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.

Turkey Nightclub Blitz Attack – Context And Meaning

Turkey Night Club Attack

For many, the news of the New Year’s Day blitz attack on a Turkish nightclub came as shocking news. I suspect that many people automatically categorised this attack as being a part of a global phenomenon, helped along by the media’s insistence on comparing ‘similar events’. Thus the inevitable false parallels being drawn between this attack, Paris, and the Orlando nightclub shootings. The only things these attacks really have in common, though, are modus operandi and nature of venue. In terms of the real DNA of an incident – context and cause – this attack is much more about Turkey than it is about global jihad.

First, a quick note on sequence of events and reporting. Our primary sources for the attack are eyewitness accounts and Turkish state media and agencies. For various reasons, none of these are exactly famous for accuracy or veracity. Eyewitnesses, especially traumatised ones, are generally confused and inaccurate, and the Turkish state does not so much disseminate information as it selects and fabricates to serve its own agenda. If media reports seem conflicting and confused, this is because the primary sources are tainted, and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. For our purposes, however, just the fact of Turkish state reporting will suffice.

It is axiomatic that a principal aim of terrorism is to cause sufficient destabilisation of state structures to bring about capitulation or collapse. Thus the categorisation of terrorists as ‘enemies of the state’, amongst other things. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, and by immediate I mean in less than forty minutes, no less than three enemies of the state were posited by Turkish authorities as potential perpetrators. The two most prominent were Islamic State (not the specific organisation, but the huge amorphous radical diaspora as it exists in the popular mind), and a miscellaneous grab bag of Kurdish independence and separatist groups. Humming in the background as always, however, was Gulen – Turkey’s very own political bogeyman.

This is telling. At a stage when people on the ground were still unclear as to even the basic sequence of events, Turkish authorities were able to confidently declare multiple suspects. What this tells us is that Turkey is wealthy in credibly dangerous enemies of the state. I’ve spoken elsewhere about Turkey’s parlous internal politics, and about Erdogan’s project of Islamisation and Ottomanisation in a bid for stability through presidential power and regional hegemony. The other important fact is that Turkey is a nation tied to wild horses pulling in different directions. Its economic co-dependence with Russia, a power whose regional interests are diametrically opposed to their own, its bitterly oppositional marriages of convenience with NATO and Europe and its own internal woes are all combining to create a situation where, if Erdogan does not find a solution, Turkey will be torn apart. It would appear that a combination of the special stupidity which comes with populism and, more importantly, limited capacity for state agency, has reduced his viable options to brutal repression combined with transparent propaganda. It’s highly unlikely that in a situation as complex as this, blunt instruments like these are going to prove effective.

This is deeply worrying for any nation with interests in the region. For most of the twentieth century Turkey has been a bulwark against the systemic instability caused in large part by Israeli expansionism and the Sykes-Picot line. It is for this reason that the West has tended to tolerate its brutal suppression of ethnic minorities, strongman governments, aggression and insultingly blatant dishonesty. Turkey is important as a lynchpin for the region. Attacks like the one on New Year’s Day, however, are becoming increasingly frequent. In the last few months, attacks have been occurring on an almost weekly basis, their foci being the capital Ankara and the arguably more significant cultural and symbolic capital Istanbul. Possibly the only absolute truth to emanate from the Turkish authorities is the contention that the aim of this attack was to destabilise the unity of the Turkish state.

If Erdogan’s administration is unable to contain and prevent future attacks, the credibility of his government as an authority capable of protecting its people will evaporate entirely. This process will necessarily be accelerated by a perceived inability to protect foreign nationals, tourism being a major pillar of Turkey’s economy. It doesn’t take much of a prophet to see that when faith in a government’s ability to provide security and prosperity disappears, so too does that government. In the case of Erdogan, his vision for Turkey’s future has alienated his allies, trading partners, security services and military. Too many more of these attacks will see the state of Turkey fragment and disappear. It’s vitally important that we recognise this to be a primary goal of the plethora of internal and external enemies which Turkey has managed to accrue. As much as we may dislike Erdogan’s obtuse brutality and religious fanaticism, a coherent Turkish state is decidedly the lesser of two evils for the region, and it’s incumbent on the international community to recognise and support this, rather than allowing Turkey to crumble as a side effect of the pursuit of narrow national self interest.

