Islamic Museum of Australia

White building with large grey Arabic writing on it

My mother outside the Islamic Museum of Australia in Melbourne.

“I would like to visit the Islamic Museum,” said my mother when I visited her in Melbourne last year. My mother likes visiting art exhibitions, but she doesn’t visit many museums. Her request surprised me. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. Like many people she has been appalled at the anti-Muslim rhetoric which is too often heard nowadays. She has always been interested in other cultures. Why wouldn’t she as a Christian be interested in learning about Islam?

Things intervened but we finally visited the Islam Museum in time for its third anniversary. The building is a striking design which declares the Australian roots of the Museum and its place in our modern world. It is adorned with an Arabic excerpt from the Quran which translated reads:

So narrate to them the stories so that upon them they may reflect

And we certainly did a lot of reflecting inside. Continue reading

Enough! Australian Lawyers Call on Iran to Release Baha’i Seven

2 hands gripping vertical bars with 'Enough' written in red aboveOn Wednesday night I attended an annual human rights event which I hope I never have to attend again. It marked yet another year during which Iran’s authorities have trampled on the human rights of its own people.

The event in Sydney highlighted the unjust imprisonment of the seven leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community. Every year the anniversary of the unjust imprisonment of these five men and two women is marked by events around the world. Each additional year marks an increasing burden of injustice felt by the prisoners, their families and their communities. Each year the Iranian government brings more shame on themselves and besmirches Iran’s reputation world-wide.

The Baha’i seven have now been unjustly incarcerated for eight years. Those gathered at New South Wales Parliament House heard a message from Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran, including the seven Baha’i leaders. Concern about the persecution of Iran’s Baha’is has been expressed by both sides in Australia’s parliament over a number of years. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has also expressed concerns about the treatment of the seven Baha’i leaders, as have governments and human rights campaigners around the world.

Fariba Kamalabadi and Jamaloddin Khanjani

Continue reading

War, Emotions and Beliefs

Melbourne Museum sign

It is hard to get a good photo of the aircraft hangar like building that contains the Melbourne Museum. While the outside of the building may look uninspiring, the exhibitions inside of the building are well worth a visit.

Over the last few months I have been dealing with life, the universe and the mundane. I had so much on my plate that I regretfully decided to reduce the pressure by taking a pause on my blog. But I am back! Over the next few weeks I will share some of what I have been doing. Today I thought I would give you an update on my book project.

When I was in Melbourne for the birth of our first grandchild I took the opportunity to attend the War and Emotions Symposium at Melbourne Museum. Over the last year there have been many war conferences, books, exhibitions, television series and other events hoping to catch the interest of people during the centenary of World War I. I couldn’t possibly give attention to all, and frankly, too many are superficial or cross the line by glorifying war but I’m so pleased I had the chance to attend the War and Emotions Symposium. Continue reading

The Prison Poet is Heard

Book cover for Prison Poems

Mahvash Sabet, Adapted from the original Persian by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Prison Poems, (George Ronald, 2013).

I write if only to stir faint memories of flight
in these wing-bound birds,
to open the cage of the heart for a moment
trapped without words.
For how can one not faint for these women,
beaten so brutally?
How can one not fear for them, suffering
such tyrannical cruelty.

Mahvash Sabet, ‘The Perfume of Poetry’, Prison Poems, p. 32

A woman sits in her prison cell in Iran, poetry flows from her pen. Of all Iran’s prisoners of conscience she and six fellow prisoners are serving the longest sentences of all. A member of a persecuted minority, the charges against them were patently false and their trial transgressed basic standards of legal procedure. The jail door has been slammed shut for a long time. Continue reading

We’re Baaaack… in Sydney!

BalconyOur Singapore sojourn is over. We have packed up our stuff in Singapore and are now back in Sydney. Saturday was New Year, or Naw-Ruz, for many people in the world including the Baha’is. It was a propitious day to take the keys to our new place in the Parramatta region of Sydney.

It is good to be back and close to the archives I need to consult for my writing. I am looking forward to two conferences which will take place in Sydney in the middle of this year – DH2015, the international Digital Humanities Conference hosted by the University of Western Sydney and the annual Australian Historical Association conference hosted by the University of Sydney. It is the first time in the twenty-six year history of the Digital Humanities Conference that it will be held outside Europe and North America. Continue reading

Reflecting on My work, Big Data and the History Manifesto

My great grandfather wrote this postcard from the western front to my  grandfather who was seven years old. Two weeks after he wrote this my great grandfather became yet another soldier killed in World War I.

My great grandfather wrote this postcard from the front to my grandfather who was seven years old. Two weeks after he wrote this my great grandfather was killed.

Everything about World War I was massive. It was industrial-scale warfare fought along frontlines that stretched for hundreds of kilometres, manned and supplied by millions of people. This too was a war which produced an unprecedented stream of words. It was not just the politicians and officers who sat down to pen their thoughts. Ordinary soldiers near the front and their families from around the world, recorded their experiences and comforted each other through diaries and letters.

In just one month in 1916, the Australian army post headquarters in London successfully sorted nearly three million letters but there were another four hundred thousand letters which could not be delivered as they were inadequately addressed (‘The Soldiers’ Mails’, The Age, 10/2/1917, p. 4). Australia’s five million people were prodigious writers during the war.

Any historian who seeks to understand World War I needs to come to grips with the enormity of it. I am studying just a tiny fraction of the archives produced by that war, yet I am grappling the problems and possibilities of dealing with a huge number of words. The other day I worked out that the collection of soldier diaries I’m working with contains over seven million words. To put it in more comprehensible terms, my corpus is currently the equivalent of over thirteen volumes of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. This collection will grow as I add more diaries to my research corpus. I also have to read other primary sources such as court martials and Australian Imperial Force (AIF) unit diaries. Continue reading

The Destruction of Memory

Destroying a shrine in Timbuktu, 2012.

Destroying a shrine in Timbuktu, 2012. Photo via The Telegraph, India.

The rebels had fled, but before they left they had destroyed a precious archive. The world gasped in dismay as the mayor of Timbuktu announced that a library recently built to hold Timbuktu’s historic manuscripts had burnt to the ground.

At the time the Mayor did not know that while some historic manuscripts were now a pile of ashes, most had been saved. Yet these manuscripts were not the only physical reminders of a rich culture that were destroyed.  During their ten months ruling Timbuktu the rebels destroyed most of the city’s Sufi shrines. It was no accident.

The deliberate targeting and destruction of culturally significant items occurs too often. In our life time we have witnessed the detonation of the giant statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001. In 1992 the heart of the cultural heritage of Bosnia was destroyed when the library in Sarajevo was subjected to the artillery fire of Serbian troops who were encircling the city. The deliberate nature of the attack was evident when snipers shot at firemen trying to save the library.

Director of 'The Destruction of Memory', Tim Slade.

Director of ‘The Destruction of Memory’, Tim Slade.

Director, Tim Slade is working on a documentary which he hopes will help people understand the serious nature of this ‘war against culture’.

“The killing of people and the killing of books and buildings are intimately and inextricably related”, states Slade. Referring to Raphael Lemkin, the man who helped to create the UN Convention Against Genocide, Slade observes, “Lemkin saw that it can be difficult to wipe out an entire people, but a group can be annihilated if their identity and culture has been erased.” Continue reading