SCREAM: December 2005

A challenge for the artist in the absurdity of the real world order! Where do we stand? And what needs standing up to?

Are we heading for a kind of New Orleansization of the Western world? The looting mentality of capitalism in crises unchecked by the infra-structures of social justice concern is a far bigger threat to individual and community living standards and freedoms than anything mustered by Islamic extremists.

The cultural semen of Osama Bin Laden spawning the rise of new Fascism

Osama Bin Laden and his ilk are like cultural semen infecting the human psyche and body politic with the political equivalent of an STD (sexually transmitted disease). And while this semen infects and impregnates the human race with its mutant strain of Islam, the conjurers of the antidote, the medicine men in governments, are busy implementing cures that are just as bad if not worse than the original disease. So thanks to the Bin Laden inspired efforts on 9/11 and the growing number of atrocities attributed to Islamic terrorists across the globe, we are seeing the overkill as the medicine men of governments seek system wide solutions which not only compound the disease but add to the growing mutations imbedded within the social frameworks of our societies.

Bin Laden's strategy of having as many Muslims killed as possible while making Western and Western sympathetic societies frightened into killing democracy (because of its perceived weakness in the face of evil) is having its effect in spreading his infection as the bodies rot and the virus mutates into media transmissions. And just as his strategy has had the effect of mobilizing Islamic support among the most oppressed peoples the Western government medicine men are conjuring support for Benito Mussolini's ideal of Fascism. Bin Laden's infection has sharpened the contradictory nature of those running essentially democratic governments. Scratch the veneer of a conservative Western style government and you will find a deeply ingrained distrust of democracy and a feeling of it being weak. The two strategies of constraining information through the compliancy of self interested media owners and the constant pressure of limiting or dismantling infra-structures which provide possible mass mobilization in opposition to government initiatives are useful on-going tools for maintaining power. However, the gift of Bin Laden's disease provides incentive for increasing power over any opposition and dissent. The greater good is called upon. The nation state is threatened so individuals need to give up long perceived rights and privileges in order to support the interest of the National body.

Strange then how in Australia we celebrate ANZAC DAY and the struggle against oppression. We celebrate our struggle to support the overthrow of the NAZI government in Germany, the Imperial Government in Japan and the Fascist Government in Italy. Yet now the Howard Government is proposing Fascist style legislation fitting the definition of Fascism as offered by Benito Mussolini:

"The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone. "

The Howard government is proposing legislation similar to that which made people "disappear" in South American countries, South Africa and the Balkins. It begins with confidentiality of the legislation itself then allows little time for scrutiny and then is followed by a proposal to silence anyone who is targeted and then to silence anyone who speaks of anyone targeted. Those who are disappeared under the legislation are then prevented from contacting family, work or lawyers. Sound familiar? Who knows! You may wake up in Ireland or Bosnia one day after being deported while you suffered in a hospital with brain damage. This kind of thing is already happening under the Howard generated paranoia that inspires current legislation.

Vivian Solon was deported to The Philippines while in a semi-conscious state after a car accident. One might ask what kind of paranoid state of mind would see public service officials deporting anyone in this physical and mental state? Let alone, an Australian citizen! What kind of mind set is being endorsed and encouraged by the Government?

And if you think this was just a coincidence? What about the Chinese woman who was eight months pregnant and deported in 1997? The pregnancy was forcibly terminated on arrival under China's one child policy. Or what about the deporting of two Columbian asylum seekers in 2002. One, a Mr. Moralez, was killed on arrival in Columbia. The other, Didi Balanta, was "disappeared". Or have we heard about Ahab Bilal who fled Pakistan in November 2000? He applied for protection in Australia. After being deported from the Villawood Detention Centre on June 1, 2002, he was murdered within two months of his return to Pakistan. And there are many more similar examples of refugees being returned to face death.

The bizarre and Kafkaesque nature of the Government's paranoia and growing Fascist tendency can be seen in the deportation of American peace activist, Scott Parkin, on September 15th., 2005. There was no evidence of his being a security threat. After being deported, he was sent the bill amounting in the thousands of dollars for his incarceration and flight back to the US. Perhaps the most telling deportation is that of Robert Jovicic, an Australian citizen born in France who spent all but two of his thirty eight years in Australia. Jovicic was deported to Serbia by the Federal Government in June 2004. He was alleged to have been involved in petty crime.

