Howard: cultural warrior
February 21 2006
Yesterday two political leaders responded to the major issue of our time. In Australia , Prime Minister John Howard observed that radical Islam is “utterly antagonistic to our kind of society”. In India , the Minister of Minority Welfare of Uttar Pradesh, Yaqoob Qureshi, offered a $14 million reward to anyone who beheaded one of the Danish cartoonists who drew images of Mohammad.
In their own distinct ways, both may contribute to Western countries recognizing how serious, and how long-standing, is the challenge of radical Islam to the core of their culture.
For the past three decades, most members of our political class have been ensconced within the cultural relativism of multiculturalism. If there has been a problem with an ethnic community, few political leaders have ever blamed its members. Instead, they have told the rest of us it is unacceptable to censure social groups — except one, mainstream Australia .
As the debate about the Cronulla riots on Channel Nine's Sixty Minutes last Sunday night demonstrated, the spokesmen for the Muslim community share this perspective. Australians don't give them a fair go, they claim, and politicians are only too ready to play the race card by appealing to the worst xenophobic instincts of the majority. The program's producers seemed to agree by opening with ugly footage of rioters justifying themselves with appeals to Australian patriotism.
The Channel Nine producers are not alone. Around the Western world, the response to the Danish cartoons demonstrated that even when Muslims go on violent rampages, burn down embassies and, in Britain, march with placards threatening death to their fellow citizens, many people regard this as somehow understandable, even acceptable, since we have no right to judge another religion and culture.
In Australia , Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock urged newspaper editors to treat the cartoons with caution, asking them not to act “gratuitously with a view to try and provoke a response”. In New Zealand , Prime Minister Helen Clark accused the newspapers who reproduced them of “bad manners”. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: “The republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong.”
However, the causes of the violence are now fairly clear. The riots, arson, and death threats were not spontaneous outbursts from passionate religious believers but carefully stage-managed devices by Muslim leaders some four months after the cartoons were published. Danish imams travelled to the Middle East where they generated support for a campaign targeted quite deliberately at Western culture.
Since September 11 and Bali, most commentators have seen the objectives of radical Islam as focused largely on change within Islamic counties: to force the West out of Saudi Arabia, to shut down decadent Western tourist attractions in Muslim countries and, in its most utopian dreams, to re-establish the medieval Islamic empire that stretched from Spain to the East Indies.
The uproar over the Danish cartoons should remind us that another long-standing goal has been cultural change in the West. Radical Islam wants to accord Muslims privileges not available to the faithful of other religions. Instead of them changing to integrate into our way of life, they want to force us to change to accept their way of life.
Their ideal within the West is to establish sharia law in areas where Muslims congregate. As a London Sunday Telegraph survey published yesterday revealed, four out of ten British Muslims now want sharia law introduced in Muslim-dominated parts of the country.
This is an objective that long predates the rise of Al Qaeda.
As no one should need reminding, the first target in the contemporary rise of Islamic radicalism was the novelist Salman Rushdie. In 1989 he was the subject of a death edict by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini for satirising Mohammad in his novel The Satanic Verses . A number of Muslims living in the West declared they were willing to carry out the death sentence on behalf of their religion.
Many writers gave Rushdie vocal support and pointed out how such a fatwa offended the very core of Western culture, its right to free expression and free enquiry. But prominent politicians took a different line.
President George Bush Senior adopted the moral equivalence of the political class, declaring both the death edict and the novel equally “offensive”. Former president Jimmy Carter responded with a call for Americans to be “sensitive to the concern and anger” of Muslims.
Rushdie had to spend the next decade in disguise, living in secret locations, under police protection. No one else followed him by writing a novel critical of Mohammad.
In 1995, when a Pakistani writer living in the West decided to write a book, Why I Am Not a Muslim , rejecting Islam and praising Western culture, he knew he had to adopt the pseudonym, Ibn Warraq, and keep his identity secret.
In Holland , the former Somali woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, wrote a book, The Son Factory , about the Muslim oppression of women. The book generated a spate of death threats. Although she subsequently became a member of parliament, the threats to her life mean she still lives under permanent armed guard in a secret government safe house.
The death threats Hirsi Ali received were genuine. Police later found she was at the top of a Muslim hit list of Dutch public figures. The assassin Mohammed Bouyeri had her as his preferred victim but, when he couldn't reach her, he went to the name second on the hit list, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Bouyeri shot, stabbed and almost beheaded van Gogh, whose offence had been to collaborate with Hirsi Ali on a film entitled Submission critical of Muslim violence towards women.
The tactic of targeting individuals who criticise Islam has been very effective in Holland . In early 2005, the Dutch law professor and newspaper columnist Paul Cliteur announced he would no longer write or speak in public because of death threats to his wife and children. For similar reasons, the former Iranian academic and newspaper writer, Afshin Ellian, now has a bodyguard accompanying him on campus at all times. Every morning his building at the University of Leiden is swept by security services.
This personal terrorism affects not just those directly under threat, but all writers and intellectuals. Most are unable to afford the security costs and the state cannot protect them all. The result is that they are silenced by self-censorship.
Until now, the Western political response has consistently been to raise one more white flag in the surrender of Western cultural values that we have been making since Khomeini's fatwa against Rushdie in 1989.
That is why John Howard's statement yesterday is so remarkable. In Europe , comments like that have seen government ministers in several countries condemned by their colleagues. Some have lost their jobs. Howard's comments may signify that a line has finally been drawn in the Western political mentality.