 

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. 

The Relative Irrelevance Of Ideology… Explained Through Tinder

When I first heard about Tinder, I was very excited. You see, I’ve never really been interested in having a long term relationship with anyone, and the whole notion of creating a home and filling it with prototype humans has about as much appeal for me as a bareback ride on a machete. Of course, so many people have exactly the opposite view that it’s almost impossible to convince anyone else that this is a sincere or enduring position. People just smile puffy, self-satisfied smiles and say things like: “Well, you might think that now…” implying that my considered choices about my mode of life are just a temporary aberration that will be fixed when I finally decide to be just like everyone else. Maybe they’re right, or maybe not. It couldn’t matter less. What does matter in the here and now, though, is the fact that practically everyone who is single and my age is completely sold on the picket fence and SUV model for happiness, which brings up the practical issue of how to acquire sex without love.

So, Tinder is announced and the concept is one that seems tailor-made for my situation. It’s apparently a community of people who are interested only in “hookups”. Gone is the tiresome business of trying to determine likes and dislikes, political affiliations, compatibility of both the mundane and spiritual variety – it’s just a matter of liking what you see and then arranging to meet. To a person in my position, Tinder seemed to be absolutely heaven sent. A purpose-built community of people who, like me, do not see their future solely in the context of who else will be in it and who are nevertheless saddled with a practical need for temporary companionship. Perfect, right?

Wrong. The problem with Tinder is that it became phenomenally popular. And the whole thing with popularity is that it enforces, with crushing inevitability, the Poisson curve of statistical normality. Completely disregarding the deliberately shallow, hardbitten engineering of the system and ideology behind Tinder, the hookup app became overwhelmingly a dating app. What started as a simple means of obtaining casual sex became, under the pressure of sheer single-minded human banality, yet another place where people emote at each other and look for love. Don’t get me wrong – there is still a minority core of sex addicts and other assorted extremists who wish to use the app in the spirit in which it was intended, but they are  drowned out by the sheer volume of people using Tinder as a low-budget form of eHarmony. Even when they say they’re not.

And this, really, is my point. Systems, ideologies, creeds, faiths – it doesn’t really matter what they are: people will just be people. And it is this fact, so obvious that it attains the status of a truism, that many of us seem to have difficulty understanding. Take the people who think Islam is the root cause of violence and extremism in the Middle East. They smugly quote passages of the Quran, share around images and video of extremist nutbags saying extremist things and then use these things as ‘evidence’ that Islam is somehow intrinsically evil and directly responsible for everything that’s wrong with the world today. The massive, ten million dollar problem with such a view is that it ignores the reality of human experience  – that depressing Poisson curve of normality.

It really doesn’t matter what your religion says – people are pretty much just going to go on being people. Christianity can be interpreted as a mystical creed of universal love, abnegation of the self before God and the embracing of poverty, which clearly explains why Christendom has become one of the most peace-loving and frugal regions of the globe today. No, wait… bad example. Buddhism is a creed of universal love, tolerance and the transcendence of base human impulses, which clearly explains why Buddhist nations like Sri Lanka and Thailand have embraced ethnic minorities and… no, hang on – another bad example.

It really doesn’t matter what any creed or code actually says – get enough people involved and they will basically screw it up by being themselves. There are constants in human behaviour that can be identified across more than ten thousand years of civilisation and, while the exciting backdrop of philosophies and systems flickers and changes over time, human behaviour does not. I could start a religion today that advocates the worship of Satan, whose primary virtues include rebellion against God and the state and promiscuity. I guarantee you that as soon as it has a large enough membership, it will be filled with people who pay their taxes and raise children in nuclear families. And it will probably contain a fringe element of weird beards who actually read the holy texts and call the rest of the congregation apostates. Sound familiar? That’s because it is – it’s the story of every established religion in the history of humanity. The reality is that people ignore or twist ideology and faith to provide sovereign justification for whatever it was that they were always going to do in the first place. Which is why Tinder is just another dating site, and Islam is just another religion.

