Friday, 24 February 2006

I watched a new drama on SBS last week called Jammin’ in the Middle E. I’m not sure if they’re going to serialise it. I also read a review of the program in the local paper. Living in the part of Sydney that I do, multiculturalism is important for me.
The story in The Torch that I reported on earlier in this blog (a 31 January piece) is a case in point. In that story, an Anglo man, a retired sailor who is affiliated with a Christian church, complained to Canterbury Municipal Council about the signage visible along Beamish Street — the main drag in Campsie, where I live.

The TV drama that screened on the Special Broadcasting Service — a service implemented under the Fraser Liberal government in the late 1970s — starred a family of Muslims living in an inner city suburb — actually Bankstown, near here — and showed their adventures. Ishak and Naima are brother and sister. Ishak contemplates the possibility of torching his clapped out sedan. Naima is studying at university — a fact that her father insists on reminding her of. Seems he thinks she thinks she’s better than she should be, although we're not quite sure if she really thinks this. In fact, it's really her father's personal obsession. But when Ishak's friend wants to ask her out, she tells him to ask her father first. He doesn't, and they go out anyway.

In the story's mildly disharmonious world, this family is assimilated, but still unquestionably Muslim. Ishak and Naima tend to socialise mainly with friends who are also Muslim. We don’t see Naima at university. We only see Ishak with his car-mechanic Muslim friend and his petrol-headed enemies. Ishak is heavily into rap, and composes his own songs. Their father runs a company that organises wedding ceremonies — all his customers seem also to be Muslims. It appears, at first glance, to be a fairly insular world, a place where socialising with people from other walks of life constitutes a rare opportunity.

Now, the Treasurer, Peter Costello, has aimed some potentially inflammatory barbs at the Muslim community, telling them to assimilate or get lost. Leave their cultural baggage at the door when they enter the country or face the wrath of all good Australians. A few days earlier the Prime Minister, John Howard, made similar comments. The NSW Premier, Morris Iemma — a second-generation Australian of Italian extraction — has endorsed Costello’s comments. Iemma’s electorate of Lakemba is one of the country’s most heavily Muslim areas. Clearly, he believes what he is saying. As the child of migrants himself, and the political leader of the country’s most populous state, Iemma should be listened to. What do ethnic Muslims feel about these comments? No use looking to The Torch — committed as it is to dousing the flames of sectarianism, given its position as the enthusiastic mouthpiece of the multicultural aspirations of this part of Sydney — but rather the main organs of the media, which are committed to scourging wayward politicos and riotous ethnics alike.

Jammin’ in the Middle E was mildly entertaining. Apparently the program developed out of youth workshops conducted in Bankstown last year. The ending was not entirely satisfactory, an upbeat, comfortable finish to a program that never really “addressed” the issues it could have, very thoroughly. The father appears to acquiesce in the face of his children’s interests in boys and loud music. The mother is virtually non-existent. There’s a loud grandmother who encourages the children, while at the same time dressing Ishak down when the police give him a talking to. It’s all about aspiration, in the end. And we can all understand and endorse that. More of this sort of aspiration would certainly please the Treasurer, the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier. Keeps 'em out of trouble. Keeps 'em honest. Naima’s a student. She’ll be right. Ishak wants to be a rap singer. He’ll be right.

Right on.


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