The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

The Curious Effect of the Sharia ‘Threat’

It’s a well known fact that importing Muslims into our country puts us under threat of having our culture obliterated and our hapless citizens yoked to the harsh and oppressive juggernaut that is Sharia Law. That is, it’s well known amongst people who are unclear on the definitions of the following words:

  • Muslim
  • Threat
  • Culture
  • Sharia
  • Law
  • Fact
  • Mat
  • Cat
  • Sat

Leaving such minor matters aside, we are still confronted with the reality that a growing number of Australians is embracing the idea that the Islamification of Australia is a threat which exists outside the realm of paranoid white supremacist fantasy. This growing anxiety is pushing more and more of our fine citizens to the political right, where we find such sterling products of the democratic process as Pauline Hanson, Corey Bernardi and George Christensen.

Now, to be fair, I do need to point out that the right wing is not the exclusive province of the sort of people who inspire the design of signs like this:

No, the political right has its fair share of savvy, intellectually agile and politically sophisticated adherents, well grounded in the complex theoretical bases behind nativist monoculturalism, protectionism, and so on. It’s just that they tend to limit themselves to painstakingly levering these concepts into the tiny minds of shrill populists, presumably via the exclusive use of words of one syllable.

This situation is imbued with a twofold irony. Firstly, there is the fact of people like Hanson – a spokesperson for the people who is incapable of coherent speech. And then there is the deeper and more worrying irony, mostly having to do not with the nationalist or white supremacist side of politics, but with the stolid core of ultra-conservatism.

This core, represented by the likes of Bernardi, Nile, and Christensen, is one possessed of deep religious roots, and an unshakeable belief in the idea that civil law should be informed by one or more of the many flavours of Christianity. As crazy as this idea might sound, it’s not a conspiracy theory I have confected in order to fight fantasy with fantasy – this is an openly stated position.

This means that the imaginary threat of a sharia-based criminal code is causing a movement towards politicians who believe that religion is a sound basis for the creation of laws.  Or, to put it another way, the fear of religious law is causing people to support politicians who wish to enact religious law.

This being the case, I think our most urgent policy priority should be the mass production of this warning sign:

Let’s hope it’s as least as effective as the chainsaw one.

Trump, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and Beyond…

Trump Iran Nuclear Deal

The Iran Nuclear Deal, or, to give it its proper name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been described by President Trump as “the worst deal ever negotiated”, and likely to cause a “nuclear holocaust”. Throughout the course of his campaign, Trump made repeated references to the JCPOA, telling anyone who would listen that the deal was a “joke”, and that he intended to re-negotiate, revising key provisions, lengthening time limits and generally changing the current plan into a kind of extended penance. As always with President Trump, there is some doubt as to how much, if any, of what he’s said is meant to be taken seriously, but let’s do our best.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that the JCPOA contains no provisions for checking Potential Military Applications (PMA), no safeguards to prevent Iranian weapons development now or into the future, and that it virtually guarantees a nuclear armed Iran within fifteen years, followed shortly by a nuclear holocaust. Unsurprisingly, none of these claims is true.

Let’s first look at the provisions of the plan. PMAs were a sticking point during negotiations, and it became apparent to even the casual observer that the Iranians, beyond a natural unwillingness to share their secrets, were also unclear as to the exact extent of their secret research programs. In the UNCLAS version, very little is said about PMA, but it is nevertheless apparent from various textual clues that the issue was dealt with. Similarly, the provisions with regard to intrusive inspection, the closure of various pathways to weaponisation (enrichment and plutonium), and various other strictures, all point to an agreement which is perfectly competent to achieve its stated aim: a temporary freeze of Iran’s progress towards nuclear weaponry. President Trump, however, does not see it that way. In President Trump’s view, Iran is a “bad” and “terrorist” state, needing to be kept at all times under the mailed fist of US hard power. It’s difficult to see, given this view, how any deal could have struck him as satisfactory.