A Three Point Plan For Dealing With Muslims In Australia

A deeply worrying number of otherwise rational people seem to be calling, with ever-increasing fervour, for the removal of all Muslims from this country and the utter obliteration of the religion of Islam. They believe that Islam is a cult of death and violence whose continued existence can only mean the eventual destruction of the West. We hear a constant stream of assertions regarding Islamic intolerance, terrorism, misogyny and absolutism, amidst calls to ban the migration or residence of Muslim people anywhere in the world at any time.

I’m not going to repeat here the simple, plain facts of the matter. I’m not going to point out that the fundamentalist proportion of not only Islam, but of every other religion, is miniscule. I’m tired of re-iterating the easily provable fact that terror organisations of every stamp are primarily political and not religious, and that this becomes confusing when we are talking about a part of the world that has not fully embraced the separation of church and state. I’ve become completely nauseated at the prospect of once again highlighting the logical contradiction inherent in believing that all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are nihilistic terrorists and simultaneously being alive and well and unconquered by Muslim extremists. And I am absolutely sick to death of pointing out that cherry-picking violent verses from the Quran doesn’t prove a single, solitary thing, especially in light of the fact that the same thing can be done with the Torah and the Bible, and that drawing conclusions about Islam on such a basis rests on the (false) assumption that all Muslims are fundamentalists.

So I’m not going to bother.

Instead, what I am going to do is a thought experiment, which, as it involves thinking, will probably seem to pointy-headed fascists like some form of sorcery. Let’s have a look, shall we, at how we would actually enact the wishes of those who wish to see Islam eradicated from Australian culture.

Firstly, the banning of Sharia law. This is pretty easily done – Sharia law isn’t formal law in any Western country, and no Western judiciary is ever going allow it to be written into common law. Any ban would therefore be wildly successful, and an utter waste of millions of dollars in order to outlaw something that is not actually in any danger of being instituted.

Now, the idea of ‘getting rid’ of the Muslims. This could also be done quite easily. All we’d have to do is find the roughly 2 percent of Australians who identified on the last census as Muslims and deport them. Of course, a significant portion of these people were born in Australia and only have single nationality, so we’d be technically making them stateless. As such, removing them from our soil would be illegal, but that’s not a problem. We could just put them in detention centres, or camps somewhere, until we can come up with a final solution.

Then there’s the far more insidious problem of Muslim ideology. Obviously it’s virulent, because radicalisation is so contagious that it’s effected a staggering 300 odd people out of 22 million. Clearly a five alarm, brown trouser time crisis. But how do we fight it? How, indeed, does one kill an idea? We have a few models from history for this. There’s the Maoist method, where we simply round up everyone we suspect of ever having had an idea, as well as all their families, and starve them to death somewhere or, if they can afford the bullet, shoot them in the head. Or there’s the Stalinist method which involves rounding people up into labour camps and starving them to death or shooting them. Or the Pol Pot method… actually, scratch all that. There’s actually only the one method, and it’s about camps and mass executions. Which integrates nicely with the ‘putting stateless Muslim deportees in detention centres’ policy.

And then, finally, we’d have to make sure that Islam could never raise its ugly head again, which would mean banning its practice by law. This would of course necessitate re-writing or amending part of the constitution and destroying the provisions for freedom of religion which exist in law, but we’ve demonstrated again and again that we don’t give a tinker’s cuss about our civil liberties anyway. Of course, having laws about one religion would mean that we would have to institute a kind of religious law to protect the faiths that we do like, but needs must and so on.

