Trust an old Bolshie friend of mine to beat me about the head with a perfect example of the Stalinist political correctness that has so devastated the Western academy for the past 40 years: we must be tolerant of intolerance in order to be morally righteous people.
I am well aware of the embarrassing ideological-ethical cowardice within the academy, but something about Michael Brull’s sanctimonious defence of Islam in the University of NSW online Overland magazine wouldn’t quite let go of me.
It wasn’t the overbearingly self-righteous tone. That’s almost de rigeur from the university literary set. Dull and doctrinaire writers apparently obsessed with lost causes, and competing for some imaginary prize awarded to whoever can demonstrate the furthest remove from social or economic practicalities, let alone worthy ethical positions.
It wasn’t the credulous, politically correct, abhorrent defence of misogynistic mediaevalism either; it strikes me as an almost obligatory sideline for humanities academics to defend the indefensible ever since they made a kind of fetish cult of supporting Stalinism and all its brutal horrors just to give the finger to American imperialism. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
It was something about the concatenation of some utterly inconsequential hot air forum (the University of New South Wales United Nations Society) with an apparent audacity in permitting a zealot from another mediaevalist religious persuasion, Tom Switzer, to speak to that bias under its auspices. As if speaking at a wine and cheese mutual masturbation event in any way imparted respectability to his comments, rather than a grimacing, perplexed tolerance usually reserved for senile grandparents recounting well-worn war stories that weren’t ever very convincing.
For Brull to dredge up an incomprehensibly silly NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal ‘finding’ to decry Switzer says something about Brull, not Switzer. The departure into character assassination is made no more convincing for the following quoted sentence from the Tribunal’s adjudication:
The language used suggests that the Palestinians, unlike the Israelis, are unworthy and undeserving of support because, at least in relation to the peace process, they are hypocritical, untrustworthy, blameworthy and viscous. [sic]
Did the Tribunal mean oleaginous? Was it Brull’s own transcription error? In any case, if Switzer is guilty of having implied that Palestinians have a glutinous, sticky nature, this is cause to out him for torturing adjectives, not racism.
But the Tribunal wasn’t done. In assessing a complaint about a Switzer comment published by the Australian Financial Review, which is not a notable best-seller in Sydney’s Western suburbs, it concluded:
In our view, based on these considerations, the ordinary reasonable reader would be incited to hatred or serious contempt of the Palestinians by reading the Switzer article.
What sense of ordinary, reasonable reader were they talking about? Since when has an article in the Fin Review done anything more than give dyspepsia to its readers? And this is the best indictment Brull can find of Switzer’s Zionism? How about we just accept the point that Switzer is an advocate for Israeli nationalism? Will that do?
It’s all very laudable in a cheesy sort of way that Brull should chastise Israel for its harsh treatment of Palestinians, and that he should defend Islam. It is, however, a kind of facile childishness to demand that people who don’t subscribe to his middle class angst-and-redemption project are somehow morally reprehensible in a way that people who support mass murder and misogyny are not.
He begins by quoting Edward Said. ‘Malicious generalizations about Islam have become the last acceptable form of denigration of foreign culture in the West,’ Said says to us. I wonder why that would be? Could it have anything to do with Islamist fatwahs, murderous thugs butchering people in the name of Islam, or the grotesque forms of misogyny that appear to be necessary as part of the faith? Perhaps it is the blanking out of education, of science and the arts? Of anything not directed at anti-Semitism? Or maybe the intolerance for all people of other faiths, or no faith at all? Maybe it is the contempt for culture itself that found its most fitting expression in the Taliban’s destruction of 1500 year old statues, just as a very special way of saying ‘fuck you and die’ to anything that does not comply with a cretinous Islamic fundamentalism.
What could it be about such a charming, inoffensive religion that would incite a reciprocal intolerance about all of this?
