Monday, August 08, 2005


In 1995, when Francis Fukuyama, reviewing the end of the Cold War and the downfall of communism optimistically proclaimed that we had reached the 'end of history,' he should have known better. Had he delved eleven years earlier, to 1984 or at least to George Orwell's book of the same name, his confidence in the triumph of capitalism and the downfall of clashing ideologies would have been severely curtailed.
For indeed we live in Orwellian times and lately one can be forgiven for dipping into '1984' again and again, astounded at the immense prophetic gifts of its author. If in 1984 Oceania is at war with Eastasia and Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, in our day, the Western World is at war with terrorists and has always been at war with terrorists. For the purposes of the current new world order, the fact that the Western World did aid such enemies as Saddam Hussein's regime and various warlords in Afghanistan against 'eternal' enemies' is as irrelevant as Winston Smith's vague recollection that until recently Oceania had been at war with Eurasia and not Eastasia at all.
Sadly it appears that immense efforts at 'doublethink' are required in order to conveniently forget this and various other inconsistencies. Further, not practicing 'doublethink' in today's terror stricken society is foolhardy, as Melbourne Sheikh Muhammad Omran found out when his thoughtless comments about Osama Bin Laden, (who if he wore glasses, which he wouldn't given that they are a decadent western invention for the subversion of the world, would be spookily reminiscent of Goldstein, the arch-enemy and prince of darkness in the Orwellian world of 1984,) were castigated by the Prime Minister and in recent media reports. While I happen to agree with the Prime Minister and the vast majority of public opinion that the Sheikh's comments were thoroughly reprehensible, it is interesting to note how a pluralistic society which at least for the past fifteen years has purported to prove the triumph of post-modernism, where objectivity is scorned as a fallacy, absolutes are non-existent and anything goes meets certain challenges by immediately casting aside laissez-faire ambiguity and returning to an unashamedly positivist position, assuming Animal Farm-like dichotomy: 'West good, Osama bad,’ and rightly so. To think otherwise is thoughtcrime.
Of greater concern are recent comments by politicians of both major parties to the extent that Muslim religious leaders must do more to condemn terrorism to their faithful. While no one disagrees that terrorism should be abjured by all, all of a sudden it seems that the Muslim community of Australia and its religious leaders are branded suspects of thoughtcrime and agents of the Enemy. It is unprecedented for a government in democratic fair-go Australia to intervene in the religious affairs of any denomination and by calling upon religious leaders to 'co-operate' with it, the government is in danger of seeming to imply that Muslim leaders have not co-operated in the past and are potential fifth-columnists. Though to their credit the government and recently Kim Beazley took great pains to point out that the majority of Muslims do abjure terrorism, try telling that to the xenophobic hoi polloi who have never reconciled themselves to pluralistic multicultural Australia in the first place.
This is unhealthy or to use the Orwellian newspeak, doubleplusungood. If it was the government's intention to reconcile the very few potentially wayward extremists that may exist here, what in effect it is in danger of doing, is victimizing and polarizing Muslim Australians while also isolating them from the mainstream, hindering their reception of those values we are so keen to impart to them. The insensitivity and ignorance displayed by the media in this regard is blatant. To refer to Muslims as a community is as nonsensical as to talk about Orthodox Christians as one. In both cases, adherents of these faiths come from a diverse number of countries, with varying traditions and social conditions. In the case of 'Muslims' they adhere not only to various sects but also schools of Koranic interpretation, some more literal than others. To date, manifestations of 'Muslim extremism' capable of disrupting public order have been painfully few. Yet when one particular journalist in a shocked voice told his viewers on a popular current affairs program a few weeks ago that within five years or so, 1 in 5 inhabitants of Europe will be Muslim and that he did not feel comfortable standing in a Muslim area of France, alluding vaguely to Muslims constituting a threatening, if not criminal element, his comments were irrelevant to the presence of Muslims in Australia. One also questions why he the proceeded to overstate Australia's Muslim population at 500,000 when the 2001 Census calculates this as 281,578. Nor was his gratuitous shock-horror at various radical Muslim clerics visiting Melbourne and encouraging young Australians not to attend university and to chastise their wives at all edifying. I had no idea that domestic violence was restricted in this country to the Muslim community or that the repulsive opinions of a zealous radical American Muslim convert advocates some repulsive ideas, are necessarily be shared by Muslim Australians. Had I been living in Middle Australia, with little or no experience of Muslims, such a report would have led me to believe that Australian Muslims are backward and a threat to Australia. It is lamentable that the spectre of the Yellow Peril has turned Middle Eastern. There is no guarantee that another ethnic minority will be similarly treated by the media in the future.
Not so long ago, a certain fish and chip shop owner from Ipswich stood before the Australian parliament and advised us that we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Apparently, they are 'not like us.' Most of us laughed and dismissed her ludicrous claims. Now that the conduct of responsible media may have the effect of suggesting the same thing about Muslim Australians, no one is laughing. After all we are at war against terror instigated by Muslim extremists and the recent bombings have made us all very afraid. It is the mark of a mature multicultural community that it can lend, not force its collective identity upon all of its members, regardless of faith or place of origin, especially in times of crisis. All Australians need to feel that they have a legitimate and valuable place within society and if we are to avoid the social, racial and religious conflicts that have so far absented themselves from the 'lucky country' we should abstain from hysterically calling their loyalty into question or holding them morally responsible for strife not of their own making.
A far-sighted multicultural policy would perceive that the current hysteria created against Muslim Australians does nothing to reassure other Australian ethnic and religious minorities that their place in Australian society is assured, or that their turn will not be next. Will we in the future see our own Bishop castigated as a terrorist for commenting on the Greek Revolution or compelled to 'co-operate' with government policy of the day? Will we have our religious leaders cowed and too afraid to speak out on social issues without a firman from the Porte? Indeed, given that Muslims have been migrating to this country in significant numbers for the past thirty years without any problems or social dislocation, will world vicissitudes eventually prescribe a demonisation of our own community for whatever reason? Rather than have Big Brother solely watch the movements and words of clerics, why not have him convince us that he loves us by encouraging his worship by all of his children?
The only way to guarantee that it will not be our turn is toensure that we continue to remain loyal to the values of the Western,capitalist, secular, liberal, democratic Westminster type, wherewe all pay lip service to pluralism, freedom, multiculturalism but in all reality we all continue to obey the elitist and monopolistic, financiallydriven economy at the service of the military industrial complex,utilising the party political marketing machines to create the democratic illusion.In the meanwhile, consumerism / media are there as additional tools formind numbing the masses into compliance and mutually beneficial collusion.
In Orwell's 1984, there is a horrific scene where people come together for the Two Minute Hate, an organized ceremony of hatred for their Enemy. In the peak of hysteria, they are capable of anything, screaming and hurling abuse, relenting only to the reassuring chant of a mantra comprised of Big Brother's initials. Let us be wary that we Oceanians do not institute our own hysterical Two Minute Hate and in the process, become so lost in our hatred for Goldstein and his Eurasian or Eastasian hordes, that we forget to switch on our telescreens and watch… Big Brother.

First published in NKEE on 8 August 2005