So, to sum up – in order to effect the policies of people who think Islam is dangerous and should be banned, we need to enact the following provisions.

  1. A program of non-judicial detention and deportation against people on the basis of their faith
  2. The attempted genocide of a group of people who we have decided are ideologically unacceptable
  3. The institution of religious law

None of which should be very difficult as we currently have a live, working model of such policies from which we can observe and learn. It’s called ISIS, and it operates in Northern Iraq and Syria. I suggest that those who wish to see these kinds of policies enacted should fly immediately to Raqqa or Erbil so that they can learn exactly what it is that they are asking for.

If You Don’t Like Australia, Just Leave

If you don’t like Australia, why don’t you just leave? It’s a habit amongst many on the left of politics to dismiss people who say things along these lines as ignorant, racist and reactionary. Which, if you think about it, is pretty reactionary in itself. I think that the idea actually deserves a little consideration. And no, I haven’t lost my mind or suddenly become a racist, but I am rapidly losing all tolerance for the mindless, hysterical reactionism that is coming more and more to define our political discourse. So let’s think about this for a moment.

Let’s say you suddenly wake up in a country whose core values and laws are such that you can no longer abide by them. As I see it, you then have three options. You can:

  1. Whinge about it endlessly
  2. Become an insurgent
  3. Proceed in the general direction of ‘away’

If you are the sort of person whose first and only reaction to problems is option 1, then I’m afraid you’re dropped from the list of people who actually matter. So let’s move on and talk about option 2. Taking action in this way presents the western world with a challenging dichotomy. On the one hand, we have a long and proud tradition of civil disobedience as one of the safeguards of democracy, and there are many elements of our culture that would seem to actively encourage this. On the other hand, however, we have learned, since the latter half of the 20th century, to develop a whole new level of abhorrence for politically motivated violence. Should you become a political insurgent in this country, there is a very good chance that you will establish a new Guinness World Record for ‘Shortest Career in History’. In short, option 2 is a non-starter.

Which brings us to option 3 – leaving. I understand that for many people this seems unthinkable. It’s a very expensive process, for a start, and on top of that, many people who would take serious exception to Australian values were born here. So the question is not only how they are to leave, but why they even should. For me, the answer is simple. If you disagree violently with the values of your native or adoptive country, then it is by far preferable that you leave it rather than causing harm to the people with whom you share it. The world is a big and varied place and, whatever your values, there is a very good chance that you’re going to be able to find a corner of the globe where most people agree with you, no matter how crazy you might be. And if it matters that much, people generally find a way. But as pointed out, this is a major and often expensive step. So how should a person determine when it is no longer possible to stay here?

I think the test is a simple one. Firstly, identify the core values of the country that you live in. In the case of Australia, these values would include pluralism, tolerance and freedom of worship. If you find any of these values to be completely unacceptable, I’m sorry, but you probably don’t belong here. If you can’t tolerate the idea of Muslims trying to live and worship freely in our country and you think that the entirety of the Islamic religion should be expunged from the Australian community, then I’m afraid that you fail to share some of this country’s most fundamental values. That brand of intolerance really belongs elsewhere, like the Aryan brotherhood controlled wing of a US prison. Or the training camps of organisations like Al Qaeda or ISIS.

Tonight, the chairman of the Parramatta mosque, Neil el-Kadomi, is going to tell his congregation that anybody who doesn’t like Australia or Australian values should just leave. I wish to mirror this call. If you can’t get on board with the core Australian concepts of acceptance, tolerance and religious freedom, then you should pïss off too.

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory

ISIS

In about a month’s time, it will be the 156th anniversary of John Brown’s fateful raid on Harper’s Ferry. Now, for most Australians, John Brown is a  vague figure chiefly known for getting a two year jump start on the American Civil War and featuring in a morbid army song. Americans, however, have a much sharper and clearer view of the man, either as a lunatic terrorist, an heroic abolitionist, or both.