Hassan Rouhani Iran Nuclear Deal

Hassan Rouhani, unique amongst Iranian presidents for being more stable than his US counterpart

Now for the safeguards designed to prevent Iranian weaponisation of its nuclear program which, according to Trump, do not exist. Firstly, there’s provisions for inspection, facilities re-purposing from high level enrichment and Plutonium manufacture to power generation, technology, replacement programs for cycling out 20% enriched uranium, the list goes on… And Iran has been pathetically eager to comply. Completion of each action plan has been tagged to the lifting of sanctions and, more importantly, the release of the associated funds. The deal, from Iran’s point of view, is easy to understand. In exchange for restored oil wealth, access to global markets, normalisation of trade and other relations, and a place at the negotiating table, they take a fifteen year halt in a nuclear weapons program which took twenty years to produce next to nothing, and which isolated them so badly that one of their key trading partners was North Korea. President Trump’s belligerent paranoia aside, it’s difficult to see a situation where Iran voluntarily breaks the deal. There’s too much to gain, and at such little cost. And while it is true that Iran could restart weaponisation post agreement, there’s little reason to expect this. A large part of the agreement is clearly designed to end Iran’s isolation – a key factor in their clandestine rush for the bomb.

Trump Iran Nuclear Deal

Trump labelled Iran a ‘terrorist state’ when addressing AIPAC

It’s axiomatic, though, that Christian conservatives cannot see any future in the Middle East without Israel, heavily force-multiplied by the US, maintaining military superiority. A rehabilitated Iran would necessarily change the dynamic. Iran is a natural hegemon – it has ample resources, an educated and numerous populace, access to the sea and a position of key strategic importance. All it really lacks is money. The deal itself, being a UN deal brokered by P5+1, is not US property. Energy hungry P5+1 members Russia and China have a strong interest in its success, as does the UK, who hopes to profit from expanding G/O exploration.

Now that Trump has finished appeasing the GOP’s Zionist donors, the time is ripe for one of his trademark backflips. It’s far from clear whether he can kill the deal (I’d say he can’t), but he is easily capable of killing relations with Iran. Given the likely interventionism of a Trump administration, this would be a critical mistake. Iran has a long (albeit covert) history of co-operation with the USA, and has been a key collaborator in US campaigns in the Middle East. Iranian support, or at least non-aggression, is vital to any operation in Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. Additionally, Iran has reach and effectiveness far out of proportion with its military power, thanks to decades of investment in power projection by paramilitary and covert proxies. If President Trump really intends to establish safe zones in Syria, escalate the campaign against IS, and generally re-establish US hegemony in the Middle East, all this will be much easier with Iran’s cooperation and assistance. This is a problem for the near future, of course. In the meantime, President Trump should work on gaining better control of his public utterances before the laws of consequence come into proper effect.

One Nation’s False ‘Liberalisation’

Shan Ju Lin One Nation

Shan Ju Lin, One Nation’s Asian candidate for some seat in Queensland I don’t care about and have never heard of, has been something of a propaganda double-whammy for Ms Hanson’s erratic populist juggernaut. Not only did the visible fact of her ‘non-whiteness’ seemingly put to bed the idea of the party’s racism, her subsequent sacking for making ‘anti-gay’ comments must surely be used by the pointy-headed side of politics as ‘proof’ that One Nation is also free of other forms of bigotry. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s tackle the racism first. Pauline recently embarked on a dictionary-fuelled rant on the meaning of the word ‘racist’, helpfully providing us with a disingenuously monolithic definition, possibly as an exercise in clever sophistry, but more probably as a function of her incompetence with the English language. The fact of the matter is that there are many shades of meaning involved in racism which cannot necessarily be found in a dictionary. Anyone looking for a full appreciation of the term need only perform a few more clicks in Google to discover that ‘racism’ also covers Hanson’s obvious and clearly stated positions of forced assimilation in pursuit of some mythical Australian monoculture. One Nation is racist not because it disdains skin colour or point of origin, but because of its much more insidious and dangerous bigotry directed at other ways of thinking and being – in essence, its intolerance of the existence or even influence of other cultures. In many ways, this is more purely hateful than a simple aversion to black and yellow people, in that it’s more deeply considered, and therefore more disgustingly ungenerous and narrow-minded. So really, the fact of Shan Ju Lin’s heritage is irrelevant – her deep seated and militant intolerance towards immigrants of every kind, and her insistence on dividing them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ camps on grounds which are frankly insane, reaffirm rather than contradict the bigotry which lies at the heart of the party.

And then there’s the curious case for dismissal of homophobia. This should emphatically not be seen as evidence that Pauline Hanson is in favour of gay rights. Shan Ju Lin herself stated that she issued the Tweets because One Nation had “no policy” with regard to marriage equality or LGBTI rights beyond a vague declaration of support for a plebiscite on marriage equality. No, what we’re seeing here is nothing more than a beleaguered chief of staff trying desperately to hold on to control of the party’s narrative. The recent farcical goings on with Rod Culleton, the persistent insanity of Malcolm Roberts and Pauline’s own unfortunate delusional belief in her ability to speak comprehensibly have seriously eroded any capacity for positive messaging. This is clearly a party engaged in frantic damage control in order to maintain whatever vestiges of credibility which remain to them before they field another bunch of whackos, this time for the House of Reps.

And, in true One Nation style, they are going about this by weeding out crazies, oblivious to the starkly obvious fact that a One Nation shorn of lunatics will be a party without a single, solitary member.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Delusions of Adequacy

Australian Christian Lobby

This is the ACL’s idea of an ‘argument’. Note the complete absence of logic of any kind.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is a frustrating organisation, not least because of its militant parochialism and refusal to accept that positions based on a combination of Christian revanchism and bigotry are, in fact, revanchist and bigoted. Its tendency to bleat out an utterly fabricated narrative of persecution, its insistence on blaming some amorphous ‘left wing media conspiracy’ for reverses generally caused by its own media incompetence, and its startling inability to pursue or even to form any kind of logically coherent argument are all extremely annoying. And Lyle Shelton, their managing director, is the kind of attention-seeking, self-pitying, incompetently grandiloquent noisemaker who makes the fists of all right-thinking folk become seriously itchy.

So, given just how annoying they are, it’s not hard to understand why someone blowing up a van in their carpark could immediately be put down to a targeted attack. I myself thought it highly probable, given how I feel every time Shelton opens his stupid gob or mashes ineffectually at his keyboard. And I wasn’t alone in this. There are huge sections of the voting public who apparently take ghoulish glee in attributing any and every act of non-domestic violence to Muslim terrorism or Muslim immigration or Muslims in general, possibly because a narrative as inherently irrational as Islamophobia requires quite a lot of fodder to sustain. Within twenty minutes of the first run of the the story, thousands of comments claiming that this was definitely the work of Islamic State and that the leftard libtard media was deliberately suppressing any mention of this, had engulfed certain pointy-headed and ill-spelled corners of the internet. Incontrovertible, iron-clad arguments like: “It was a quiet area, so it must have been a terrorist attack” were helpfully formulated, presumably to assist the police in their investigation, and not to muddy the waters with irrational reactionism. Quite a valuable contribution given that the poor, helpless counter-terrorism and  security experts of the world tend to be stuck with the idea that mass casualty attacks are generally conducted in busy areas at busy times of day. In order to cause mass casualties. Such narrow, blinkered thinking was obviously much enriched by the public’s insightful contributions.

In any case, during the initial phase of this story, the ACL actually had my sympathies. It doesn’t matter how mendacious, petty, bigoted or deluded one’s beliefs are – no law abiding organisation deserves to be the target of political violence. Shelton’s initial Twitterings were mostly generous and politic, though his comment, “hard to believe this could happen in Australia” sounded an ominous warning of the stupidity to come. And my word did he deliver. It appears that in the wake of the explosion, his first and admirable priority was to see to the welfare of his staff, which meant cutting short his holiday and returning to Canberra. In view of the fact that the building was empty at the time, and that none of his staff were injured or killed or, presumably, present at the time, this seemed a little odd. But then, if someone blows up the front of your building, it makes sense that you should repair immediately to the scene. It appears, however, that upon his return he did little other than stand in front of cameras and say stupid things stupidly to the media.

Australian Christian Lobby

Lyle Shelton, proclaiming his organisation’s suspect martyrdom.

By the end of the day, the ground was laid out as follows. The Canberra police had interviewed the suspect, who was unknown to police, and therefore presumably to domestic intelligence, and who said that his sole aim was to “blow myself up”. This, and the host of other factors militating against the interpretation of this event as an attempted mass casualty attack led the police to conclude that there was “no ideological or political motive” behind the explosion. Shelton, of course, wasn’t at all happy about this, and by evening he had proclaimed that the police had been too quick to jump to conclusions, jumped himself to the conclusion that the ACL was the victim of a terror attack and blamed the Greens and other parliamentarians for inciting anti-Christian terrorism by using the word ‘bigot’ to describe his bigoted views.

And then, of course, the story faded from view. This is partly because the only sources of credible information are a tight-lipped police command and a man with burns to 75% of his body, but mostly because the ACL is basically not all that important. Sure, it’s loud in its claims to represent the Christian community, but there isn’t any real evidence that it does. Its base, purportedly largely made up of Pentecostal and non-conformist churches, does not in fact support its views on marriage equality. Its measurable impact on elections is negligible to non-existent. To an informed observer, the ACL’s principle role is to be trotted out in front of the cameras whenever journalists want to provide the appearance of balance by padding out a panel with a talking head from the lunatic Christian right. And this represents, for me, the single most frustrating thing about the ACL – their persistent and unfounded delusions of adequacy. On no level do they actually contribute in any meaningful way to the debate on any issue, but their notoriety and fatuous self importance means that they have a profile which is all out of proportion to their relevance.

So, in the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who actually is planning an attack on the ACL, I would urge you to reconsider. Not only would such an action be illegal, immoral and inhuman, it would also be of material assistance in backing their delusional narrative of persecution. They’re just not important enough to attack. In fact, I’m convinced that they’re not even important enough to respond to. Like every other screaming toddler, I firmly believe that the best tactic by far is to simply ignore them.

What Does Racism Mean, Anyway?


Pauline Hanson has a point.

Paragraph break while readers get back on their chairs.

The fearless Ms Hanson did have a point when she lamented that many of the people calling her a racist do not, in fact, know the definition of the word ‘racism’. I think a great many people are unaware of the exact definition. What they do know, however, is what they think it means. I find it odd that Ms Hanson would object to this kind of usage, given that this would appear to be the first time she’s resorted to anything resembling a dictionary. While I applaud this sudden lurch towards an academic understanding of words and things, I do feel compelled to point out that she’s muffed it.

You see, the main reason people don’t have a single clear definition for ‘racism’ is that the word does not have a single, monolithic definition. It’s always the same with pesky abstract nouns. There’s popular usage, the rather precise and fussy definitions used by various branches of academia, definitions in law and, after all that, the definitions that end up in the dictionary. Yes, definitions, plural. Not definition, singular.

And it’s really not the dictionary definition we’re concerned with when we’re talking about any sort of vox populi statement. It’s the duty of the listener, in any kind of communication, to make an effort to understand what their interlocutor actually means, and when people call Pauline racist, what they mean is that there is a fundamental assumption of ethnic superiority inherent in her particular brand of mythical monoculturism. Or, to put it in simpler terms – she’s a racist.

I suppose it’s not exactly a state secret that Senator Hanson is terrible at language. In fairness, linguistic capability is not what her supporters value her for. It’s for her ‘straight talking’, the way she ‘keeps the bastards honest’ and stands up to ‘lefty elites’. It’s a shame, then, that she hasn’t stuck to her core competencies. Incoherent diatribes blaming anybody and everybody for problems which are never clearly defined are the core, the fundamental bedrock of right wing populism. All of this semantic trickery is much more properly kept in the arsenal of the left.

If I were Pauline Hanson I’d be very careful about precision in language. I’d strongly advise she stick to inchoate expressions of injured outrage – if she gets too specific, it might become apparent to her supporters that she does not, in fact, have anything else.

Peter Dutton: Wave Crest and Iceberg Tip


It’s hard to imagine Peter Dutton being at the top of anything, except perhaps a list of the mentally defective, or the podium at a suicidal horse lookalike contest. Such, however, is the nature of hackneyed metaphor that we now need to imagine Peter Dutton at the top of a wave, iceberg, or some other mobile maritime feature, in order to see clearly what it is that he’s about – something, incidentally, which he seems utterly incapable of doing himself.

