October 3, 2012
The PR-savvy Jesuits who founded my US alma mater saw a good chance to plug the faith when location scouts for The Exorcist eyed Georgetown’s neo-gothic spires. A priest martyred on the steps at 36th and Prospect streets in a heroic Hollywood screen battle with the Devil was evidently too good to pass up and the film was given the university’s blessing. St Elmo’s Fire, however, was not. Apparently Linda Blair doing unspeakable things with a crucifix was okay; Demi Moore having pre-marital sex, not.
What offends any religion can sometimes be hard to know. But what is true today is that a significant number of Muhammad’s flock – considerably more than would fit in a phone box, to use Bob Carr’s measure – are predictably and often violently unhappy with modernity. The secular state, freedom and reason are anathema. These apoplectic adherents are in a state of perpetual war with the Enlightenment. Boisterous, sometimes offensive, civil discourse is to this Medieval-rusted-on, blasphemous incitement.
Last year, then-private citizen Carr wrote that there were “pockets of paranoia and excitability” within the Australian Muslim community which could turn violent. Carr warned that making a political issue of it would “feed… extremism and force young Muslims into the hands of recruiters for Islamist causes”.
In Europe, unease about intolerant and increasingly radicalised segments of Muslim immigrant populations, which explicitly reject or show no interest in integrating into traditionally tolerant liberal democratic countries such as the Netherlands, has been steadily growing. That concern in certain cases has itself provoked very illiberal condemnation and censorship – in the form of prosecution against outspoken anti-Islam Dutch MP Geert Wilders and threats on his life, along with that of former fellow MP Hirsi Ali, allegedly by the so-called Hofstad Network, a Dutch Islamist group. One group member, Mohammed Bouyeri, succeeded in murdering Dutch film producer and Islam critic Theo Van Gogh.
The late great polemicist and atheist Christopher Hitchens derided any notion of God and the priesthood’s “unctuous Kool-Aid merchants”. All three of the Abrahamic religions were the real “axis of evil”. Though it might be said that Hitchens saved the bulk of his bile for Islam, and especially Islamists – “fascism with an Islamic face” – because he rubbished all religions with near-equal fervour, he never earned a fatwa as did Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie. In his book, God Is Not Great, Hitchens wrote that religion was, “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children…”
On his last visit to Australia, Hitchens appeared on ABC Television’s Q&A to again have a go at all that is holy. That he was permitted upon our tolerant shore was curious, given Julia Gillard’s proclamation at the UN that “denigration of religious beliefs is never acceptable” and her government’s foot-dragging over issueing Wilders’ visa. Meanwhile, Hizb ut-Tahrir leader, Taji Mustafa, was welcomed to spread his message of the coming Caliphate under Sharia, though the US State Department has found Hizb ut-Tahrir is an “extremist anti-Semitic” organisation which has incited attacks on Australian and Allied troops.
Though Gillard didn’t mention Islam by name, presumably she wasn’t thinking of Presbyterianism when she also warned that deity-dissing was “incitement” to “attacks against members of religious minorities or diplomats, attacks against houses of worship or diplomatic missions”. Judging by the Canberra race riot her office was caught out fomenting earlier this year, Gillard knows a thing or two about incitement.
But what was the “incitement” that has led to church burnings, synagogue bombings or the cold-blooded shootings of French school children? And by the time Gillard made her UN Security Council high-chair supplication, it was clear after a week of White House back-peddling that it was Al-Qaeda that had murdered US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and not a spontaneous mob of ‘excitable, paranoid’ Muslim miscreants – not to cut too fine a point.
Why does Carr believe one religion over others will produce terrorists in response to criticism? Just ask yourself, when was the last Amish jihad? Indeed, to this day, Labor and its amen corner in the media have played the Catholic card against opposition leader Tony “Mad Monk” Abbott to smear him as a misogynistic ovarian overlord. Abbott’s faith is mercilessly lampooned at every Sydney Mardi Gras, although Mullahs escape the mocking revellers. Jewish-owned businesses are targeted for boycotts by Greens-Labor councils for Israel’s perceived sins. And in the US, politicians sought to boycott a fast-food chain because its Christian owners shared Barack Obama’s erstwhile belief in traditional marriage.
There’s a kebab shop owner in my neighbourhood who feels the same about marriage, but business is good. And that’s the point: the cultural and religious beliefs which drive his moderate Muslim worldview, even those much less moderate, are sacrosanct to what John Howard dryly referred to in his memoirs as the “cultural dieticians” of the Left.
Wilders is a case in point. He was short-listed for a speech fatwa from the government of atheist Gillard while she and the First Bloke trawled the UN headquarters for votes, because rather than take on all faiths Wilders has attacked only Islam as a supremacist ideology which threatens liberal democracy. Wilders may be more bigoted Chicken Little to some than freedom-loving Churchillian. But unlike members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, he hasn’t advocated violence, as Chris Bowen admitted through clenched teeth in finally relenting in his decision not to prevent Wilders from speaking in Australia. (Can we presume the Government had decided its Security Council bid is dead?) Indeed, it is Wilders who’s had his life threatened by Islamist head-loppers.