Brown and his band of 21 men took over the government arsenal and armoury at Harper’s Ferry in the early hours of the morning of the 17th of October, 1859. His plan was as breathtaking in its scope as it was implausible. His idea was to empty the arsenal and armoury, wait for slaves in the area to rise up and rally to him, and then literally take to the mountains fighting a guerilla war against slavery in the state of Virginia and beyond.

His plans, always more visionary than practical, involved the building of a network of forts in the surrounding mountain ranges, connected by communications tunnels which would presumably be dug by hand by the hundreds or thousands of slaves that he mistakenly believed would rally to his cause. As it was, he didn’t liberate a single slave. He also refused to surrender, in the face of repeated and desperate entreaties for him to save his own life and the lives of his band. On October the 18th, US Marines stormed the engine house that Brown had taken refuge in, killed most of his band and captured Brown.

Immediately after his capture, Brown, who had been bayoneted through the kidneys and severely cut about the head with a cavalry sword, gave an hours long press conference in which he stated in clear, rational terms the reasoning behind his suicidal act of treason. He repeated the performance soon afterwards at his trial and then six weeks later at his execution. It is these clear, ringing phrases, many of which were foreshadowed in his earlier writings and conversations, that have come down to us today.

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

“I have only a short time to live, only one death to die, and I will die fighting for this cause. There will be no peace in this land until slavery is done for.”

“If it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments – I submit: so let it be done.”

The first thing we notice about this rhetoric is its purity. There’s no maundering self pity in these lines despite the aspirations to martyrhood; no manufactured outrage, no writing to the SEO – they’re just pure and clean statements of a position that is simple and powerful in a way that only absolutism can be. And therein lies their very dangerous appeal. In the modern West, rhetoric of this kind has largely disappeared from the mouths of the sane or the intelligent. Most things are qualified, nuanced, considered. We don’t see this kind of rhetoric applied to many topics these days – poverty, maybe, or feminism or domestic violence, but even in these cases, nobody is advocating killing anyone or dying as a solution.

Which means that a young person in the West, looking for a pure and noble cause full of blood and thunder to get behind (as young people frequently do), has our mealy-mouthed, prevaricating slacktivism on the one hand… and on the other? They have the blood and thunder of the Islamists.

“We fear not the swarms of planes, nor ballistic missiles, nor drones, nor satellites, nor battleships, nor weapons of mass destruction. How could we fear them, while Allah the Exalted has said, “If Allah should aid you, no one can overcome you.”

“The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.”

“…kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they follow the same false ruling.”

We see a surprising amount of commentary from people who claim to be mystified as to the appeal of ISIS. Serious, thoughtful people who simply cannot understand what possible appeal there might be in travelling thousands of miles to be raped or used as cannon fodder or propaganda material. This confuses me. Surely, it can’t be that hard to see that these people are not joining jihadi groups with any real conception of what they’re about? Surely, it doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to understand the impulse, especially the adolescent impulse, to throw oneself wholeheartedly into a cause that claims to be pure and powerful enough to warrant death, fire and glorious struggle?

I wonder if perhaps our general inefficacy in counter and de-radicalisation stems from this inability to understand the siren call of radicalisation in the first place? Sure, it’s about poverty and disenfranchisement, but only to a certain extent. Poverty, disadvantage and divisiveness open the door, but what steps through it is the kind of zealotry that resembles, in form if not in spirit or intention, the same power that invests some of our culture’s greatest figures. Perhaps, then, as well as tea, biscuits and welfare after the fact of radicalisation, we should also be looking at tapping that same spirit in our counter-radicalisation efforts.

One does not counter fanaticism with reason, nor passion with equivocation. Perhaps what we need is to create a counter-narrative that is just as appealing as the Islamist one. And why should we not be as vehement, or as absolute in the defence of our freedoms, and our hard-won, liberated way of life? Have not people just like John Brown and thousands – no, millions – of others shed oceans of blood to get it for us? Why shouldn’t we be at least as excited about our civilisation, and as ready to defend it, as a bunch of grubby sex criminals tearing around the Middle East in technicals? Well, there is the risk of sounding rather like the idiots of the United Patriots Front, or Tony Abbott, but surely this can be avoided. Surely, we can point to the monumental achievements of our own shared culture and be at least as inspired and excited about it as anyone else.

