Terrorism, it’s academic

anne alyDid you catch Q&A last night, a show that promised many attractions and diversions. How often could compere Tony  Jones interrupt in the course of a single hour? Would most of those interruptions be directed at what, for want of a better term, might be described as the conservative members of his panel? Well the transcript has been now been posted and, for those who need further confirmation of the way the ABC operates in general, and Q&A in particular, any tally of the constant interruptions endured by Paul Kelly and Tim Wilson will stand in stark contrast to the free rein Tanya Plibersek was afforded to run on at the mouth.

Not that Jones had to shoulder the heavy burden of derailing his less-favoured guests’ points unassisted. To his left was was the showman warmist Lawrence Krauss, who burbled like a blocked gully trap, such was the touring and newly landed American’s eagerness to explain Australia to Australians. No surprise there. If you are on the gravy-train circuit, whipping a living out of pop-science cliches and the sort of self-satisfied alarmism that invites audiences to celebrate their own virtue, then you simply have to deliver the goods. Fortunately for Krauss’ livelihood, the ABC’s gift for stacking live audiences with the dim and noisily trusting meant his braying self-promotion was applauded as deep wisdom.

And then was there was the other guest, the academic Muslim lady, Anne Aly (above), who was billed as “a counter-terrorism expert” and further relieved compere Jones of what he evidently regards as his professional obligation to make sure that opinions unlikely to meet with approval in ABC lunchrooms simply cannot be pithily expressed. When Jones rested his butt-inskis, Garrulous Aly filled the void with tautological profundities such as this:

“It’s not just counterproductive, it’s futile!”

What Professor Aly didn’t address was just what it takes to be listed on an ABC booker’s RolOdex as one of those counter-terrorism experts. A talent for kicking down doors, perhaps, or planting bugs and monitoring terrorists plans and conversations? You might think those would be valuable skills in such a calling but, in the case of Q&A‘s guest, you would be wrong. As her learned papers attest, Aly is an expert on deconstructing counter-terrorism. Her assembled writings can be found here and via the link below, but this slab of po-mo palaver captures the essence of her shtick:

The symbolic significance of terrorism is vested in its capacity to appeal to vast collectives of people who have little knowledge of each other but who share in the spectacle of the event. Whether terrorists succeed in evoking interpretations in the minds of audiences that correspond to their symbolic meaning depends largely on the social and cultural contexts in which meaning is constructed and symbols become representative. Interpretations of terrorist acts are rarely unmediated and always transpire in context. Audiences of terrorism are not a monolithic collection of spectators, but interpret terrorism through cultural discourses, lived experiences and as members of social networks. A school may be a symbol of the lack of educational opportunity for the groups that terrorists claim to represent; but for the audiences that are agents in the interpretation of the terrorist performance, the school may be symbolically representative of innocence. Thus the imagery of the performance (in the mind of the performer/ terrorist) is not connected to the imagery of the interpretation (in the mind of the interpreter/audience).

Wiser now? If not about terrorism — or counter-terrorism, as practiced in Media & Cultural Studies common rooms — then certainly about what it takes to be a favoured by Q&A. Tony Jones cannot be expected to do all that interrupting on his own, you understand.

— roger franklin

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