My following article appears in today’s edition of Crikey:
When a right-wing think tank like The Centre for Independent Studies hosts an event titled “It’s Not ‘Them’, It’s Us: The Need to Regain Confidence in Western Culture” – and invites conservative columnist Mark Steyn, Murdoch commentator and ABC board member Janet Albrechtsen and foreign policy “realist” Owen Harries to participate – proceedings are bound to follow a predictable path. Monday night’s “Big Ideas Forum” did not disappoint.
Around 500 largely old, white males (including historical revisionist Keith Windschuttle, The Australian’s Paul Kelly and monarchist tragic David Flint) packed a hall in Sydney’s CBD. Former politician Pauline Hanson was also among them to hear about the Muslim “threat”.
Albrechtsen started by asking whether “Western self-esteem is waning”. She included a story that Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had told her recently that when he gets home he does three things: drinks a whisky on the couch, turns on Fox News and downloads the latest Mark Steyn column.
Steyn’s speech was peppered with jibes at Islam, Muslims and the West itself, but strangely devoid of any sense that he actually knew Muslims to form his prejudiced views. For him, Islam is the enemy within, a religion that insidiously undermines Western “values” and must be stopped. Islam is the “ideology du jour”, he joked. Multiculturalism is “based on lies” and is a “suicide pact.” As he progressed his so-called insights became more ludicrous, but the ageing audience lapped it up.
He lovingly recalled English imperialism and its attitude towards the natives. They realised that some cultures were superior to others, Steyn said. “Islam hates other cultures”, he offered, without a whiff of evidence for such a claim. Perhaps he should have added that some Jews hate Arabs, but of course, militant Jews are now favoured with the Right.
Steyn rambled on about the West destroying fascism and communism, “but it will be much more difficult to combat multiculturalism.” He concluded his speech by arguing that “the freedoms we’ve enjoyed since 1945 will not continue unless we fight for them.” He had no problem with the West humiliating or exploiting others for his pleasure.
Nowhere in his speech did he define “Western values”. When later asked about George Bush and his mission to “democratise” the Middle East, Steyn said he preferred the term “liberation”. This is a man, of course, who recently stated on ABC’s Lateline that the Iraq war was a success.
Owen Harries was more considered. He claimed that “most conservatives are overly alarmist about the West” and that the US and Europe were becoming “less Western” due to growing Latino and Muslim populations and little pressure for assimilation.
The Q&A session consisted of rants against Islam and multiculturalism. Sydney Muslim lawyer, Irfan Yusuf, dissented and asked Steyn whether he’d updated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, such was his belief in a Muslim conspiracy to take over the West and destroy it from within.
Pauline Hanson asked why many Western countries, including Australia, were changing beyond recognition. What she presumably meant was the arrival of non-white immigrants.
One audience member asked Albrechtsen what she thought of the media. She acknowledged the difficulty in speaking frankly due to her position on the ABC board, but thought the last five to ten years had seen steadily improving media, “such as Fox News.”