Mr Dutton’s recent remarks on Lebanese immigrants were, from a certain point of view, ill-advised, idiotic and frankly appalling. From another point of view, however, they were immensely enlightening. Various analysts are (correctly, I think) putting down his recent rhetoric to the emboldening Trump effect combined with the ongoing war between the right faction of the LNP and everyone else. This is all very interesting, and I think a valid way of interpreting and understanding events, but I don’t think it goes far enough. It is both satisfying and enjoyable to be outraged by his troglodytic bumbling about free speech, ‘honest conversations’ and ‘realistic assessments’, but it’s important to remember that he has a point.

Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, he just happens to be right about the urgent need for Australia, as a country, to have a serious conversation. We need to talk about how it can be that after a snappy two hundred years we can still believe that xenophobic politics is anything other than a smokescreen designed to whip up popular frenzy and votes. We need to talk about our inherent tendency to racism, and our simultaneous compulsion to furiously deny that it’s any such thing. We urgently need to talk about how we’ve ended up with an electorate which consistently spews up pond-life like Dutton, Hanson, Roberts, Nile, etc. as political leaders. And the whole world needs to have a long and serious conversation about allowing the hysterical catharsis facilitated by internet anonymity to colour debate on serious, life-affecting issues.

What we probably don’t need to talk about so much is what names we should call each other, or whether Dutton should be sacked on the grounds of gross incompetence and utter incapability. His job as Minister for Immigration is simply irrelevant next to his real role as hard right political mouthpiece, and that is probably one of the most important topics for ‘honest conversation’. How can we be okay with paying people to serve the public good while they prioritise factional contests above the needs and safety of the people they purport to represent?

I don’t know that getting Peter Dutton sacked is going to help. The fact is, they’ll just replace him with someone better at this kind of rhetoric, as it’s hard to imagine anyone who could very well be worse at it. The real rot exists within the base of the movement atop which he is perched, and although I hate to say it, that base is at least partially formed by a significant portion of our population. I don’t know if talking’s going to fix anything, but I’m damn sure that name-calling and meme generation isn’t. Shall we attempt a dialogue now? After all, we’ve tried everything else…

Donald Trump Is Neither Funny Nor Incomprehensible


It would seem, from a quick perusal of the internets, that we have two and a bit days before the world is either consumed in a fireball of climate change and offended minorities under Trump, or packaged up and sold to CIA reptiles and some numinous body called ‘the elite’ under Clinton. Every kind of publication I follow, from highbrow to low, mainstream to fringe, is relishing the opportunity to dust off their literary educations (such as they are) and get into some John of Patmos style apocalyptic prophesy. Political philosophers are talking about the ‘post-truth’ age, major newspapers are resorting to name-calling, fiction factories like RT and Sputnik have reached new heights of fabricated falsehood and the world in general seems to be devoting a fair portion of each day to screaming at people they’ve never met about issues they don’t understand. So, business as usual, really – just carried on a bit louder.

What’s depressed me most about this presidential race, however, has been the reaction of that subset of the media which caters to the intelligent, the well-informed, and the far more numerous group who incorrectly believe themselves to be both. By far the most common trend amongst what Trump supporters call ‘the liberal media elite’ has been blank incomprehension. They can’t understand why anyone would support Trump. They can’t understand how Trump can be a contender. They can’t understand what Trump himself is actually saying. And these are supposed to be the smart ones? To me, and presumably to the people who support him, Trump’s appeal is obvious. He speaks to the near-universal delusion that the world can be run on something called ‘common sense’. How do we control border access? Build a wall – why hasn’t anyone thought of that? Are we stupid? How do we fix the economy? It’s simple – we just fix it. Don’t worry about the details – that’s just finance nerd trickery. We’ll make more jobs. How do we solve the various crises in the Middle East? Easy – we’ll simultaneously bring all our troops home and bomb the crap out of the enemy, whoever they happen to be. It’s all really simple and don’t let anyone tell you you’re too stupid or too ignorant to work it out.

