Praying with the Hoff. – By Jarrod McKenna
Australian youth grow up on a steady diet of Americana. The indoctrination in American culture via the media is so strong that even when mocking it we perpetuated it. A recent example being at the ARIA’s (the Aussie equivalent to the Grammy’s) the two biggest awards of the night were presented by David Hasselhoff who was described as a `cultural icon’.
I laughed out loud when I heard that. Over the past few years praying with icons has become an increasingly frequent spiritual discipline for me so the use of the term to describe Hasselhoff seemed even more ridiculous (No offence to Hasselhoff, who apparently is well respected as a musician in Germany). As one of my favourite iconographers Robert Lentz has said, an icon is “much more than a picture…. It makes present something that is sacred so that the person worshipping has a mystical way of touching the divine.” Icons are a window to reality, the reality of what is going on in ourselves, what is going on in our world, and the Spirit’s movement in the midst of that. The more I thought about the use of the word `icon’, in the context of what is happening politically in the US, Australia and the UK and the current ecological crisis we are living through (yet are unsure whether our future generations will be able to live through) the more sense this nonsense made to me. The “Hoff”, through no fault of his own, has become for us an icon of the `sound and fury signifying nothing’ which distracts us from the pain our world is feeling. We fear being overpowered by pain, so we structure society to escape the pain that would transform us if only we would enter into it and let it pass through us.
In Australia, on the periphery of the mainstream media radar, is another American that I would like to offer as an alternative `icon’ for a more fruitful contemplation. This lesser known figure will never be able to generate the kind of frenzied fluff that forms the content of the `infotainment’ which increasingly replaces the art of journalism in this country. His name is Scott Parkin. While respected for his work in the States he has never received the kind of national attention he has been getting in Australia of late. What happened to Scott Parkin is of concern to everyone because his experience offers us a window to see the disturbing trends present in so many Western Democracies at this time in history.
Scott’s trip to Australia included what most backpacking tourists do when coming `down under’: enjoying the beaches, seeing the sights and maybe even learning to surf. However on the 12th of September Scott experienced something that you will not find in any tourist brochures. In his own words:
“Walking out of a café in Melbourne, I was snatched off the street by four Australian Federal Police and two Immigration Compliant Officers. They informed me I was being placed into “questioning detention” so that the Department of Immigration could assess if they were going to cancel my tourist visa or not. In truth, “a competent Australian authority” had already assessed me to be a “direct or indirect risk to Australian national security,” cancelled my visa and had begun the process of removing me from the country”
You’re correct in thinking Scott isn’t just you’re average tourist. Like Rosa Park’s who recently died at the age of 92, Scott was inspired by the work of Martin Luther King jr., and `Mahatma’ Gandhi and has dedicated his life to teaching nonviolent social change in their tradition. What is the risk to national security? As Scott shared in his defence to interrogating officials “I’m a nonviolent person, a peace activist. I organise peace events. I do talks.” These talks, where Scott shared his stories and experiences of being a peace activist with interested groups of people, was must have been this `risk’ that had him incarcerated in a high-security prison facility before his forced deportation. It’s hard to know exactly why because Scott was not charged with a crime nor was he given any further grounds for his arrest, just a bill for $11,000.
The hilarity of the “Hoff-factor” and other meaningless fluff we are fed dazzles and distracts us from the windows, or ‘icons’, which reveal our current situation. Like the killing of an innocent Brazilian man by London police at a train station, or the unprovoked brutalising of farmer and Christian peace activist Jim Dowling by Queensland police, the deportation of professional peacemaker Scott Parkin is a dark and disturbing icon on which to gaze at our current political climate.
The Scott Parkin situation I suggest is a window to the condition of many Western democracies that were part of the `coalition of the willing’. Increasingly in Australia, The United States of America and the United Kingdom we are seeing legislation which erodes and undermines human rights all ushered in on a wave of fear named ‘anti-terrorism’.
The upcoming Anti-Terror Legislation in Australia, much like the Patriot Act (I&II) in the US and the Anti-Terrorism laws in the UK, all share similar characteristics. None of them address the causes of terrorism. Rather, they serve to silence through intimidation views opposed to those in Government. These same dynamics of citizens in democratic countries giving over their rights because of the fear of terrorism in not new to history.
As John Croft has recently pointed out, the recent anti-terror laws introduced in Australia, the UK and the US all share remarkable similarities with something called the Enabling Act. The Enabling Act was passed over 70 years ago in response to what was thought to be a terrorist attack on the Reichstag or Parliament. People were so fearful of the threat of terrorism; there was little opposition in the passing of this Act which altered Germany’s constitution. After the act was past German citizens had little power to oppose the will of the new Chancellor, Adolph Hitler.
How interesting it is that the counties that made up the coalition of the willing to import democracy and impose freedom have become increasingly fearful and are seriously hurting the freedom of their own citizens by passing laws which undermine our democracy.
Hitler’s right hand man, Hermann Goering, in his war crimes trail explained how easy it was for the Nazi’s to hijack Germany’s democratic government with these words:
“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
American Pacifist, Scott Parkin was denounced and attacked in Australia as “exposing the country to danger.” In responding to the alarming restrictions on our civil liberties, I return to the idea of praying with icons. Fixing our eyes on icons allows them to speak to us, often speaking what we do not wish to hear. I as much as anyone would like to opt out of the darkness of our current situation and instead enjoy mocking some poor guy who made a career of talking to a car named `Kit’ and running down Californian beaches in slow motion with unnaturally proportioned part-plastic women. I hope however we will find the courage to, as Joanna Macy puts it, “sustain the gaze” with our own pain and see the current reality as manifest in the icon of Scott Parkin’s experience. In struggling to maintain our human rights, may the Hoff bless you.
Jarrod McKenna is a nonviolence trainer, educator and activist from Perth, WA. He is also the director of EPYC [Empowering Peacemakers in Your Community] a ministry of SUWA which equips the next generation of ecoprophets in the Way of Christ’s transformational nonviolence.