 

Daesh. No, Daiersh. Daaaeeiioorshe. Ahhh, F*ck it – ISIS.

When a horrifically violent terror organisation takes by storm a territory about the size of Tasmania and uses it as a base for the re-introduction of slavery, the rape of minors and the radicalisation and recruitment of tens of thousands of people from around the world, obviously one of the first priorities of any government is to make long and tedious announcements about what the name of that organisation is. It’s a self-evident fact that slipping up in the all important area of language would be a fatal mistake in the fight against global terror. Our government is so serious about this that they have abandoned any attempt to communicate clearly on any other issue and, with almost spooky foresight, instituted this policy well before ISIS even emerged.

Now, the name that our government has settled on is ‘Daesh’, being a loose acronym for Al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham. The justifications for this range from the ludicrous to the ignorant to the sensible, which would make it business as usual for the foot-in-mouth gang we inexplicably voted in at the last election. First and foremost is the refusal to use names that identify the group as Islamic or a ‘state’. This falls in the ludicrous (and possibly ignorant) category, as they are using an Arabic acronym that does both these things, just not in English. If just avoiding the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘State’ is sufficient, then the English equivalent of this acronym, ‘ISIS’, does the job equally well and means pretty well exactly the same thing. The other reason for using ‘Daesh’ is that it’s the name favoured by the group’s enemies as it is phonetically similar to words for ‘oppressor’ and suchlike in Arabic.

So, the name was chosen on the grounds that it doesn’t identify the group as an Islamic State, even though it does, but in Arabic, which nobody understands. Also, it is a derogatory pun, which is good, even though it’s in Arabic, which nobody understands. I think this kind of thinking is exactly what the word ‘loopy’ was invented to describe.

Apart from the serious cognitive dissonance and triviality involved in spending any time whatsoever on such a decision, it’s generally been a positive thing. It hasn’t caught on at all, with pretty well everyone calling the group ISIS, IS, ISIL or Islamic State, but it has provided literally hours of amusing television in which various government officials find themselves unequal to the task of pronouncing or mispronouncing the word in any consistent manner. I, for one, think that Julie Bishop suddenly looking rabbit-in-headlights as she realises she’s going to have to say ‘Daesh’, and then making three or four failed attempts at it, is comedy gold. Especially from a Foreign Minister.

But it does make me wonder – how much can our government (or anyone, for that matter), actually understand about this phenomenon if they’re still grappling with what the bloody thing is called? It’s a serious threat to our interests and allies, as well as to the global balance of power and what, for want of a better term, I’ll call the current world order. On top of all this it’s causing untold suffering and committing atrocities and war-crimes on a daily basis. So it’s definitely worth talking about and taking action against, but so far, our action and our talk have been equally misguided, ineffective and just plain old, garden variety stupid. Almost equal portions of time are spent mangling an Arabic dipthong and announcing draconian measures that are a gold-plated, red-ribbon gift to the online recruiters and ideologues of ISIS. If Abbott and the Islamophobes he unwittingly incites want to know why Australia has the highest per capita incidence of jihadist recruitment, all they need to do is find a mirror and take a good, hard look at themselves, preferably just after somebody has tattooed on their foreheads:

ALIENATION CAUSES RADICALISATION. YOU STUPID, STUPID BASTARDS.

 

 

Who Are the United Patriot’s Front?

Not being an avid watcher of the far right, I was blissfully unaware of their shenanigans until various organisations started advertising this weekend’s rallies in Melbourne and Sydney on my Facebook newsfeed.

I should explain that, having noticed just how tightly shut an echo chamber the internet can be, I deliberately follow several feeds and pages that are diametrically opposed to my own beliefs. This ensures that I am not just hearing my own opinions in different words, and is closer to the ideals that I think should inform our usage of the internet.

