Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Antony Beevor and Bei Dao all used the Australian media today and yesterday. This priceless dividend stems from the cultural investment Sydney has made, in the form of the Sydney Writers' Festival.

Beevor was heard during drive time on ABC 702 Sydney this afternoon. The interview mainly paid attention to his recent history of the Spanish Civil War. Later, on ABC's 7.30 Report, Beevor was brought around to more topical issues by host Kerry O'Brien resplendent, as is his wont, in open-necked shirt and blazer. It is fitting that historians should be listened to when they discuss such events as the Iraq War, as Beevor did tonight.

The program's Web site has reserved a space for the transcript, but we'll need to wait until they get around to finishing it. Check back later. O'Brien pointedly mentioned the Web site in his closing remarks, so it assuredly won't be long.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali featured on a less high-brow program, Channel Seven's Today Tonight, a favourite target for the boys of The Chaser's War on Everything, which screens Wednesday and again on Friday night late. Host Anna Corin's segues get their attention for the complexity she uses to bridge the gap between unrelated stories.

Tonight's clip will certainly not be the butt of any jokes, I'm certain. Corin's guest is too serious a person and is surely more like them than Corin herself. But without the Islamophobic slant, it's doubtful whether Ali would get exposure in this forum. "A woman who can never go home," was Corin's lead.

After the kicker, Ali talked of the "gross injustice" of Islam, as evidenced furthermore by Angela Bennie's piece in today's The Sydney Morning Herald.

On TV she said she doesn't know how many death threats she gets. Part of the security regime regulating her life is that her mail is opened for her. She was introduced as a woman who "looks like a fashion model" and I think she is very attractive.

Also on the show was Mustapha Kara-Ali, described elsewhere as "an agent for change". But here he seemed to resent Ali's appeal and success in commanding attention.

According to Corin, "Her courage to question will be her greatest legacy".

To finish up, we get a story on Chinese poet Bei Dao. This is a non-de-plume for a writer not favoured by the Communist regime. Having taught in the U.S., he is to move to Hong Kong to take up a post at a university there.

Bei seems confused by modern China, which he left decades ago, when "allowed back only in short visits over 2001-2003":

It was a changed Beijing. "Of course the physical changes were very obvious. But changes in the mentality … people used to be very relaxed, very honest, very direct, straightforward. Now the pace is getting faster and faster, people are so busy, it's getting hard to meet, to find time for classmates to get together.

"The topics are quite different from the 1980s: we used to talk about culture, literature, arts. Now most people talk about money, sports, like anywhere in the Western world."

The journalist, Hamish McDonald, muses on a recent death. He'd interviewed Anna Politkovskaya for last year's festival. I bought her Putin's Russia recently.

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