There's something to be said for Melbourne when the springtime finally sneaks up on us. One minute it's gale-force winds, and the next Jasmine and the blossom trees are flowering, its crystal-blue skies, everyone's cheery and it's 22 degrees.
I'm sincerely looking forward to my next sunburn.
It seems that every winter I think that living back home wouldn't be so bad, especially when the sky turns concrete and the overnight temperatures plummet. But then that solitary, teasing spring day sneaks out in August and you just know it and a few mates are going to start turning up in packs of four, five and more as Summer accelerates and overtakes us in fits of 40+ days by February.
Mind you, this contrast is even brighter because no more than a week ago I was rugged up like an Eskimo when leaving yet another, you guessed it, seminar. This time the subject was freedom struggles in two countries, East Timor and West Saharan Africa (which is currently governed by Morocco). And fortunately, what was an otherwise only mildly interesting series of talks was rescued by another great speaker.
This isn't to say that the circumstances of either country should be taken mildly! Timor is getting screwed by the Australians over the oil in the Timor Sea, and West Saharan Africa is getting 'the treatment' from Morocco on account of its recently discovered oil/mineral resources. But these days the rapidly aging brain can only absorb a certain amount of new information without reaching the boredom threshold. Maybe we'll have to leave that particular struggle to the next generation.
I like going to the IPCS because they have a good range of interesting speakers from all kinds of fields year in and year out, and is the sort of place to hear people you wouldn't hear in New Zealand. This particular seminar was rescued by a bloke called Kwame Mfodwa (don't ask me to pronounce that), who refused to strictly adhere to the topic and instead began to wax lyrical about what he understood and the most pressing issues facing both these and other contemporary nations. Now this is really fascinating.
Mfodwa made two points, the first being that what we traditionally understand as 'the left' need to get smarter in its approach to solving the problems the West is presented with, such as whether to support freedom movements. He didn't mention this, but his talk reminded me of a usual problem in international relations. What seems to be common to a lot of people is a certain type of confusion about the difference between 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter'. This result is that old problem of relativity slips into the equation and over complicates our all-too-often TV or documentary-informed version of reality.
And East Timor is a very real case study of this type of conundrum. When the Timorese were fighting in the mountains to free East Timor from the Indonesians, it could have been easy to sell them as 'freedom fighters'. In fact, the very language I just used was intended to skew you towards that point of view. If I had said, Timorese rebels hiding in the jungles with few supporters, and resisting responsible Indonesian government, you might have thought otherwise.
What made me chuckle then was that in a room full of serious and slightly mystified academics and 'concerned citizens' was Mfodwa taking the piss out the very cause-driven people attending his seminar! I'm guessing that he is Rwandan because he exhibited a real frustration with people quote - 'seeing a bunch of darkies' - unquote walking along a road and automatically throwing money at them in aid. His assertion that in at least one case he knows of the people in the TV footage he saw were most likely not actually be refugees, but instead Hutus fleeing their massacre of Tutsi. But, TV spots disturbed concerned persons of all political persuasions, and got these Hutu millions in aid. This perhaps fictional example made his assertion about the Left needing to get a little smarter seem all the more real.
Following this controversial point was the real kicker though. As part of this need to make our thought more sophisticated was a request for the audience to really start thinking about what he called the 'politics of hate'. And the more I think about it, the less I can see any way out of the particular impasse he asked us to consider.
Using of the example of, as he put it, 'our friend Mr Bin Laden', Mfodwa indicted that some problems simply cannot be solved by either side of the political spectrum. This is of course remarkably like something a rabid conservative would argue, i.e. that we can't placate, appease or compromise with 'extremists', but Mfodwa's argument was subtly different because of his emphasis on not an equally extreme reaction to hate, but more that we need some kind of new thinking to deal with this type of intractability.
The very real question this situation gives rise to is that in the hell do we do with people who just hate? And I don't mean hate like "I hate my life", or "I hate these jeans I need new ones", but that deep and unfathomable hate of the truly angry.
Most likely the solution will have to do with undermining the fundamentalist mind-set that bolsters these type of characters, and the movements they spawn, because direct confrontation will simply escalate the very violence and hate we're trying to overcome. It is remotely possible that the solution involves letting the haters implode, as Hansonism did here in Australia, but someone like Bin Laden is substantially smarter than her and her corrupt followers.
To be honest, I'm thinking seriously about putting this type of problem in the 'long-term solution' box, which is of course one level up from the 'too hard'.
A large part of my despair about this problem is that the Right seems to think that really nailing these people will solve the problem. But surely this makes the Right just as dangerous as the extremists they're trying to eliminate, I mean, look at the body-count in Iraq, or Chechnya.
And for the life of me I can't find any good alternative from any Left-leaning thinkers, except for demands for the Right to wait and think about who they're going to bring force against. Demands that become increasingly shrill as the Right gets a head of steam up.
In the meantime though, I'm planning to start indoctrinating people in something other than the types of hateful bile we're seeing in the streets these days. Its ironic that Russell ran his most recent column because he effectively nicked my next gag, but hey, if you couldn't see that one coming you'd have to wonder. So I'll run with it anyway.
My main problem to get some good indoctrination going is of course money, but I think I have a solution. So any concerned people out there can, and should send me cash to help in the establishment of AFF, the AntiFundy Fund. We're planning a big rally, and your cash is guaranteed to only be spent making people relaxed, comfortable and happy.
Especially me. So I'll keep you posted.