None of these people were terrorists. None of these people were overtly in favour of some kind of International Islamic State. None came directly under the jurisdiction of the anti-terrorist legislation. Yet each were victims of a mindset that made their mistreatment possible and even likely.

And it is the mindset that should be of greatest concern to any person with a sense of community and individual respect.

Mr. Howard should thank Bin Laden for his infection! He hasn't made life better for any Muslim. Instead he's made it possible for the Fascist tendencies throughout the world to be sharpened and implemented in ways inconceivable even just a few years ago. The greatest beneficiaries from Bin Laden's disease are not Muslims but those with strong Fascist leanings in the West.

It wasn't enough that the Bin Laden family supported the Bush family's multi-million dollar oil business. While that certainly helped George Bush gain the political clout needed to become President of the United States, his timely and iconistic attack on the Twin Towers 9/11 ensured that an ailing military establishment and the supportive industrial corporations got the necessary boost to their influence and control over the world.

Sadam Hussein's Iraq provided the convenient laboratory for the testing of Bin Laden's disease and Neo-Fascism. The disease mutates with every killing. The mutation makes it more immune to all efforts to destroy it. This is why militant Islam is probably winning the battle at the present time. But ultimately the Islamists will lose as the disease devours itself.

The ultimate winners are those who control the technological power over information and innovation. The whole history of the world can be written in terms of domination by the controllers of technology. This goes further than weapons dominance. It is about the ability to organize, communicate and mobilize. Each of these factors are influenced by advances in technology.

The suicide bomber is an iconic representation of Osama Bin Laden's disease. It is symbolic of the death throws of a romanticized vision of social organization rooted in an idyllic past; of idealized words taken literally; of a frantic howl against the inhumanity of a heartless and callous disregarding modern world; of the obsession with death. But as the disease mutates and transforms, so does the effort to find new ways to destroy it. New technologies driven by huge investments by the key stake holders are being engaged to eradicate it. The controllers of the technologies need the Bin Laden infestation in order to justify their own positions. Without the terrorists, the Fascists have no credibility.

The Islamic terrorists cause only a fraction of the deaths caused by the byproducts of corporate power: road deaths, death by smoking and drug use, obesity, workplace negligence over the past hundred years etc. And what of the murder rates amongst alienated communities in the United States? Killings by gun use amongst the population at the heart of democracy is hardly seen as a problem in comparison with the terrorist threat. Yet how many Americans have been killed by Americans who don't claim the badge of terrorism? Certainly these deaths far exceed the numbers achieved by terrorists. But these are not convenient elements in the package for a neo Fascist corporate state. Are we heading for a kind of New Orleansization of the Western world? The looting mentality of capitalism in crises unchecked by the infra-structures of social justice concern is a far bigger threat to individual and community living standards and freedoms than anything mustered by Islamic extremists. Some parts of American cities are providing dangerous and threatening environments rivalling anything found in Iraq. Yet it took a huge act of Nature to publicize what many already know.

In Australia, only one State and Territory leader has publicly spoken out against the drafting of laws which amount to the closest thing Australian has experienced of totalitarian Fascist thinking. John Stanhope, the ACT Chief Minister, placed an early draft of the law on his web site. He pointed out that such major changes to law should be openly discussed. This was roundly condemned by the sup-ups to the Prime Minister (including State Labor leaders). The usual apologists for "right" thinking Australians derided the ACT Chief Minister. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has been doing everything within his power to stop any discussion or dissemination of the draft legislation.

Mr. Howard expresses disdain and mistrust of the public and the processes of democracy. Having a tangible enemy is a very useful tool in cementing a position and holding power. The higher struggle against a tangible enemy encourages the denial of liberty for individuals to be overlooked. No wonder you can observe a certain perverse delight in the way the Prime Minister says the word "terrorists"! OR haven't you noticed? Bin Laden has given Mr. Howard a new lease on living and probably added years to his political life.

Howard's tendency is a virtual mirror of that in the United States. The comparisons with overtly Fascist states are ominous. Though it should be pointed out that The United States has a much more ingrained free speech ethic than in Australia. In the article "Fascism Anyone?," Laurence Britt identifies fourteen points of similarity all Fascist states have in common. These can be downloaded on a pdf file at:
http://www.oldamericancentury.org/smell_the_fascism2.pdf . Have a look and then glance over the news papers. Spot the similarities.