In one of his last columns, Hitchens criticised Mitt Romney’s “weird and sinister [Mormon] belief system,” with its cultish practices including the now famous “magic underwear”, that have become the gag-line of comedians and left-leaning commentariat. But if you seek a really good laugh at the Latter Day Saints’ expense, follow Hilary Clinton to the Broadway comedy “The Book of Mormon” by South Park creators, who though usually fair in giving offence to all, agreed to censor an episode featuring a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad lest they end up like Van Gogh instead of with an Emmy.
South Park’s Broadway foray offends the LDS. But as Hillary Clinton once tut-tutted over protests against taxpayer funding for the display of Andres Serrano's “Piss Christ” – a Jesus on the cross submerged in the artist’s urine – we mustn’t let “our feeling of being offended” restrict government largess for the arts. “That is the position that everyone who thinks about this issue should now be taking”, Clinton inveighed in case you had another view. The Gray Lady fell in right behind the then-First Lady and favoured Senate candidate in lecturing Gotham’s artistically unwashed: “A museum is obliged to challenge the public”.
Now-Secretary of State Clinton spent a fortnight after the Benghazi debacle distancing her government from an absurd and previously obscure YouTube video used by Islamists as yet another pretext for mayhem and murder. Well, D’oh! Uncle Sam only supports expression that denigrates other religions. It is not as though the video was up to “Piss Christ” standards. “Sybil”-like, the Times proclaimed that “[W]hoever made the film did true damage to the interests of the United States and its core principle of respecting all faiths”.
Leaving aside that the core principle of the United States is usually understood by most Americans to be freedom – freedom to have your own beliefs, freedom to criticise those of others – the Times turnaround was truly dizzying. But as I said, hard to know sometimes what offends religious doctrine on the day.
As it happens, the alleged Egyptian Copt filmmaker, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is now cooling his heels in a California jail cell, apparently for federal parole violations, or not properly separating his recycling or whatever. Nothing at all to do with taking the piss out of the Prophet. No, no, not that! But the message was delivered clearly when the feds sent a posse of sheriff deputies to the schlub’s suburban LA home in the middle of the night.
Multicultural McCarthyism with an Orwellian-Mafioso twist is on the march. Criticism of or an unwillingness to accommodate the intolerant is prima facie racism. To seek and expect from immigrants tolerance and respect for liberal values, cultural norms and, and yes, even national identity and language is itself a form of intolerance which invites intolerance, prosecution and extremist violence. And if you in any way fear such attack, you are also intolerant, need to find another job and a shrink as was the case in the US of sacked NPR news analyst Juan Williams.
Even Angela Merkel’s observation that multiculturalism had failed in Germany and the bleeding obvious, that immigrants should learn to speak German, set off a handwringing Olympiad. Right on cue, UN supremo “Spanky” Ban Ki-Moon gave one to Merkel, warning of a “dangerous” return to “Europe’s darkest chapters”. Sounding like a cultural racketeer was head European human rights enforcer Thomas “the Hammer” Hammarberg, who objected to demands for greater assimilation because it was “Islamophobic” and would help “extremists in some cases to recruit young and embittered individuals who lack a sense of belonging.” Irony much? The message was clear: Nice little Continent youse got here and it would be a real shame if something happened to it on account of youse having something to say”.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the last person to be burnt at the stake in England for the crime of blasphemy, though not the last to be sentenced to death for it – just ask Salman Rushdie. But as the teleprompter-in-chief said, in-between chat show appearances, to UN last week, “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”
I’ll stipulate that sometimes people should show more respect or just better manners, to use a now quaint term. But do not confuse the chorus of condemnation and genuflection over religious denigration at the UN’s annual September-fest as that; rather, these demands for kerbs on free speech have been made because members of one particular religion are willing to use any slight as pretext to slaughter and because the culture-cringing bien-pensant are by and large predisposed to accommodate their supremacist ideology.
A government so feckless a friend of freedom that seeks to appease the hydra-headed grievances of the perpetually offended of one faith with demands for censorship, self-imposed or otherwise, while ignoring or even sponsoring vilification of others has sounded civilisation’s retreat and surrender to barbarity five-hundred years of human progress. Any government that so casually prostrates that inheritance on the alter of political correctness and in the face of supremacist threats, to barter for peace in our time, has forfeited its legitimacy.
Whatever his views about the Maker of Us All, I believe ‘Hitch’ would have said “amen” to that.
Alan R.M. Jones, an immigrant who, for his sins, still struggles to comprehend cricket, was an adviser in the Howard Government
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray