Aamer Rahman

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Ahmer Rahman wrote a deeply provocative essay for ‘Vice Magazine’ on the anniversary of the Cronulla riots, attributing them to the inherent racism of the Howard Government.

Although I never voted for him, I think that in one respect, Australians owe John Howard an enormous debt of thanks. The reforms made to Australian gun laws under his government made our country a safer place to live in. Every time there is another shooting massacre in the US, I think, ‘Thank you, John Howard.’

I googled Rahman and came across some of his stand-up. It’s incendiary stuff. He deliberately targets what he refers to as ‘white people’ and, in a routine he performed in Brooklyn, in the US, he said that after his show, there would be plenty of white people to go out and shoot dead as a way for his audience to exorcise their frustrations.

I watched quite a bit of his stand-up and found it confronting, offensive and ultimately exhilarating. It’s also genuinely funny, which is where Rahman becomes genuinely interesting.

Comedy relies on its ability to make an audience laugh. If you’re laughing it’s working and if not, it isn’t comedy. Once an audience laughs, the comic is effectively engaging with the ideas and prejudices which are the fulcrum on which they achieve leverage over an audience.

Once they have you laughing, comics can challenge you more than any other artist because once you’re laughing, you’re complicit.

Most of Rahman’s current media presence is via Facebook. His profile shot is styled after one of the more famous photos of Malcolm X.

Nikos Kazantzakis described the story of Jesus as ‘the model for the man who struggles.’ Similarly is The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It feels like two books, connected in the middle. The first part, Malcolm X’s life before prison, is an action-packed true crime story featuring some of the low-life luminaries of his time.

The second half is the story of a man who found the bedrock of his personality on the floor of a prison and built powerful structures upon it. He used those structures – intellect, education and sheer force of personality – to challenge, and eventually change, his nation.

Malcolm X was one of seven children. His father was beaten to death and thrown under a streetcar. Malcolm’s mother went mad and was institutionalized while the children were flung into the disparate hands of various welfare organizations.

Malcolm lost touch with his siblings and drifted into a life of crime which led to imprisonment. He was a man whose family – and youth – was ground up by the inherent racism of his nation.

Malcolm X is remembered for his power as a demagogue and for the courage of his convictions, convictions which eventually made him a martyr. He is not remembered for the dogma of Black Islam. Malcolm gives his readers an insight into this dogma in terms of the creation myths of Black Islam in his autobiography.

According to the story, an evil geneticist named Dr Yaaba created the human race. By manipulating chromosomes, Yaaba managed to dilute human skin colour until he arrived at the most evil incarnation, the white man. It’s every bit as ridiculous anything you’ll read about in relation to Scientology.

There has been a lot of talk about offence in recent times. The most famous expression of offence, the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, was a response by extremist Muslims who were offended by the magazine’s grotesque depictions of Muhammad. In a democratic society, the right to offend and the right to free speech go hand in hand:

“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked; so was Stalin. If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”

– Noam Chomsky.

There is a genuine emotional impact to offense, and it’s the experience of being destabilized. The greater the offence, the more profound the challenge to your tightly held beliefs, or dogma.

I wonder if on that basis, despite his ugliness, Rahman is more than the comic that Australia – particularly white Australia – deserves; perhaps he is the comic that we need.

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