Thursday, 20 September 2012

Is the solution to fear a permanent state of protest?

One of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. "And my
ass? Do you like my ass?"
It's almost unheard-of that I will quote Paul Sheehan, the conservative Sydney Morning Herald columnist, but his article today raises an important point about the protests last Saturday against the anti-Islam film trailer, Innocence of Muslims. It's a point that Waleed Aly, the Melbourne writer and teacher, raised as well. Here's what Sheehan wrote:
The telling moment in court on Tuesday was when supporters of a young Muslim man charged with affray during a demonstration in Sydney on Saturday stayed in their seats when the magistrate entered the court. It was an act of disrespect for Australian law.
These men respect sharia. They want to live under the caliphate of Islam.
(...) They are members of a strand of Muslim fundamentalists who live in the West and exploit the West while despising the West.
To justify their own hypocrisy of not living under Sharia, they exist in a permanent twilight of victimhood.
The victimhood bit is what Aly also mentioned. Mohamad Tabbaa, the PhD student from Melbourne I quoted yesterday, also says that "many Muslims in Australia do not simply give up their identity as belonging to a global community merely because they happen to live in Australia". Tabbaa agrees with Sheehan in saying that the allegiance of these people is not to Australia and its laws. This is a challenge to everyone who values the benefits of liberal democracy.

As I wrote on Saturday, the problem is one of tribalism, with the allegiance of the tribe, in this case, belonging to Islam, the religion. Tribalism is also the root cause of many other evils in the developing world, especially corruption, with corruption being one of the reasons that Muslims lose faith with secular institutions like democracy, and so corruption is a corrosive and highly pernicious phemonenon that removes legitimacy from national leadership and allows more extreme groups to grow in power and influence.
The basic question is one of identity particularly in Muslim countries, such as Egypt, that suddenly are home to populations that are able to decide how they are governed. What is the basis of identity? Is it ideology? Is it family? Is it religion? A tribal culture will always have difficulties transitioning from autocratic rule to rule by popular franchise. Problems such as corruption are tribal in nature, and the problems that Copts experience in Egypt originate in the same place. In a sense it's a matter of allegiance. If your allegiance is to a tribe then you - if you are in a position of authority - will be severely tempted to favour in a material way those who belong to your tribe. For people outside that tribe your allegiance will then lead to distrust in authority. There will be a perception that you do not administer your role for the general good, so it becomes a matter of equality. And equality - one person, one vote - is at the root of democracy. So tribalism is anti-democratic, and cannot be sustained indefinitely without resort to violence.
In France, a magazine has now taken a stand. Charlie Hebdo's editor said in the media, "One has the impression that everybody's driven by fear. That's what this small handful of fundamentalists, that doesn't represent anyone, wants to do: govern through fear." The magazine's editors have bitten the bullet and decided that it is better to be roundly disliked in public than to live in fear, which is to live in a permanent state of emasculation. The magazine's offices were fire-bombed last November as a result of a publishing decision.

These men are courageous. Perhaps we should be taking the hint, and perhaps see that the way to combat the excesses of one tribe in our global community - whose only resort is to violence - is to cause them to live in a state of permanent protest. After all, 9/11 has to a significant degree infantilised people everywhere due to the rigorous security measures that are required to ensure safe air travel. This is a permanent measure brought on by the excessses of tribalism. If more Westerners published material that is offensive to Allah then perhaps the situation would change, and the multiplying objects of hatred would cause their self-righteous anger to turn back on itself and inspire a few important questions to be asked about their world view. Grid lock may lead to self reflection. It's worth a try.

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