Sunday, December 28, 2014

Art and thought in Australia is as dead as dead due to a fear of critical thinking

"Freedom of expression in Australia is not just governed by the laws of defamation, obscenity and blasphemy that vary from state to state but by hidden disciplinary forces, systems of control that seek to create a reality of their own making." Dr Marcus Bunyan, Sept 2013 
Lee-Anne Raymond near text panel describing the aims and origins of Surrealism -
National Gallery of Victoria 27/12/2014 - Modern art section 

Australia is governed by a deeply protective, institutionalised, conservative moral philosophy that is reinforced by a self-interested cultural sector, legal authority and legislature. Rather than acting to resist in the erosion of freedom of expression these authorities and cultural bodies keenly maintain the status-quo preferring the entitlement this brings above overthrow, evolution, revolution and therefore change. The art of Surrealism has at is core the nature of transgression. As an art-form, as a way of life (as many of the original Surrealists experienced it), the genre observed the world in which they lived through a critical lens reflecting reality and truth to demonstrate what was the real illusion or delusion - the perception of the accepted reality as being all that was good and beneficial. Now in more enlightened times, we see the Surrealists as cause cébre fighting against evil and oppression, yet they remain marginalised fringe dwellers in our public art institutions. In their time the Surrealists were roundly rejected and marginalised for their unflinching criticisms of authority and of the political and societal institutions in which they lived. They were labelled “offensive”, “immoral” and “negative” and their art “degenerate". They had many enemies but fortunately a few influential allies in addition.

Metamorphosis with Nicab (detail) 
In Australia 3/4 of a century later judicial institutions protect themselves by enacting religious like decrees, edicts, to prevent criticism and will and do punish their critics for transgressions, artistic or not. Individuals within or who are outside beneficiaries reinforce their own position and tenure by ensuring no steps are taken to question either their own or the institution's role. No mirror may be held up to liberate the truth, let alone allow for the kind of truthful self-reflection that might allow for illuminating change. In Australia there is a distinct and entrenched perception that to question authority is simply wrong, to challenge it or expose truth “negative”, “intemperate”, "racist", "immoral", “offensive” and perhaps “degenerate". To be critical is to be “aggressive", to be transgressive, “intemperate” and “immoral" and therefore repugnant to society. 

It has become so very Australian to be squeamish about speaking out against anything, be it an idea, an organisation or a person for fear of causing offence. This is in no small part due to the fact there exist written and unwritten laws to deter and prevent criticism. The unwritten laws will have you socially and professionally shunned. The written laws have the critic fearful of attracting financial repercussion and legalised persecution. 

Additionally there is an Australian characteristic, perhaps transposed with force by colonial, antique (European), magisterial beginnings, that is now a self-sustaining conservative moral. So, although born from more imperious beginnings (lèse-majesté), keeping silent for fear of experiencing physical harm, has transformed into a distinct Antipodean fear of expressing critical thinking because it can and does attract financial penalty and social ostracism. In my case criticism of how a Director of a now defunct gallery behaved toward us during an exhibition by myself and fellow artist has resulted in record penalty and complete ostracism from commentators in the arts or political communities. Presumably this is because they might agree with what is a truly bizarre judgement in the face of the actual trial evidence, and, or are too fearful of receiving the same treatment, to object or question it. Logic and reason are the enemy of our judiciary if as it transpires the evidence regardless of the facts are what the judge says they are. 

Australians and the institutions that are intended to operate for their benefit are intolerant of anyone who would seriously challenge such institutionalised authority, effectively shunning those who speak for freedom of expression and thought. Unwittingly (one would hope) by their acquiescent silence Australians who could or might normally speak up are merely reinforcing their own censored existence, and the persecution of those who do attempt to resist it. 

When we legally constrain our artists and thinkers who might criticise us, deter criticism through the actual application, or threat, of law and punishing legal fines we are assisting in the creation of our own end of times. When we enact laws to limit critical analysis and thought of a subject, an idea, an uncomfortable history, an authority, a religion in order to protect these concepts from harm (defamation) we are limiting our own freedom of thought and expression.
In a liberal, secular democracy, where dogma (religious, political, cultural) and its protection above all is allowed over a flexible application of logic and reason it is the beginning of the end of that social framework.

To be an atheist, an artist, a thinker in Australia is to court trouble and rejection particularly in the court system which is heavily peopled by the practicing faithful. Atheism, art critical of religion and political contradiction, art which provokes thoughts and ideas that challenge the status-quo are by their mere mention controversial. Australia's squeamish conservatism would have us believe that to criticise culture, policy, politic is to be subversive and “negative” if not seditious. It is considered better, more acceptable and more safe to reject the critic and then their criticism and protect authority even when logic and reason suffer. When this is most evident it is where any criticism of the Islamic religion and doctrine is shut down instantly with cries of “Islamophopia” or “racism”. Atheists long critical of Judaism, Christianity and the gods of antiquity are now automatically labelled “racist" and “Islamophobic" when Islam is critiqued. All atheism is viewed with some contempt and suspicion by the general religious majority but the Islamophobia slur has been so effective that even some self-described atheists consider other atheists critiquing Islam to be somehow phobic and suspect.