Because there’s the crux of the problem. It’s the revenge of the nerds out there at the moment. Who is the leader of Islamic State? What limits and powers attach to sovereign status in a rules based world order? What is the net effect of cash supply on the velocity of money? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not fit to run the country, vote, or use the toilet without assistance. And not just that, you’ll be sniggered at and put on a meme. Such is the narrative emanating from the left and a great many people are justifiably fed up with it. Of course they’re going to flock to someone who tells them that they’re not stupid, but rather oppressed by a conspiracy of smart-arses who use big meaningless words and over-complicate things to hide their self-serving perfidy, which is another meaningless big word and let’s make everything great again, y’all.

And to a certain extent, this is correct. Imagine, for a moment, that you are a person who doesn’t believe that trans rights is a real issue. Who feels that calling Hispanic people ‘spics’ is quaint and affectionate. Who’s utterly convinced that women and ethnics are being unfairly advantaged and that the keystone of Western civilisation and its success is faith in our one true lord Jesus Christ. Imagine that you’re that kind of person, and then think about just how patiently a left-leaning intellectual is going to listen to you. Think about just how big a platform you’d get for airing these views. Fact is, if you hold these views, you are guilty of thoughtcrime. They’re unthinkable, and therefore forbidden everywhere but in little pockets of resistance on the internet. And, now, within the walls of the travelling circus tent which is the Trump campaign.

It’s not funny. It’s goddamn heartbreaking. The world has always been filled with people too stupid to lift the seat before they piss, but not until recently has it become de-rigeur amongst the mainstream to mock, belittle and ignore them. The educating mission has died out just as the hillbilly meme is born and now we have a situation where it’s actually become impossible to persuade, largely because we’ve given up talking to each other. Ever since the emergence of complex civilisation, the vast bulk of any population has been more or less mystified as to the actual workings of the state, and it has been down to the people who do know to either cultivate their trust, or keep them in order through force of one sort or another. Well, the existence of a Donald Trump is indicative of a failure to maintain that trust. It’s not hard to see how it’s been destroyed when we consider that trust is impossible without meaningful communication. And when we swap persuasion for condemnation, understanding for mockery and dialogue for self-righteous censorship, any kind of communication becomes next to impossible. We’ve divided into feuding factions, separated by a mutual incomprehension which is at least nine tenths deliberate, and if Trump wins on Tuesday we liberals have only our sniggering, supercilious, breathtakingly arrogant selves to blame.

Still Stopping The Boats, Are We?


There were always going to be a few options when it came to stopping unauthorised maritime arrivals, or whatever it is we’re calling them this week. As it’s a complex problem, the solutions are also quite complex. For the sake of space and sanity, let’s divide the possible responses into two broad sets: Preventative and Punitive. And just so we don’t accidentally create a false dichotomy, let’s point out, right here at the top of the page, that each solution obviously contains elements of the other. What gives each set of responses its title is emphasis, rather than exclusivity.

Way back in the days before Australia’s somewhat ill-advised experiment with Abbottian Radicalism, we the people were presented with a clear choice. On the one hand, there was the humane, intelligent and nuanced Preventative solution, where government tried to ignore the white noise of xenophobia and make plans which would operate and effect well into the middle and long term (note the careful use of the word ‘government’ – neither Liberal nor Labor get a pass on this particular bucket of vile toxicity). And then there was the Punitive solution, where government would amplify, and in large part create, xenophobic white noise, and undertake actions which can either be seen as courageous and direct, or reactive and stupid, depending on which part of the political spectrum the describer happens to be shouting from.

With breathtaking courage, perspicacity and intelligence, we the people chose the Punitive approach. Bravely, we went forth on a program of deliberate and questionably legal cruelty in order, so we were told, to save lives. We entered into dubious agreements with dubious island governments, militarised and classified what had previously been a relatively benign border control operation and turned a sanctimoniously blind eye to the psychological abuse, beating and rape of the men, women and children we were so virtuously saving from death. All things pass, however, and after a while I think we became less enthused about the Punitive solution. The obvious moral ambiguities, as well as the shockingly increased cost, gave many of us pause. “Who would have thought,” the media said for us, “that a solution which requires significantly greater resources and involves indefinite internment would cost so much more and be so damn nasty?”

I don’t really understand how we of the Australian public, members of a nation and culture I love, could ever have rationalised this to ourselves. Perhaps we saw it as some kind of tough love? Or perhaps we, as a nation, had a momentary lapse of both generosity and courage, and decided in that moment to listen to the mean, reactionary, white supremacist fringe which exists in every Western nation, no matter how wonderful. Suffice it to say, having made this choice we are, for the moment, stuck with it.

