Sunday, May 02, 2010

Waleed Aly: a coherent voice of reason

As I previously posted, this weekend saw Williamstown Town Hall host the Williamstown Literary Festival. Yesterday, I attended a number of events, bookend by my favourites: a screening of Paul Cox's The First Wife in the evening capped off a day that began with a discussion about current social issues between former Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, and Waleed Aly. Aly is my favourite social commentator on the topics on which he speaks. I have great respect for both his intellect and - in particular - his amazing ability to take complex historical, social and political events and concepts and explain them with great clarity and coherence. In a sense, he's our very own Noam Chomsky, the only other person I can compare him with. In particular, since the events of 911, he has been a sane voice of reason in this country.

I've never really openly discussed my admiration for both Steve Bracks - possibly Victoria's most popular Premier ever - and Waleed Aly. Because it's been a largely private thing, it was perhaps a little bit of a surprise to discover that I wasn't the only one. I suppose it really shouldn't have been, and it was nice to be able to share the appreciation amongst like-minded people.

I recorded the event with the video capability of my compact digital camera. It's not something I normally do and I didn't plan to. If I was more prepared, I'd have had a spare battery - unfortunately the power ran out just before the 20 or so minutes of Q&A. I also lost about a minute changing the memory card - fortunately I carry a spare one.

The subject of the talk pertained mostly to Waleed Aly's book People Like Us. He covered a diversity of subjects, mostly around the so-called divide between Islam and the West. From the book's cover:
People Like Us confronts the themes that define this chasm [Islam and the West] head on: women, jihad, secularism, terrorism, Reformation and modernity. Its piercing examination of these subjects reveals our thoughtless and destructive tendency to assume that the world's problems could be solved if only everyone became more like us. The result is deep mutual ignorance and animosity, reinforced by both Muslim and Western commentators.
The talk was absolutely enthralling and if possible, I'm sure both speakers and audience could have stayed for several hours (it went for over ten minutes over the alotted hour). Perhaps most interesting was how Aly explained the differences in perspectives between Islam and the West and the difficulty in defining what is Islam and what is the West.

I asked a question about the stoning of women in places like Iran (I'd just seen The Stoning of Soraya M. the previous day) and how this sits within Islam. I can't relate the answer accurately but to try, Aly mentioned that Iran is an aberration within the Muslim world and, unlike other Islamic nations, Iran is a theocracy. Since the Revolution, Khomeini modelled the country's political structures much like Marxism. I feel inadequate to do his answer more justice, and unfortunately I didn't record this part of the proceedings.

I've never posted to YouTube before, and here is the bulk of the event in four parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4*

* I missed about a minute between Parts 3 & 4 (changing the memory card) and about 20 minutes at the end, all of the Q&A (no spare battery).