Add to this the insidious creep towards official censorship within elements of our own human rights institutions supportive of oppressive blasphemy laws that utilise defamation law to further a cause that claims critical debate regarding faith systems is "defamation of religions”. It is a peculiar and malignant marriage of convenience representing the biggest self-made threat to the universality of our human rights in recent history. They propose laws that would legislate religions and doctrines deserving of special protection from harmful criticism as they are an attack on the human rights of the faithful who are defamed as a consequence of any criticism. The result if successful (several attempts have been made at the UN) would be catastrophic as it will criminalise blasphemy on a wide scale. As Dr Bunyan notes above ultimately they would succeed in shutting out all "dissent" by creating a "reality of their own making".

To depict in my art real criticism of religious doctrine i.e. Islam is a transgression too far, one that goes against conservative, institutionally reinforced Australian moral sensitivities. Critical art is considered “offensive” art because Australians fear critical thinking and its consequences. We must work hard to protect our rights, many are unwilling, or too uninterested to do so. 

So the NEW-Moralist declares an artist “racist" in public and receive judicial sympathy and support for it. Thus an unbalanced legal system further punishes the artist for communicating truth, and, to object to what is categorically unjust and a persecution becomes further evidence of malice. The artist is labelled the “liar” and the bully is rewritten as victim. The evidence becomes what the judge says it is.

Fed and endorsed by its colonial parent legislature Australian courts, the Victorian Supreme Court as a case in point, are leading the way onwards and downwards towards censorship and protection from criticism any idea particularly those held by the religious. It is an implementation by stealth of "defamation of religions" law. 

To critique religious doctrine is, simply put, as valid a form of social questioning as to critique a judicial system. Both are off limits in Australia. It is credulous to believe that in this country we have support for real forms of artistic expression or critical thinking under such conditions. 

If you are a critical thinking artist, an atheist and a free thinker in Australia then you are considered offensive and racist and you will have no supporters come to your aid to argue otherwise.

Note: Top: Quote extracted from the research paper 
Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies
Dr Marcus Bunyan - posted online here

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Islam is in need of reformation, this is what we witness with every terrorist act in its name

Picture: Bradley Hunter Via:
Though an atheist, because it brings some comfort to my humanist mind, I do prefer to think only the brave and innocent shall rest in peace.

We will try to comfort the victims, we will keenly mourn those killed, so close to rescue, or who now are left wounded physically and psychologically. We feared for them during their horrifying ordeal and feel for them now because of our compassion and humanity. As a majority we abhor the violence done to them and would seek to prevent it recurring. These characteristics to protect, secure and to mend those we see harmed we are born with. They develop in us as we grow, and we know instinctively and intellectually they are self-preserving and help to harmonise our collective associations into societies and communities. What happened in Sydney attacks this at its core.

In the aftermath of the Sydney, Martin Place, Lindt Cafe siege, even during, the Islamophobia accusation was raised to any daring to put the incident into its religious and Islamic context. I also felt during the event it was best to wait, best to ensure that nothing affected the safe retrieval of the hostages. Yet, obviously however strong the denial, through the prism of this man's religious zealotry we were shown some of the problems with Islam and more widely the problems with an ideology that promotes and expects religious immersion and obsessive devotion to it. This requires critical examination, as it is this kind of ideology that is incompatible and phobic.

As the horrendous situation in the cafe unfolded for the victims it was remarkable to note the verbal contortions security,  officials, politicians, reporters and many commentators went to in order to not state what this was, to in effect deny it was an Islamic doctrine inspired Jihad against a society that does not adhere to Islam. The "Sheik" was bringing the delusion of the "war against Islam" home to Australia to show those participating in it the error of their ways. In the face of the evidence before us it was jarringly absurd to see the insistence that a "reason was unclear" for his act. The facts were incontrovertible that this man acted for and in defence of his religion, which he invoked, and for the freeing of oppressed Muslims. Muslims, as fundamentalist will have it, may be "oppressed" simply by having to live in, or next door to, a society that is non Islamic, that does not support Sharia Law, supports gender equality, inalienable human rights, or by a society (Australia) that rightly contributes actively in world events defending oppressed peoples, even when, the oppressor is of Islamic origin. 

