A word of praise of QandA…and the bard

September 6, 2016 by Hilton Immerman
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I found last night’s Q&A on the ABC – about Shakespeare’s enduring relevance – to be one of their best-ever…writes Hilton Immerman.

John Bell and Hilton Immerman

John Bell and Hilton Immerman Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

It had an outstanding panel consisting of John Bell, Germaine Greer, Kate Mulvany, AC Grayling and Kylie Farmer.  All were excellent.

I have the very highest regard for John Bell and had the pleasure of interviewing him about ‘The Merchant of Venice’ at Shalom’s Sydney Jewish Writers’ Festival a couple of years ago.  At his kind invitation, we subsequently met up afterwards for lunch.

Bell has directed the ‘Merchant’ and has acted as Shylock.  He is most sympathetic to the Jewish protagonist and has repeatedly articulated Shakespeare’s exposure and satire of the decadence and racism present in Christian Venetian society – and, by implication, most of Europe at the time.  Bell has previously written, “It must have shocked an Elizabethan audience to the core to hear from a Jew such a rebuttal of Christian bigotry… Shylock is damning – not just Antonio and all the other Christians on stage – but those looking on in the theatre …”

But, at last night’s Q&A, I was concerned about his statement, “I’d be interested to see a production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ where you substituted the word ‘Muslim’ for ‘Jew’ and see how that would resonate… If someone abuses you for long enough, and spits on you for long enough, you’re going to be like a suicide bomber.”

I acknowledge that this comment was made in the heat of the discussion.  However, it is essential for the Australian public and ABC viewers to understand that Jews have been abused, spat upon and killed for 2000 years, and yet we have not become suicide bombers.  Although I’m sure he didn’t intend it as such, Bell’s statement comes across as a spurious justification for murdering innocent people, mainly other Muslims, and, by so doing, panders to popular left-wing taste.

The episode ended with a return to an earlier theme, as John Bell read a speech from The Book of Sir Thomas More, spoken by the famous Tudor politician to an angry mob protesting refugees entering London.

“Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,

Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,

Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,

And that you sit as kings in your desires,

Authority quite silent by your brawl,

And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;

What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught

How insolence and strong hand should prevail,

How order should be quelled; and by this pattern

Not one of you should live an aged man.”

Hilton Immerman is the CEO of the Shalom Institute and Shalom College at the University of NSW



6 Responses to “A word of praise of QandA…and the bard”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    I always watch Q&A; in fact Monday night on ABC TV is first rate with News, 7.30, Australian Story, 4 Corners, Media Watch, Q&A, Lateline and The Business.

    • Joe.Silver says:

      And I suppose you particularly enjoyed the left wing nonsense about substituting Shylock’s Jewish identity with that of a Muslim.

  2. Liat Kirby-Nagar says:

    It must be remembered that the lines a writer writes for his/her characters do not necessarily reflect the views or sympathies of the writer himself. A writer does bring self to the writing in voice and style, but that does not mean autobiography. During the act of writing, if you’re talented enough, imagination has its way and the art appears.

    I found the Q&A programme on Shakespeare both magical and riveting. Shakespeare was extraordinarily prescient of all kinds of human situations that occurred and would come to occur centuries later. He was psychologically astute and emotionally intelligent. He was witty and humorous. As far as a desire to ‘keep all things pure’ is concerned, I feel sure from his writing that he knew the impossibility of that!
    As Germaine Greer said, HE MAKES YOU THINK, and that’s a fine thing. His plays and poems will never lose their relevance due to the wide and deep canvas he draws upon. One of the pleasures I received from viewing this programme was to see so many faces half-smiling in pleasure, people stilled and enthralled. That’s what literature and art can do, and in the time in which we live where words are bandied about, prosaic and politically correct, as we veer toward mediocrity at a frightening speed, that’s what we need. The ABC did us good service with this well-constructed programme.

    I didn’t see the point of John Bell’s add-on comment about imagining replacing Shylock with a Muslim person, see how it resonates – don’t think it’s pertinent when you really think about it, the history of the Jews and the Arabs being so apart and so very different. I think Bell is perhaps trying too hard to be all things to all people. And completely disagree with his too easily articulated words that if you spit on someone long enough, abuse them long enough, they’ll become a suicide bomber, because in effect he’s condoning the suicide bomber. I am sick and tired of hearing this excuse for murder. It’s such a deflection and erroneous.

    That wonderfully funny and erudite writer who has such a way with words, Howard Jacobson, in one of his columns for the ‘Independent’ in England, has this to say about ‘The Egotism of the Terrorist’: ‘How are you able to convince yourself, in the moment of the deed, that whatever grievance has been visited upon you, you are justified in visiting upon someone else? Must there not be a flash of illumination in that arc of the knife which God prevented Abraham from completing, not only of the mysterious inviolability of a life that isn’t yours to take, but of the supreme egotism of your reasoning? Hold your weapon and think about it. Something terrible has been done to you. Let’s not argue the toss about how terrible, whether you had it coming, whether you’ve misread history, etc. Let’s grant you your outrage and even your despair. Something terrible has been done to you. … What must follow from that? That something terrible must be meted out in return? Why? Who are you to measure outrage against outrage? Who are you to say that your suffering is to have a higher value placed on it than someone else’s? In that split second when you are eyeball to eyeball with the divine equivalence of human souls, might it not be logical of you to conclude – never mind compassionate, forget compassion – might it not dawn on you with the light of reason that there is no righting your sense of wrong, not by you, not ever by you, because you above all people cannot be the judge of it, because resistance, retaliation, revenge – give it what name you like – cannot ever be anything but a privileging, that is to say a sentimentalisation, of yourself. // Cradle a child in the ideology of resistance and you will make him go where our imaginations cannot. Resistance is what closes the mind to reason. the assumption of a wrong, and the assumption that it is divine to fight it.’

    I agree with Jacobson. For a long time now I have considered suicide bombers and those who encourage and train them as the ultimate in narcissism.

  3. Eion says:

    Did not see the programme but have a great belief in some of Sigmund Freuds scientific despair with Human Nature as exhibited in some of his books particularly Civilisation and its Discontents and the Psychopathology of everyday life At heart a Humanitarian he was deeply hated by the Nazis and Fascists
    The relevance to the discussion is his statement :Everyone needs an Enemy and history and the current situation is that it is horribly true .
    Even Lenin feared mob anarchy and barbarism and Maxim Gorky the Great Russian Humanitarian Writer abhorred mob violence .

  4. Danny Kidron says:

    Et tu John Bell?

  5. Erica Edelman says:

    Throw away lines in the heat of the moment are not
    Always as innocent as they appear.
    Shakespeare, at times, had a cutting tongue and many
    Of his lines (and not even between the lines) indicate
    A deep desire to keep “all things pure”.
    Many a “Tryst “between cup and lip – so to speak.
    He was no Saint Theresa!

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