Last week I wrote my essay focussing on climate change and the growth of renewable energy. One of the reasons I did so was that in a previous essay I had decried the impacts of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act as unduly restricting free speech. Often when we are trying to have serious discussion about improving indigenous disadvantage and we mention the disproportionate number of indigenous youth in detention, or the inordinate amount of violence meted out to indigenous women or the excessive abuse of alcohol and drugs in some indigenous communities or whatever the political correctness police will (as they did to Bill Leak) try to shut us down. This enables the issue to be avoided and reinforces the conventional stances of victimisation.
But then one of my correspondents wrote to me saying that whilst they agreed that my stance on indigenous affairs was correct, another issue where political correctness seemed to be stifling debate was climate change. Often those who take issue with the more dramatic prognostications of the climate change warriors are dismissed as “climate change deniers” which is uttered with same venom, as for example, “paedophiles”.
We saw the recent example of Danish researcher Bjorn Lomborg being hounded out of the country because of his controversial views on climate change. Lomborg is not a climate change denialist. He believes in climate change but challenges the conventional wisdom about how to respond to it. He points out that abatement processes are extremely expensive and that society would most likely benefit more from such expenditure being focussed on other things.
My correspondent suggested I should state my position on climate change which I duly did last week.
In the interim I have been thinking about other issues that political correctness has marked out as “no go” areas to the detriment of informed debate. There are of course quite a number. But in this essay I will confine myself to two areas that the politically correct mark out as:
- Xenophobia, and, closely linked,
Let me put my position on immigration first.
I believe that immigration has brought tremendous benefits to Australia. The multicultural Australia of today provides us a much more diversified and exciting culture than what prevailed in my youth. The waves of firstly European and then Asian migrants helped expand our economy, broadened our cultural horizons and strengthened our international ties. But in recent decades our immigration intake has come from broader sources. Unfortunately it has sometimes included people with little capacity to contribute to our economy and no desire to integrate into our communities. This has resulted in ethnic ghettoes where people are happy to live off welfare and threaten our cultural mores and sometimes even our rule of law.
This problem has been exacerbated by the huge mobilisation of refugees resulting from conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere. No doubt most of us feel compassion for those displaced from their homes, often threatened with violence and persecution. It is our natural instinct to provide succour for these unfortunates. But unfortunately among the ranks of those purporting to be refugees are some who are not seriously threatened but just want to improve their circumstances by gaining access to developed economies that offer a better standard of living than their homelands. And even more alarmingly, hidden among those who would seek refugee status are those who are antithetical to our liberal values and wish for ideological and religious reasons to do our society harm.
Now, in most Western countries we have seen a decline in manufacturing industries and rising unemployment of unskilled and semi-skilled workers, particularly males. It is not surprising that many of them have come to the conclusion that both the influx of immigrants and the freeing up of international trade have contributed to their malaise. The Brexit vote in the UK, the unlikely rise of Donald Trump as a presidential contender in the USA and the resurrection of Pauline Hanson’s political career in Australia are all manifestations of this phenomenon.
Now I am personally convinced that immigrants make great cultural, economic, intellectual and social contributions to our society and I believe removing trade barriers has substantially improved our standard of living. But many people do not. Moreover, in most economic and cultural changes, however beneficial, there will most likely be some losers as well. Now in our liberal democracy all these people need to be heard and their points of view properly considered and if we disagree let us do so on the basis of rational argument and not just dismiss them as “xenophobic”. These are important issues for us to face up to and not perfunctorily swept under the carpet by so labelling those that disagree with us and thus denying them a voice.
Another contentious modern day issue has been the rise of militant Islamism. I have written about this many times before so I won’t belabour the history of this pernicious movement.
But here again our freedom of speech has been nullified. When trying to point out the dangers of this movement the politically correct try to muzzle us by calling us Islamophobic. It is very similar to the tactic they apply to us on indigenous issues. If we highlight the failings of some indigenous people to meet their reasonable responsibilities as citizens we are accused of impugning all indigenous people. (The Bill Leak case is a good example.) If we dare to point out that some devotees of Islam carry out appalling atrocities and are driven by outdated mediaeval values and practices, we are accused of impugning all Muslims and dubbed Islamophobes.