It was for this reason that I began hearing about an organisation called the United Patriot’s Front (not to be confused with the Sudanese separatist movement), a far right, ultra-nationalist, anti-Islamic group that could be described as a splinter group of Reclaim Australia, if only because their founder is a former spokesman for Reclaim and split off on the assumption that the bulk of Reclaim would follow him (they didn’t). The UPF are initially quite difficult to gather information about, largely because of the looseness of their organisation. In digital terms their existence is confined to a handful of Facebook pages, some very angry Youtube videos, and a website with the message “Please bare [sic] with us while this site is under construction”.

This means that in order to find out about who they are and what they have to say, one has to go through the rather depressing process of reading their material and watching their videos. What we first gather about these people is that they are angry. They are, in fact, very angry indeed. What they mainly seem to be angry about is the existence of Islam, having a confused idea that just because violent political ideologies in the Middle East happen to identify with Islam, that Islam must therefore be the enemy of civilisation. They also appear to be angry about female genital mutilation, cherry-picked passages of the Quran, Halal certification, the media and, weirdly, communism. The upshot of their worldview appears to be that a vague entity that they label ‘The Left’, in cahoots with the ‘Communist Media’, is conspiring to destroy the Australian way of life. So far so garden variety loony. Unusually, they are also inordinately angry at the idea of being called racist. I could just about understand this if I was able to believe it. Unfortunately, their non-racist credentials are seriously questionable. Aside from their public and close association with more or less openly racist parties and groups, there is clear evidence that a senior neo-nazi was invited to join yesterday’s bus trip from Sydney to Melbourne, and that he was prominently and loudly kicked off only after various media outlets had detected and reported his presence.

As for numbers and support, this is also a bit nebulous. Many of the ‘allied organisations’ they reference do not appear to exist and their on again off again relationship with Reclaim Australia is obviously fraught. Far less fraught is their relationship with parties like Australia First and the National Democratic Party of Australia. Their turnout at the Melbourne rally yesterday, which would ordinarily serve as a good guide, is difficult to calculate as their leadership failed to name the pre-rally point, meaning that by the time the rally had begun many of their supporters appear to have been stuck on the wrong side of the police lines set up to protect them. This is sourced from their Facebook page and would appear to be fairly indicative of their general intelligence and organisational ability.

So what are they? Farcical or dangerous? It’s extremely difficult to say. I, personally, find them deeply worrying. The brand of non-reflective, anti-intellectual ultra-nationalism that they push seems to me to have the potential for mass appeal. There is a significant portion of the Australian community who are sufficiently ill-informed to buy in to the kind of xenophobic anxiety that groups like this push. It is interesting to note that their FB page has over 8000 likes and their founder’s page over 22000. And the half-truths and fabrications that they publish are no more radical or bizarre than the comments on Islam that I hear from many ordinary Australians on an almost daily basis.

Why does a group like this even exist? Neo-nazis and fascists haven’t had this kind of a popularity wave since the ’90s, when the Howard government attempted to access deep-seated anxieties about Asian immigration in a bid to garner populist brownie points.

Wait a minute… I think I’ve got it…

What’s A Few Hundred Years Between Friends?

Lions For Lambs was a fairly unmemorable, if well-intentioned, film dealing with some aspects of the war in Afghanistan. In it there is a scene in which Tom Cruise, playing a hawkish US Senator, tries to sell the broader motivation behind the war. At one point, he talks about the absolute necessity of fighting “crazy Islamists who want to turn the clock back 500 years”.

I mention this because it’s a common idea – it’s stated and implied in the media and in the more right of centre academic discussions of Islam, Islamism and the threat represented by elements of the Moslem world. The basic thesis is that the Islamic world is stuck in the mediaeval period, having chosen to regress there, and wishes to drag us all back there with them.

There are two blindingly arrogant assumptions required to underpin such a world view.

