Randa Abdel-Fattah: ‘Racial Australianisation’ and the affective registers and emotional practices of Islamophobia
Abdel-Fatteh talks about the ways in which the Lakemba area has been racialised as a dangerous, Muslim space of otherness. Even a modified shop dummy becomes a symbol of threat. Racial meanings have been embedded across a range of symbols, including halal certifications, particular food, clothing, and Arabic script. This needs to be understood in the context of Australia’s history. We also need to understand Islamophobia as a range of practices: a problematisation of Muslim identity that we can see as related to the history of whiteness in Australia.
Interviews displayed the ways in which white Australians set themselves up as arbiters of Australian identity: interviewees emphasised that they saw Australia as having Judeo Christian values, and that they felt they could ‘read’ the affective gestures of Muslim Lebanese around them (and could identify Muslim people specifically through their affective gestures). Over the last years, attention to Muslims (or people seen as Muslim) has become ever more sharply trained in Australia, through the lens of Islamophobia. We’ve seen a socialised affective practice around the understanding of Islam, a belief that white Australians know the real essence of Muslims (a similar process to that around anti-semitism). White Australians ‘stick’ the label of could-be-terrorist to all Muslim bodies, which also implies a constant fear of all Muslims.
The question for anti-racist activists is how to intervene in these affective associations. We need to create processes of unsettlement. This needs to go beyond myth-busting: Islamophobia can’t be challenged only through the provision of facts. Islamophobia isn’t a Muslim problem, it’s an Australian problem.
The Reimagining Landscape and Sustainability panel opened with Zafu Teferi and Paul Newman’s work on Indian Ocean Settlements. Teferi’s research on Addis Ababa slums includes a recognition of the sense of community and social solidarity in these informal settlement. Rather than destroying slums, it’s possible to think about how to renew dense informal settlements and provide decentralised infrastructure without destroying them. This will require new systems of governance based on the already-existing community structures. While the context may be very different in Australia, the White Gum Valley demonstrates some important links, including a focus on community-focused sustainable living with a distributed infrastructure.
Gary Burke spoke on Re-Imagining Economics: sustainability-information economics, accounting, taxation and narrative to foster creative well-being. Economics is a mythology, rather than a science. We need to think critically about economic systems, and about how we understand sustainability. Neoclassical economists construct analysis as if economic activity is a machine: this means reframing the issues to suit the existing conceptual paradigm.
Danielle Brady’s (co-authoring with Jeff Murray) Reimagining Perth’s Lost Wetlands tracked the history of draining, filling-in, or reducing Perth’s wetland areas. Not only have these wetlands physically disappeared, even the memory of their presence and effects on the development of Perth are also largely forgotten. Brady presented while wearing a ‘Say no to Roe 8’ shirt, noting that as she was speaking others are involved in an effort to save the Beeliar Wetlands: protesters are being issued move-on notices, with threats of arrests to follow, and there are calls for support, including to phone the Premier. We do have wetlands left in Perth, and knowing their history may help us in imagining a future version of the city that incorporates and values wetlands. This also needs to be linked to processes of decolonisation.
Finally, Andrea Gaynor talked about Re-imagining Australian wheatlands: heartlands to artlands? Gaynor is asking whether art can help build sustainable rural communities, putting the question in the historical context of rural depopulation, efforts to bring ‘culture’ to the country, and changing configurations of community and belonging. While we sometimes romanticise rural Australian life, we should remember that rural communities have been build on the violence of colonisation, and that rural community built hierarchies of belonging and control.
Large international, externally-run part projects, like the silo art trail, have the potential to contribute to building more sustainable rural communities, there are also important limitations to what they might achieve. The silo art project was developed without consultation with local communities. The idea was that people from the city would drive out on a rural art project. This might be seen as part of a broader trend: the commodification of nature within the global tourist economy, and one shaped by metropolitan sensibilities rather than building rural community and artistic expression. There are other art projects that are community-driven, drawing on farmers’ skills to create art, like the one in Lockhart.