So what has this to do with theatre?
Cultural Immunization!

In the west the lack of cultural purpose and identity coupled with the abandonment of education goals to Corporate interests means that the study of History, the Humanities and culture has declined to a critical level. George Orwell's contention about separating people from their past making them open for control in the future is very evident. In Islamic States, we see thousands upon thousands of children reciting the Koran. Their heads are rocking back and forth. Their teachers instruct them on the precise and unalterable truth of these ancient words. They are led to believe these words are all that are necessary for life. They recite. They memorize. They focus. Bin Laden's division of the world into a Muslim and Christian/Jewish division provides him with a simplistic tool for infecting these focused minds with a means for achieving goals for a lifetime of struggle.

While fundamentalist Islam seems to be still in ascent, fundamentalist Christianity is nothing more than a death rattle. It might be used to pop up Fascist thinking. However it has very little real relevance or influence over multi-national corporatization of the world with its centre in the USA. When push comes to shove in the western political sphere, the corporate technology paradigm will over-ride the religious right or any other influential religious group. Most likely it will envelop aspects of religious thinking as a marketing tool or cause which can garner support. And this technology driven paradigm for the Western socio/political mix is not, as Bin Laden claims, part of any Christian / Judeo paradigm or structure.

But what would I know? I'm a theatre practitioner and teacher. I don't have Allah or Jesus whispering sweet nothing in my ears or brain. I feel angry because of my fellow citizens following the lemming thrust into some kind of cultural abyss where the most transparent tools of social control and coercion are not being recognized. I am so angry with a humanity that would follow blindly Islamic gobbledegook that motivates young people to kill themselves and old people to bless them for their martyrdom! I am fearful emotional mutations are breeding in the resentful youth angry at the social denials and placating semantics being fed them by politicians and society leaders from all corners of the socio/political spectrum.

John Howard and his tunnel-visioned cronies have set the grounds for the personality of bigotry and lies to polarize the contradictory forces in a fragile world of competing world views. And free thinking people in the middle have been afraid to buck their agendas and constituents. Multicultural platitudes hide and disguise the very real conflicts in the midst of the growing war between the extremes of Islamic dogmas and the controllers of corporate power in the Western World being drained of integrity by greed.

And it is a growing war. People who deny this are only contributing to the frustrations of people on the street who recognize the contradictions but don't have a voice to express it. The result can only be violence. And violence plays into the hands of the neo Fascists and the likes of Howard and Co who's whole belief system is tied to a kind of social Darwinism. The more their policies breed violence and discord, the more they claim the mantle of protectors of order.

What can I do? What can any of us do? I have no set answer; only a tendency or direction to follow. As each step in the Government's strategy of destroying any sense of community or egalitarian Australia is realized, so many opponents stand in awe at the ease with which it is all happening. The compliance of electors to vent their frustrations by voting for Howard's hard line personality on deeply ingrained prejudices and also at the cynical denial of real politics by the ideologues of the left has left the core of the Australian socio / political life in a state of chronic decay and open for the taking.

So do we lie down in the face of this awe? Or act in a way contradictory to the thrust of this development?

I feel it is important to:

  • speak aloud one's feelings and views so that they may be challenged or / and challenging;

  • make it a choice to not be silent in social situations and speak and question;

  • to be engaged in the processes of one's community;

  • to be aware that every time we perform or act in public we are engaging with culture and society (even if it is for an audience of one);

  • recognize that the act of engagement is more significant than its quality or commodification;

  • recognize and act upon the ideal that all theatre is an act of engagement; be it with oneself, audiences, history, culture, society, language, ideas and one's very biology;

  • face fears and to recognize when we, as individuals or as societies, are being manipulated through access to our fears;

  • encourage and support all who participate in the act of engagement regardless of their politics, creed or level of skill because once it is open and out there amongst us and visible it empowers everyone;

  • stand up to those individuals and institutions that would silence us and curb or otherwise prevent our right to engage in the process of shaping our thought, morality, culture and politics (be they religious, political, social and cultural or family).

