Tuesday, December 12, 2006

NSW: Must not call a student a terrorist -- even if he behaves with the same petulance and aggression that they do

Racial tensions have erupted in the school system, with a teacher facing an anti-discrimination board complaint after branding a Muslim student a "terrorist". The classroom confrontation, revealed by The Daily Telegraph on the anniversary of the Cronulla riots, shows that race tensions in parts of southern Sydney are close to boiling point. The clash exploded at Blakehurst High School when legal studies teacher Michael Seymour told Lebanese student Wagih "Zac" Fares "I don't want to negotiate with a terrorist" during a minor incident during lessons.

Outraged by the slur, Wagih, 16, punched the classroom wall and door before running from the school pursued by Mr Seymour in his car. Wagih shouted: "I'm not a terrorist. How can you call me a terrorist? Do you know what is happening around the world?" He said Mr Seymour replied: "I'm sorry, Zac. Please don't run. I'm sorry, just calm down." After returning to the school Wagih picked up tables in a hallway and threw them, again screaming: "I'm not a terrorist."

Mr Seymour, a teacher for 20 years, was reprimanded and ordered to attend a multicultural sensitivity course. It was found Mr Seymour had not intended to shock, embarrass or humiliate Wagih but his family claim Wagih he has lost all confidence and his self-esteem. Unhappy about the school's handling of the matter and concerned about Wagih's future treatment at the school as he enters his HSC year, the Fares family, of Brighton-le-Sands, has lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board. They want Mr Seymour kicked out of the school.

Fallout from the incident comes as the Iemma Government and police are desperately trying to avert a resurgence of racial and cultural violence. Sensitivities among communities of Middle Eastern background - particularly in the Sutherland Shire and the areas around it - are still running high a year after the riots. Wagih's sister Zena said yesterday the family wanted Mr Seymour, a highly regarded teacher, transferred out of Blakehurst High because her brother was now "frightened" of him and his presence would affect his work. In a statement to the Anti-Discrimination Board - a copy of which has been obtained by The Telegraph - she said: "My brother was already dealing with difficult issues as this incident happened during the time of the war in Lebanon - we didn't even know if our family was dead or alive."


New Testament Christianity a "cult"?

The Anglican diocese of Sydney [comprising mainly evangelicals] is in danger of acting more like a cult than a church in its attempts to suppress dissent and diversity, says one of its ministers. The Reverend Keith Mascord, acting minister for the South Sydney parish, has urged reform and an immediate change of direction for the church in an unprecedented open letter to the diocese's clergy and lay people. His letter reveals concern about a speech to ordination candidates given by the Dean of Sydney, Dr Phillip Jensen, in which he was said to have declared it sinful for women to preach to men. The dean, an opponent of women becoming priests, was also said to have declared it sinful for men to allow women to preach.

The letter calls for seven changes, including a new way to deal with grievances and a relaxation of restrictions on non-Sydney ministers coming into the diocese. It will be considered by the diocese's policymaking body on Monday. Dr Mascord said there was an emerging culture of fear and a trend towards "censorship of thought" within the diocese when it should be motivated by love, humility and openness. "People are increasingly afraid to voice alternative views, to argue a different case than the dominant line, for fear of being verbally abused and/or socially isolated," Dr Mascord wrote. "People are afraid to go public through fear of being crushed. This is appalling, more characteristic of a cult than a church."

The Bishop of South Sydney, Rob Forsyth, said there was no suppression of dissent. "There are strongly held views in the diocese and I will admit that it sometimes takes courage to disagree with them. This has been true of the diocese for the past 100 years." The bishop did not share the dean's position that God did not wish women to preach in church. "Phillip's view is held by a good number of people in diocese but it is not an official view because there are genuine differences about what the scriptures mean. The Archbishop of Sydney licenses women to preach in mixed audiences. No one's been refused ordination because they have a different view on women."