Discussion about Islam is however made infinitely more difficult because the radical Islamists, presumably because they are trying to defend the indefensible, will brook no criticism of their faith. Consequently they are prepared to murder and carry out other atrocities against those who are prepared to challenge Islamic fundamentalism. Consequently it is locked in a 1400 year old time warp. I guess one “give away” is that Islam is purported to mean “submission”. It has a history of imposing its beliefs rather than convincing non-believers to adopt its beliefs.
Hence Islam is doubly defended.
If it is criticised, the politically correct complain of Islamophobia. Mind you they never rush to the defence of Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism in the same way. Other religions seem to be fair game (Catholicism in particular) even though their claims for legitimacy are equally as strong (or equally as dubious) as those of Islam.
And the egregious extremes of Islam are often ignored. We have had the AHRC investigating claims of racism by QUT students (thankfully now dismissed in court) and hounding Bill Leak because of his perceptive cartoon relating parental neglect to the unfortunate high levels of indigenous juvenile incarceration. But it wasn’t so long ago that Islamist extremist protesters marched the streets of Sydney bearing signs which read “Behead all those who insult the Prophet” and nobody batted an eyelid!
And further if Islam is criticised, the Islamists threaten and often carry out diabolical acts to silence the critics.
Writing in The Australian recently, author Paul Monk pointed out that while we mocked the fanciful beliefs of Scientologists and Mormons and could perhaps at worst expect litigation we didn’t go in fear of our lives. He quoted British journalist and author of a satirical pamphlet Islamophilia, Douglas Murray. Murray has written that, “far from being something that should be frowned on, mockery of Islam is a much-needed antidote to its excessive severity and overweening claims to be taken seriously.”
Anyone who takes free speech seriously, and advocates religious tolerance should not feel compelled to treat Islam differently from any other religion. Our spirituality is an important part of our humanity and the values that we derive from our belief systems underpin our civil society and liberal democracy. There should not be any constraints imposed upon us on debating the relevance and inherent goodness of such beliefs. The better informed we are about the alternative beliefs that dominate the thinking of the philosophers, sages and religious leaders from all possible sources, the better decisions we can make regarding the workings of our society.
Islam, with its ethos of submission, which forces compliance by coercion and violence, does not allow its adherents access to those other belief systems. Consequently Islam today is not dissimilar to the Islam of Muhammad. In fact the more dangerous versions of Islam are those that seek to replicate exactly the beliefs and practices of their founder.
Christianity has been the dominant religion of the West. I have my reservations about Christianity (which I have shared with you in other essays) but fortunately Christianity has “reformed”. The religious beliefs of modern day Christians are therefore substantially different from those of 1400 years ago (when Islam came into being). If they weren’t, Christians would still be burning witches and buying indulgences from the Pope.
So I suggest there are two alternatives here. Either we confront the reactionary ideals embedded in Islam and help Muslims reform their religion to be compatible with modern society or we avoid the confrontation and allow our political correctness, and the fear provoked by the threats of the fundamentalists, which will not brook their ideas being contested, to erode away our basic freedoms. The latter option is intolerable to me.
(As I write there is a worrying development in Indonesia. A Christian politician of Chinese ancestry is challenging Islamic fundamentalists’ assertions the Koran forbids Muslims from voting for political candidates that do not believe in Islam. They are calling for his execution because he has impugned their holy text. No modern democracy can afford to bow to such demands.)
So with regard to free speech, I would strongly assert there should be no “no go” areas.
As I pointed out above, many of the areas where political correctness is used to try to shut down debate are important to our society and need to be open for valid and robust debate. This includes such things as:
- Indigenous disadvantage,
- Border control,
- Free trade,
- Combatting radical Islam,
- Climate change.
And many others.
It is time to rid ourselves of trigger warnings, safe spaces, identity politics, and avoidance tactics like victimhood and taking offence, and try to confront the world the way it is. I am sure that would be beneficial to us all.