw their own rulebook for conduct that appears likely to set them on a collision course with normative social standards.

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