This feels so conservative and lame in the face of the very real socio / cultural threats we face. There is no call to arms. Rather we should be aiming for a kind of cultural immunization against the diseases of fundamentalism and Fascism and the myriad of related mutations that are bred by these phenomena. The ancient Greek notion of theatre as catharsis is more relevant now than it has been for decades. A liberal dose of scepticism and a sense of our own absurdity in the face of diametrically opposed belief systems might once again be a useful ingredient in cultural immunization against the diseases of fundamentalism and Fascism.

But I am disappointed with my thinking. I would like to imagine a world of people observing their lives and the environment and considering the lessons of history; a place where people were willing to negotiate their clashes in belief to find ways forward; a world beyond dogma and manipulation! It's almost too hard? Easier to adopt an "it's all fucked attitude" and get on with irrelevant entertainment ! Cultural diversions of no consequence! Close the eyes and point out how Utopian idealism doesn't have a good track record either!

But then I read the papers. New Orleans simply writes large what the world has become. Rwanda, Bosnia and Kampuchea put a lie to the "it could never happen again" wish that was so prominent after WW2.

Do we really think we are beyond the barbaric acts of racism and intolerance that we saw and still see in the world hot-spots? And as the carbuncle is about to burst, the Fascists are preparing their return season to the western world stage. Thanks Osama. The West hasn't played into your hands as you suggest. No! You have played into the hands of those in the West determined to rule without hindrance from human rights concerns. You have set up the reaction against any semblance of cultural tolerance and acceptance.

And so to finish my unsubstantiated rant, I can only ponder the question of art and arts practice in such a time. The fence dividing the Fascists from the terrorists is razor sharp.

Joe W

Below is an extract from a response by Peter Wilkins to the above SCREAM. Peter Wilkins is a master Teacher, Theatre Director, Writer, Theatre Producer and Theatre Critic. His responce provides something of an answer to my question raised in the SCREAM.

Ultimately, the individual must confront for themselves the question "What can I do?" in a bubble of disempowerment. As teachers and theatre-workers, we can but do that which we know best how to do, however small, however seemingly insignificant.

On Saturday, we presented our political satire, based on the Senate Inquiry hearing of evidence presented by intelligence analyst and weapons inspector, Rod Barton, to delegates at an international conference on Pain and Death, held at the Centre for Cross Cultural Research.

"This would never be allowed in a Queensland school", said one PhD student from Sydney.

I found this incredulous under a Beattie regime, and would have nodded agreement perhaps when Joh wielded his own fascist stick. "You are liable under the sedition laws', ventured another. "How much of this has been created by the students?" asked another, with a hint of disbelief that such views could in fact have been researched, shaped and performed with the knowledge of the circumstance by 16 and 17 year old students under the direction of a past student.

The piece will tour to the Adelaide Fringe in March, and hopefully will stir debate, which will be this company's contribution to the illumination of issues that we confront under a Howard governement and in a global climate of fear, distrust and deception for whatever vested interests.

I hold no position of political influence; no commercial or economic power, but hopefully I can help a new generation to be informed, alert and aware when they go to the ballot box, watch the news, discuss such events as terrorism, war, free trade agreements and religious idologies. This is why I do The Threepenny Opera, the touring shows that often confront issues and pay homage to our roots in the theatre in education movement.

I do not have the articulate intellectual knowledge or persuasion that you express in your writings, Joe, and I admire your passion and your humanity, but I do have a belief that we hold a proper view of morality and the essential humanity of our species, and it is that that I believe we should be holding up to Nature in the tradition of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Brecht, Boal and Stephen Sewell, and of course - Artaud and Grotowski and Brook. That is why the group devised work plays such a significant role in combating traditional apathy and sterile imitation.

Every educator is obliged to fight the state that promotes imitation, anaesthetizes individuality and subsumes the power of its citizens within the doctrines of its legislation. We live in troubled times, and though our theatre must always entertain, it must, as you imply combine the cathartic and the didactic to encourage individuality to respond in order to maintain the principles of democracy and freedom. Thanks for arousing the passion and the awareness. I hope that this may be reflected ion the kind of theatre that we see emerging although I fear that gagging is not only the prerogative of manipulative legislators, with a licence to dictate.

Seasons greetings and warm regards to you an your family for the festive season and the new year. Let us hope that as you say the disease will devour itself, and restore reason, compassion and understanding to a confused and bewildered world.

Peter W


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