I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out and John Safran’s Depends What You Mean By Extremist at the same time. I’ve spent a lot of time reading Nouwen’s book before, and one of the things I’ve appreciated most about it is the way he talks about the relationship between hostility and hospitality. He acknowledges that when we begin to practise hospitality, we’re often using it to cover over hostility. We can use our ability to provide for others as a way of holding power over them. I think everyone has had some kind of experience of recieving grudging hospitality or passive aggressive hsopitality. Nouwen thinks that if we’re able to recognise the hospitality that often underlies our hostility, we can start moving toward true hospitality, which is freedom for the guest.
I’ve also been interested in how Safran picks up on the theme of hospitality and hostility, although in some ways it’s quite different. John Safran seems to have made himself vulnerable in the process of writing his recent book, by participating in hospitality with various Australians who have, for various reasons, been called ‘extemists’. By going and visiting folks from various Australian extremist groups, spending time in their homes, sharing beer, smokes and pizza, Safran has made himself vulnerable, and I think many of his subjects have also made themselves vulnerable in response. At the end of his visit to United Patriots Front member Ralph Cerminara, Cerminara said he was going to write an article about Safran for his website Left Wing Bigots and Extremists Exposed, but he said he’d changed his mind because ‘it was nice [Safran] came over to chat.’ Safran also visits Muslims from different traditions, visits the Aboriginal tent embassy in Redfern and has a fresh look at the presence of extemism in his own Jewish community. All of these encounters seem to complicate the nature of these groups, when their opponents and the mass media seem to want to simplify everything. Safran shows that they aren’t as homogenous as we might expect. He find that there are Jews among the United Patriots Front despite the presence of neo-Nazis. He finds that Cerminara has Italian and Aboriginal heritage, is married to a Vietnamese migrant, supports Aboriginal land rights, is angry about governments trying to move Aboriginal people off their land, and hates that he gets lumped in with the left wing activists because of these views. I’m not by any means saying that UPF are admirable people, but that the story is more complex that what we’re often told.