What happened, way back in the halcyon days before Rudd Gillard Rudd OMFG ABBOTT WHY WHY WHY Turnbull, was a re-affirmation of one of the oldest principles of Australian politics. We confirmed, in no uncertain terms, that being tough on Johnny Foreigner was still a guaranteed lever for generating popularity. It’s in this context that the recent proposed lifetime ban on boat arrivals makes the most sense. The permanently outraged left is not, I think, alone in being nonplussed and infuriated by the proposal, but there really isn’t any reason for this. With a Prime Minister weakened by factional infighting, low popularity and his own apparent moral and political cowardice, it was really only a matter of time before the xenophobia button was pushed yet again. And it is merely characteristic that it’s being done in such a half-arsed, pussy-footed and tangential way. Half-arsed, pussy-footed and tangential could and probably will be carved on this government’s headstone.

No, Hippie, We Can’t Beat ISIS With Hugs

There has been a lot of embarrassing commentary bandied about in the last few weeks. People who are otherwise perfectly sane have, for some reason, decided to channel the bronze age and declare that the conflict with ISIS is a competition between gods, requiring us to smite the unbelieving wherever and whomever they might be. This ignores, of course, the fact that there is only one god in question, and that the question isn’t really a very relevant one. And who could forget the hate-groups, leveraging the credulity of the public in general and Pauline Hanson in particular in order to pose as grassroots movements of ‘concerned citizens’, instead of revealing themselves to be the white supremacist filth that they really are.

While outpourings of hate and stupidity like these are deeply embarrassing to all paid-up members of humanity, by far the most embarrassing commentary, for me, has been from the hearts and flowers brigade. Now, don’t get me wrong: anyone who’s spreading a message of peace, tolerance and love is generally going to get two big thumbs up from me. And I should also point out that I understand what they’re saying – to wit, that one of the main aims of ISIS is to sow division, and that by coming together we can frustrate that aim. The problem for me is that this is a nuanced message and, as such, has been completely misunderstood by idiots on both sides of the political divide. And it was always going to be.

You see, the thing about a message that contains a complete idea, and is delivered in the form of a complete sentence, is that it’s always going to go straight over the heads of people who don’t understand the difference between words like ‘Muslim’, ‘Islamist’, ‘terrorist’, ‘immigrant’ and ‘refugee’. Beyond a vague idea that they might be spelt differently, that is. It’s also going to have limited success amongst people whose solution to everything is to buy a hobby farm somewhere and blog endlessly about falling in love with trees, fair trade cocoa beans, or their own goddess powers, or whatever it is small-earther hippies are into this week. The point is that when you know full well that the bulk of your likely audience is going to possess the political sophistication of a recently concussed duckling, there is really very little to be gained by talking to them like they’re grownups.

There is, however, a lot to be lost. Like clarity. Like sensible discussion. Like the ability to avoid the conflation of the related but very different problems that are terrorism and ISIS. Terrorism is a global phenomenon that’s been around for centuries and is probably a symptom of a broader systemic failure arising from the way in which world power is organised. There are people out there who realise this, and who are working on a solution. ISIS is a localised problem, stemming from a number of factors including our own actions in the Middle East, and there are only two possible solutions, neither of which have anything to do with hugs or flowers. We either need to arrange for the total military destruction of the ISIS regime, or prepare for a world which contains a new winner of this century’s ‘most evil state’ competition. Aggressively loving each other in public is going to achieve neither of these outcomes, and it is deeply unhelpful to suggest, even inadvertently, that it might.

So, to all those pointy heads on the right, please try to understand that no sane person is suggesting that universal love is going to result in the military defeat of ISIS. And to all the neo-hippies of the increasingly embarrassing left: There have only ever been a handful of major conflicts that have been won without casualties and using free love in favour of ordnance, and none of these have ever occurred outside of the Disney universe. If we can’t wrap our heads around the basic realities of the current situation, then I’m afraid that we will effectively forfeit any rights we might have in determining our future course. This would represent, to my mind, a disastrous failure of the principles of democracy. It is for this reason that I would urge all good citizens from both the left and the right to immediately book tickets for their return to planet Earth.