What’s that you say, comrade? Most Muslims are peace-loving, good people? Would that be a generalisation of the same sort as accusing Muslims of being monstrously hateful and bloodthirsty? Surely not. After all, we good people of the West agree that all people are naturally good and kind souls, dedicated to philanthropy and humanism in all their projects. Well, I suppose I believed that once, but then I turned seven years old. Tell you what, though, if so many Muslims really are peace-loving, why do they allow their fundamentalist PR arm to be unchallenged in painting a picture of only hatred, murder by decree, and poisonous intolerance? Let’s just say that if Muslims feel slighted by fear and loathing of their more extreme tendencies, they ought to work harder at creating a public image not quite so obviously threatening.
Brull wasn’t quite finished with Said. He quotes him at length to suggest that making generalisations about Muslims is like anti-Semitism or racism towards black people, Orientals and Asians. That’s all very well, but it isn’t. That’s right, Edward Said was full of shit when he made the comparison. Islam is not a racial trait, and neither is Zionism. Criticising either is based on abhorrence for a teeth-grindingly misanthropic and fearful dogma that can be subscribed to, or rejected, by people of all racial backgrounds. It is no more racist to oppose Islam than it is to attack the recidivist Western bastions of paedophilia that are our churches, or the anti-intellectual nihilism of the big tent fundamentalist mediaevalists, who so resemble their Islamic kindred spirits.
In fact, they are all of a piece, as was pointed out so profitably and eloquently in Christopher Hitchens’ swansong god is not Great. So I won’t pursue that obvious genealogical comparison here.
What Brull, and any others taken in by his defence of Islam, should recognise is that the West suffered through the Reformation, and the religious wars it sparked, to discover that the only way to prevent religious buffoons from killing each other, and everyone else in the process, is to completely remove their capacity to use the organs of state to pursue their bloodthirsty self-righteousness. It’s called the separation of church and state, or secularism. With one or two monstrous exceptions, it has served us pretty well for the last 500 years.
That Reformation moment doesn’t seem to have left much of an impression in contemporary America, where the anti-intellectual, proudly ignorant adherents of a renewed mediaevalist barbarism are trying to slowly reinstate religious persecution as state policy.
Worse, though, Islam never had such a moment, and even its mainstream practitioners have no qualms at all endorsing barbaric practices as part of their so called faith: female genital mutilation, mandated body bags as the only acceptable form of dress for women, and ‘death to everything I feel pissed off with today’ as the mantra for all the world to see in an endless repetition of a kind of permanent mass hysteria.
If I were to commit murder or rape tomorrow, and plead in my defence that a voice told me to do this, I would be rightly judged insane, or angling for that status as a defence. But if I were to commit murder and rape on the basis that Yahweh/Allah/God told me to do it, all of a sudden I should be ‘respected’ as acting on my ‘conscience’? I don’t think so, Mr Brull. Nor do I believe that anyone with sympathies for such a position deserves to be regarded as wholly sane or trustworthy.
What I would have expected from the academy is a fairly clear statement that such forms of barbarism are not acceptable under any circumstance at all. Pretending that a mind-set which would be identified fairly readily as sociopathic in all others should be ignored, or even respected, because it is tenuously associated with ‘faith’ is unadulterated bullshit, Mr Brull.
If the intention was to somehow elevate Palestinians above the depravity of Islamofascism, the first step would need to be a clear demonstration that the most visible evidence of Palestinian political organisation is not a radical, doctrinaire Islamic chauvinism, fuelled and supported by Iran’s wholly intransigent attitude to the necessity for extinguishing the Israeli state. All the excuses in the world don’t alter support for genocidal insanity being identified as just that.
It is, in any case, somewhat esoteric for Australians to seek an entrée into Middle Eastern politics. It seems that we have more pressing problems closer to home that should displace any need to import an ancient feud from the Middle East.
A good starting point for Australia in addressing its more immediate problems would be the rejection of all doctrines that demand unreasoning hatred and violence.
It may be news to some, but there are many millions of people on the planet who have no time at all for stone age belief-sets, and who want nothing more than to be free of the ridiculous, anti-intellectual boorishness of such faiths. It is no sign of civilised behaviour to tolerate the intolerable. Rather it is a form of insanity to respect the very people who harbour not so secret desires to murder you, rape your women-folk for being indecent sluts, and stomp your civilization into the ground until ignorance and superstition is once more the fate of all humankind, like a dark and starless night setting in.