I read Michael Gawenda’s opinion in The Age on 26 June 2006 with great interest. Essentially, it says that the liberal Left in America has lost its way, hating George Bush and all he stands for to the extent that it ends up siding with Islamist terrorists. Some of the left make excuses for the likes of Bin Laden, skimming over the fact that he and his ilk espouse violence to innocent people, hatred of homosexuality, limiting to the rights of women to even appear in public, limits on religious freedom and free speech and so forth.
Well, I’m glad that someone has said it. I reread “Animal Farm” the other day, and it seemed to me that the Left’s attitude of ignoring human rights abuses of totalitarian communist regimes (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc) has now been transferred to the Middle East. A simple equation is applied: Against USA + Anti George Bush = Good. If only it were that easy!
I sure as hell am not a fan of George Bush or the neo-conservatives. The “weapons of mass destruction” were a total furphy. They’ve made Iraq into a basket case – or rather, even more of a basket case than it was before. I don’t agree with Guantanamo Bay – you can’t preach liberalism and democracy, and then imprison people indefinitely without charge and without trial. The rule against habeas corpus is an essential part of the rule of law. I also think that the belligerent action taken in Iraq and Afghanistan is radicalising and galvanising terrorists rather than eliminating them. Further, the US has to acknowledge its own schizophrenic attitude to many of these regimes – in times past, it was a supporter of both Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. It is also guilty of a overly simplistic equation: The Enemy of Our Enemy = Friend.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m a big fan of Osama Bin Laden, or that I make excuses for him! As I have said above, the USA are responsible in part for both the creation and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. But that doesn’t mean that US citizens deserve to be killed in terrorist attacks. I cannot think of anything worse than murdering innocent people in cold blood and I do not think there can be ANY excuse. I don’t think George Bush (or John Howard or Tony Blair) can be blamed for the action of terrorists. In the end, the decision as to whether to kill innocent people lies with the person doing the killing, not George Bush. To suggest that “it’s actually George Bush’s fault” is like pleading “the Devil made me do it” to a Court. It is ingenuous. To accept such a submission lacks intellectual rigour.
As I stated at the start of this post, the other thing I don’t understand is that the values of many Islamists strike directly at what I think of as the core values of the Left: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of sexuality, equal rights for women. It seems incredible that some on the Left could ally themselves with such people. I’m thinking particularly of people such as Michael Leunig, who seem to demonize Bush and Howard and stress the humanity of Bin Laden without realising the contradictions in such a position… Personally, I am wary of demonising or sanctifying anyone or anything (apart from the excellent resulting trust, which I esteem greatly).
I think the Left is adopting a very strange position towards some aspects of Islam generally. I should stress here that I am NOT advocating intolerance of Islam or Muslims, and I would never make any blanket statements about any religion or group of people. I have respect for Islam and have studied it, along with Judaism and Christianity. I recognise that it has many strands of thought and there is a massive spectrum of beliefs within it. I have attended Eid functions with a friend’s family for many years, and been a bridesmaid in both a Muslim wedding and a Jewish wedding (within a month of each other). But I have noticed that some in the Left have a reluctance to criticise behaviour by some radical Muslims which would cause outrage in the same commentators if it the behaviour was conducted by radical Christians or Jews (or anyone else). I believe that this reluctance is another species of “cultural relativism”, and I am starting to think that cultural relativism is a bad thing if it is taken too far.
Give me an example of what you mean, Legal Eagle, I hear you say. Well, recently, I had a post dealing with a law allowing civil unions for same sex partners, and I stated my horror that religious groups could veto such a law. There was much outrage from the liberal Left in relation to the prominent role of the Australian Christian Union in pressuring John Howard to veto the law. However, there was no similar reaction to the fact that Islamic schools in Australia are adopting a policy for sex education which dictates that it must be taught that homosexuality and sex outside marriage are prohibited by Islam (and therefore sinful). If it were any other kind of religious school proposing such a policy, there would be outrage. But I hear nothing from any feminist groups or gay activists – I presume that it is not deemed “culturally appropriate” to comment. This is an incoherent position.
Believe me, I’m all for tolerance, but I worry when “tolerance” involves accepting very intolerant behaviour in others (particularly if such people wish to impinge on my rights). There has to be a balance between accepting the culture of others and upholding the values of our own liberal society. And in saying that I don’t like religious teachings which promote terrorism and killing of innocent people or ban homosexuality or require women to take a lesser place in society, I don’t think I should be branded “racist”, “fascist” or “right wing”. I don’t care what the religion or the race of the person espousing such views is: the important thing is the impact on the rights of others.