Dr Mascord said his intention was not to burn bridges but to encourage a more "Christlike" diocese that lived out the values of the gospels and was a place of lively and respectful debate. He understood going public carried some risk but he felt the issue was too important to remain silent. Dr Mascord said his concerns were distilled from "countless conversations" with people in the diocese, including many who "feel voiceless and powerless". He had received more than 100 letters of support.

Criticism of the church's uncompromising theology is not new but has been mainly limited to progressives from outside the diocese opposed to its position on women and homosexuality. Rarely has such internal criticism surfaced publicly. James McPherson, the president of Anglicans Together, said Dr Mascord's overall thesis "all rings true".


Media bias against men

Despite years of activism, education, research and even government intervention, men and women are still not portrayed equally or fairly by the media, new research shows. Men are overwhelmingly described as either villains, aggressors, perverts, philanderers, or, in rare positive stories, as metrosexuals, a study into news and current affairs stories about men reveals. The findings are supported by research into stereotypes of men in advertising, which found they are commonly represented as insensitive, stupid or incompetent.

Jim Macnamara of the University of Western Sydney, studied more than 2000 articles and TV stories about men over a year. He found 69 per cent were unfavourable, compared with just 12 per cent favourable and 19 per cent neutral or balanced. Out of 100 stories about fatherhood in the nation's six most popular newspapers and magazines, only one was written by a man. Many did not even quote a man, Dr Macnamara said.

When men were portrayed positively - in shows such as Queer Eye For a Straight Guy - it was often because they had "embraced their feminine side". He said this further demonised men by reinforcing feminine traits as positive and masculine as negative. Although the "metrosexual craze" was largely created by advertisers to sell products during the time of the study - mid-2004 to mid-2005 - it was uncritically embraced by newspapers, magazines and television, Dr Macnamara said.

He found 99 per cent of stories about violence portrayed men as the aggressors, though this view was not supported by statistics. "You can watch Sunrise and it's common to see a woman say that men are 'commitment-phobic'. That's just not true. You can see from the men volunteering to fight bushfires or join the army or going through the Family Courts to get access to their children that men are attracted to commitment."

Dr Macnamara said the impact of the negative representation of masculinity was being seen in social policy. "Men are already being excluded from jobs working with children, Family Court decisions are overwhelmingly made against them," he said.

The findings, published earlier this year in a book based on Dr Macnamara's doctoral thesis, mirror ongoing analysis of television commercials by Mike Morrison, the chief strategist for the advertising firm George Patterson Y&R. Mr Morrison has studied men in TV ads and found they are often shown as incompetent or ignorant, particularly in commercials for household products. He said that when society accepted stereotypes, advertising often adopted them. He said such advertisements were often the product of lazy writing. "You might see an ad for sanitary napkins with a young man in it who does not even know what they are," Mr Morrison said. "That's not only wrong, it's boring. It might be an easy ad to write, but that doesn't make it a good ad."


South Australian public hospitals failing too

The rot is not confined to Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria

An extra 80 patients a day were admitted to public hospitals in the past year while more people were forced to wait longer in emergency departments as health system demands intensified. The Health Department's annual report, tabled in Parliament this week, shows on a daily average 1035 patients were admitted to hospitals, up from 955 in the previous financial year. Thirty-seven per cent of patients waited more than four hours in emergency departments before being seen, up from 30 per cent in 2004-05.

Each day, an average 1358 people were treated in accident and emergency departments, compared with 1300 the year before. A total of 328,572 people attended emergency departments, up from 310,661 in 2904-05. There were 896 on an elective surgery waiting list for more than 12 months, down from 1045 in 2004-05.

Health Minister John Hill said the demands on public hospitals were at "their greatest level", mainly because of SA's ageing population. Opposition health spokeswoman Vickie Chapman, who is waiting on Freedom of Information data on each hospital, said it was "pointless to conceal individual hospital information when it is important to identify which of the hospitals are really struggling".


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