So do we honour and mourn the victims by examining the real cause or shuffle it aside muttering that only more faith and religion will heal our wounds? Predictably the requirement is we must defend only not criticise at all the very ideology that brought death and violence to a Sydney cafe. Two hostages died. Two innocent and precious people killed by an ideologue and ideology that belongs in another time. No, this is a shaming type of censorship that is too far and beyond reason. The victims are not responsible, Australia is not responsible.

Islam is a religion that as with others (a point any critic of Islam is required to make), such as Christianity and Judaism, seeks to supplant its own ideology above that of secularity and humanism. And, whilst I am permitted to state this about other major religions, because of the simplistic argument that "they deserve it", I cannot say this about Islam as that would make me "racist" or "phobic". So, in a society which celebrates free will and freedom of association and thought, certain loud voices censor criticism of one religion whilst condoning or allowing the same criticism of others. Somehow the message that Islam's followers are an oppressed people and that criticism of their religion oppresses them more (so much so as to cause them psychological harm) holds under the weight of its obvious flaws. 

It is clear that atrocious events like this latest one in its name demonstrate that Islam needs to enact change from within. Open secular societies, in which Islam's right to exist is defended equally alongside the rights of other faiths, cannot yield ground on such freedoms in order to further the aims of any one of those faiths above another, yet this is what it appears is expected for and by Islam. 
What exactly does modern Islam want? 
Apparently, peace. 
Islam cannot claim the pure epithet of a "religion of peace" when in order to gain "peace" it must be awarded only under Islam to the exclusion of all other religions and political and societal frameworks.

Islam, as is any other faith, is an ideology steeped in tradition, superstition and uncompromising observance. Islamic doctrine is, as are others, self-avowedly antithetical to humanism. How Islam is communicated to followers, along with serious doctrinal evolution, is required but no one of that faith appears to be at the point of even recognising this. Islam as a religion and as a political system seeks submission. Doctrinally, followers must reject all and every other way of life or living. The word of God through Mohammad as directed in the Koran is taken literally by many of its followers (it is difficult with some passages to see how else one might take them). Many of the Koran's passages are naturally seen as edicts one must follow to be a true Muslim, yet many are simply incompatible with a modern society of the 21st century where humanism, secularism and egalitarianism are celebrated and only enhance our humanity with purpose that has nothing to do with any religious affiliated. It is about time to note this with a dry eye. Ultimately when Islam reforms Islam will find the peace it claims it must currently impose on others.

To critique violence inspired in its name or to critique Islam as the product of so much mystical mumbo jumbo, as with any religion, are entirely consistent activities by atheists everywhere. It is consistent also within a secular, democratic society to, without fear or favour, challenge and critique systems whether political or religious. Atheists critique religion (plural), Islam warrants no special exemption on that basis. Violence perpetrated in the name of Islam should naturally then attract criticism.

Under the microscope yes we do likely have a mad man who was inspired in his madness and by his religion. Sometimes politics makes them mad. Sometimes religion. Sometimes both. It needs to be honestly recognised in this case and similar that the religion of Islam and the phenomenon of Islamofacsism converge to produce real life monsters. Monsters that only increase despite every repeated denial of their origin or existence. It is not as has been erroneously (without any valid or factual basis) and offensively contended that critics of Islam are somehow responsible for inflaming or inspiring terrorist to do their despicable acts. It is the message of Islam that requires examination and rewiring, Islam needs to emerge from or be subsumed by its Middle Ages Ideology. 

"Shahada" is Islam's declaration of the faithful - the first pillar - and translates, without loss of context "There is no God but Allah and his prophet is Mohammad" It was this declaration, announcing the Sydney hostage siege and his act of violence that the self-proclaimed Islamic Cleric (I will not name him as he deserves no honour in being remembered) used to defend Islam and its ideology. Allah is praised or invoked by every suicide bomber, by every so called "insurgent", and, is the sentiment of every rocket or bomb targeting civilians. 

Allah is God? We need less religion if this is the religious manifesto of Islam. The brutal and indiscriminate taking of innocent lives, the imprisonment and torment of hostages is a declaration of war on secularism and democracy in the name of Islam. Give me freedom from having to endure such religion.

If Allah is the message of peace under Islam it is a remarkably violent and oppressive expression in how some followers are manifesting him. 

Note: The future does not rely upon our devotion to any religion or religiously derived ideology. It is instead more contingent upon our survival that we become less religious, less governed by superstition and antiquated God belief systems that endlessly and obsessively fight amongst themselves for pre-eminence as chosen ones in the eyes of their   "God" delusion. 

About Leeanneart

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
We are first and foremost human with a responsibility to the humanity within us and not to any faith, political, apolitical, social or societal group, union or faction. We are responsible for our own reputation, and for what deeds we do and what achievements or otherwise in life we enjoy. The rest is nonsense.