Sunday 17 June 2007

The dark side of the tribe

A few days ago another horrific story about honour killing went through the news.

Those terrible events haunt us not only for the murder but also because they confront society with the dark reality hiding behind the romantic image of the tribe.

From sports to the construed glory of indigenous society, when it comes to the tribe the West likes to see in such demographics the opportunity to re-live its own mythical past. The ambience of close relationships, immovable customs, and a value system unencumbered by outsiders are perceived as a comfort zone we in our seemingly unnatural sophistication have lost long ago.

A classic symptom of selective memory. What is conveniently forgotten are personal ties that are inviolable, rigid laws that must never be broken, and the veil of secrecy protecting wrong-doers at any cost.

There is a reason why large-scale societies have left such prisons behind. The more people there are subsuming themselves under a common law, the more open and more accountable such a framework will need to be. The sheer volume and dynamism demands it.

The relationship can be turned around quite easily. A society that cannot manage to overcome traditional idiosyncrasies will not be able to extend its reach since its parts will stay bound to their respective customs; overall harmony remains elusive.

Societies can be seen as systems, and so their definition relies on identifiable common denominators. Hence there are systems within systems, institutions, organisations, and groups; all situated within the greater whole but equally cultivating the similarities of their members.

Should any such entity revert back to a cloistered existence its relationship with the wider realm becomes endangered. Queensland has provided us with examples - years ago it was the entire state government under Joh Bjelke-Petersen that actively hunted down dissidents, more recently we had the health system which tried to silence those that spoke out against its transgressions.

And always it was the value system of the tribe held above all else; submit to the group, play along, don't speak to outsiders lest you get punished.

The affair surrounding Griffith reveals another version. In the West universities achieved a degree of autonomy grown out of the desire to protect our places of learning against the vicissitudes of religion and politics. They were meant to be a sanctuary from ideological persecution and the hysteria of the driven masses. Yet as human activity systems they are equally not immune to tribal machinations, should the opportunity arise. To misuse something of value is a form of decadence.

On the advice of Queensland Education Dr Richard Armour, the Academic Registrar at Griffith University, was presented with the case. His response? The same old whitewash dished out so many times before. No new information had been provided he claimed, when in fact the questionable selection of the thesis' examiners was mentioned for the first time. In his view the evaluation should stand, when in fact the points raised by myself had not been examined. How could they have been, unless one assumes the presence or otherwise of text written in black and white was actually some form of hallucination on my part. Should I submit to a test, to ascertain whether I am capable of parsing sentences and processing their content?

Or had Dr Armour's examination of the case been nothing more than talking to a select few, relying on their assurances that everything is just fine? Never mind the glaring detail, if only there is the will to look through the veil.

It's the tribe all over again: submit, play along, don't say anything. After all, it worked for the Kurds, didn't it?

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