It’s Not A Defence Of Islam, It’s An Attack On Stupidity

In the wake of the Paris attacks, social media has once again come alive with people who see no problem with leveraging a global tragedy in order to promote an ideology of hatred. I’d like to say a majority of these people are in the Middle East and are called ISIS, but they’re not. They’re ‘ordinary decent citizens’ who are sick of what they see as government inaction and the ‘liberal left’ being ‘soft on Muslims’.

What I’d most like to say to these people is unprintable. What I’d say next would be, “Take a long look at yourselves.” But when I consider the incoherent and asinine results of their having taken a look at contemporary issues, I lack faith in their capacity for self examination. Or sequential thought. Or coherent speech. So, finding myself the only person in these conversations who is capable of conversation, I am forced to listen to what they have to say and respond to it.

Let’s leave, for the moment, the moronic and borderline insane tendency to speak of a population comprising one and a half billion people as if they were a single, uniform group. And perhaps we should pass lightly over the fact that if we were to convert far right ‘opinions’ into policy recommendations, we would end up with what basically amounts to ethnic cleansing. And let’s ignore, as well, the simple fact that anybody who thinks that our current terrorism problem stems primarily from the existence of Islam cannot possibly be said to understand the problem, Islam, history, or the process known as ‘thinking’. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that screaming blindingly obvious facts into the faces of bigots is neither an effective nor a productive use of time. Let us, instead, focus on the accusation that ‘lefties’ are uniformly in love with Islam and everything it stands for.

This accusation, like everything else that comes out of the mouths of reactionaries, is a distortion and over-simplification of a complex truth. Like many functional mental defectives in history, this interpretation smacks of the sort of mind that is capable of taking political rhetoric literally, and then believing it. And I use the word ‘mind’ loosely. The simple fact of the matter is that Islamist terrorism is obviously going to have elements of Islam in it. Islamist terrorist propaganda is going to use Islamic language and archaic Islamic ideas in order to get its message across. And there are going to be elements of fundamentalist Islam that are actually going to be quite conducive to the idea of blowing yourself up in a market square because you’re a bit miffed about America, or short skirts, or whatever loopy objection to the modern world happens to be uppermost in your diseased mind at the time.

The thing is, though, that this fact is part of a nuanced reality. There is not a single organised religion on the face of the planet that could not be turned to the justification of this kind of activity*. What actually tips the scales is not the nature of the religion, but the political and social realities experienced by its members, the function that determines the likelihood of radicalisation having far more to do with socio-economic status, national self-image, recent historical narrative (both contrived and actual) and degree and type of political oppression. This, however, is difficult to fit on a meme. Much more dangerous than the vague and contradictory tenets of any religion, is the bugbear of every progressive: the insidious human stain that is bigotry.

Progressive rhetoric will always push hard to sell the idea that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, not because it’s the absolute truth, but owing to an assessment of what ‘ordinary people’ will almost always do when given an opportunity to ostracise and vilify people who look a bit funny. Like all political rhetoric, it needs to be taken with about half a metric tonne of salt, because this kind of rhetoric isn’t about information – it’s about reaction. A belief that the left is constantly defending Islam is symptomatic of the inability to understand subtleties that is endemic amongst the ranks of the bigoted. The natural response to an invalid attack on Islam is to attack that attack. This does not in itself amount to a defence of Islam. It is an attack on bigotry.

The unspoken truth of the matter is that most intellectual progressives believe the ‘great unwashed’ to be incapable of separating extreme ideology from the mainstream, or either ideology from the very real men, women and children who are going to have to live with the attitudes formed by what the populist right laughably calls ‘thinking’. An historical understanding of how bigotry forms and takes root is the primary factor informing the liberal response. Progressives believe that the only responsible answer to the specious, absolutist arguments of bigotry is the adoption of a position just as absolute. The assumption is that people who are prone to using stupid arguments are unlikely to understand complex ones.

If you think this attitude is high-handed, smug or condescending, you will find me in complete agreement. Unfortunately, a quick look at the reaction of the right wing all over the world will reveal that, as well as being all these things, it is also accurate.


*Yes, including Buddhism.