  1. The development of the world should be measured solely along the timeline of Western history.
  2. Western Civilisation represents the current apogee of human development.

There is, however, one key problem with both of these assumptions, and that problem is a matter of approximately 600 years. The simple fact of the matter is that the Islamic world as we know it today began its development five or six centuries after what we used to call Christendom and now, thankfully, label “The Western World”.

So, as an exercise, let’s take a look at some basic timelines for the Umma and Christendom, each starting from its respective ‘year dot’.

Christendom Islam
Year Zero(ish) 

A woman from an outpost of the Roman Empire falls inconveniently and/or inexplicably pregnant. She claims to have been impregnated by a golden shower and told about it by the Archangel Gabriel, who, as we go on, would appear to have been a very busy person.

610 

A man who sells holy souvenirs claims to have been visited by the Archangel Gabriel who, for some reason, dictates to him a book of verse containing some fairly vague guidance about life, the universe and everything.

100-400 

After a snappy three hundred odd years of proselytization, the Roman Empire becomes Christian. Sort of. Depends how you define it, really, but, officially, it’s Christian. Which means so is most of the Western World, whether it likes it or not.

 

At the time, it was largely ‘not’.

600-1100 

The extended family of Gabriel’s impromptu amanuenses spend their time invading Sham, North Africa, Turkey, Syria and, finally, Spain, thus collecting pretty much all the regions that the previous collapsed empires either couldn’t or couldn’t be bothered holding on to. They officially make these places Moslem but, unlike the Empires of Christendom, penalise non-Moslems by adding taxes rather than removing limbs.

400-1000 

This period is a little bit dark and vague. Essentially, most of Europe spends an inordinate period of time invading its neighbours and infighting in the aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, they are too busy doing this to keep good or detailed records of a lot of it, which is probably why Merovingians and others from this period are so favoured by conspiracy theorists.

 

Eventually, several hero-kings emerge to re-unite the European regions that we spent the previous few hundred years tearing apart. The most prominent of these was Charlemagne, who advanced the interests of the Church and the culture of the West, often using nothing more complicated than fire and the sword.

1100-1500 

This period is a little bit dark but not at all vague. Essentially, most of the near East spends this period invading its neighbours and infighting in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ummayad dynasty. Fortunately, the various peoples and factions kept excellent records of this. This is probably why they were able to preserve a lot of the knowledge that the West was busily washing away with blood and fire.

 

Eventually, this culminates in the formation of the Ottoman Empire, which advances the influence of the Umma and Near-Eastern civilisation using fire, the sword, education and health care. And fire and the sword.

1000-1400 

Early on in this period, having sorted out who’s who in the zoo internally, the Christian Empires start looking abroad to see who they can beat the crap out of. This results in four Crusades. Some of these are in response to aggressive Moslem expansion, some because ‘Empire’.

 

A small island kingdom drafts a document intended to guarantee the freedom of all people who are not slaves, but, for the most part, this is the period where Christendom invades, enslaves and slaughters because God has told them to rid the holy lands of infidels.

1500-Present 

Having finally sorted out who’s in charge of the Caliphate, the Moslem states spend these centuries fighting people who aren’t Moslem. Some of this is in response to Asian and Eurasian aggressive expansionism, but a fair amount of it is because ‘Empire’.

 

Finally, in 1916, the long-running collision with Christendom culminates in the collapse of the Caliphate and the carving up of its territories. All over the Moslem world, groups and nations fight tooth and nail against the Russians and the West because God has told them to rid the holy lands of infidels.

As we can see, there are some eerie parallels. Okay, admittedly, there are a lot of not so eerie ones too, largely due to the fact that the story of Islam and Christendom has often been a story or collision. The point is, though, that the Islamic world today is at almost exactly the same point as the Christian world was at a similar stage of development. Make of this what you will, but it does invalidate the specious and somewhat dimwitted idea that the central aim of the Islamic world is to turn back the clock.