Arguing the toss about literature, provocation and radicalisation

Michael Mohammed.AhmadIn a period of heightened anxiety about radicalisation of young people and fears of Muslim extremism comes a discussion of radical literature at Western Sydney University. On Friday, November 6, the Writing and Society Research Centre on the Bankstown campus will host sessions that aim to challenge the boundaries and reclaim the contemporary migrant-Australian narrative. The first session will feature award winning author of The Tribe, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, above, in conversation with internationally acclaimed Future Generation Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory at Melbourne University, Professor Ghassan Hage, below, as they explore the images and realities of the Arab-Australian narrative.

Through the last 20 years, this narrative has been profoundly coloured by media reports of sexual assault, drug-dealing, drive-by shootings and terrorist conspiracy. It has often overwhelmed any effort to understand a growing community that has a significant place in contemporary Australian society. Michael Mohammed is a founding member and director of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement and a passionate advocate of improved literacy and critical thinking among marginalised young people.  At last count, Sweatshop had conducted workshops for more than 10,000 Australian high school students. Professor Greg Noble from the university’s Institute of Society and Culture will chair the session, which will unpack the various representations Prof Ghassan Hagein media, politics, film and literature that have shaped our understanding of the Arab-Australian identity.

An item in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald described the NSW Premier’s $47 million plan to fight extremism in schools. “Specialist teams and trained counsellors will identify students at risk of radicalisation and help counter violent extremism.” It is a move that has been welcomed by members of the Muslim Women’s Association, who have been seeking similar training for counsellors and mentors for many years. Some leading teacher representatives fear the initiative could be counter-productive in schools. Andrew Zammit, a counter-terrorism expert from Melbourne University recently recommended programs that encourage critical thinking among students rather than suspicion by teachers.

The second session of Friday’s event will be a conversation between radical Melbourne poet TT.O and critic and editor Professor Ivan Indyk. Greek-Australian by background and anarchist by conviction, TT.O’s poems have dramatised the voices and gestures of the working class of inner city Melbourne, and marked the migrant presence in Australian poetry throughout 40 years. In addition to the conversations, the panellists will take questions from the audience and perform readings from their upcoming books. Radical Literature is a free event hosted by Western Sydney University’s Writing and Society Research Centre and will include a complimentary lunch. Western Sydney University, Bankstown Campus, Building 3, Room G 55, from 11am – 3pm.
Bookings are essential. RSVP: writing@westernsydney.edu.au

Studio Stories - ProvocationThere is a further opportunity to hear Michael Mohammed Ahmad, left, when he is joined by Faith Chaza, centre, and Aanisa Vylet at Parramatta Artists Studios on Thursday, November 19, from 6.30 to 8pm. Studio Stories presents a monthly event of readings, discussion and open mic showcasing western Sydney writers. This time, they will be Stories of Provocation – “stories that will enrage and provoke you and maybe even change the way that you see the world.” You are invited to come for a drink, a chat, a listen and BYO your own material for the open mic.

Free. No RSVPs required. Parramatta Artists Studios, 68 Macquarie St, Parramatta.

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