Small minds unite

When the Sydney-based, right-wing think-tank, 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 Janet Albrechtsen and foreign policy “realist” Owen Harries to participate – proceedings are bound to follow a predictable line. Last night’s “Big Ideas Forum” did not disappoint.

Over 500 people packed a large hall in the city centre. The crowd largely consisted of old, white males (including historical revisionist Keith Windshuttle, the Australian’s Paul Kelly and monarchist tragic David Flint.) It was also appropriate that former politician and bigot Pauline Hanson came to hear about the Muslim “threat”.

Albrechtsen introduced the night by asking whether “Western self-esteem is waning.” “The West”, she stated, “has a self-correcting mechanism” and openness is one of its strengths. “Capitalism works”, she said. She boasted of a story that Foreign Minister Alexander Downer recently told her. When Downer gets home “after a long day on the political hustings”, he does three things; drinks a whisky on the couch, turns on Fox News and downloads the latest Mark Steyn column. This “insight” was warmly received by the crowd.

Steyn’s speech was peppered with jibes at Islam, Muslims and the West itself, but strangely devoid of any sense that he had actually spent time with any Muslims to form his prejudiced views. For him, Islam is the enemy within, a religion that is insidiously undermining Western “values” and must be challenged and 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 aging audience lapped it up.

He lovingly recalled English imperialism and its attitude towards the natives. They at least realised that some cultures were superior to others, Steyn said. “Islam hates other cultures”, he offered, without a whiff of evidence for such a preposterous claim. Perhaps he should have added that some Jews hate Arabs, but of course, Jews are now the favoured people of the Right.

Steyn rambled on about the West destroying fascism and communism, “but it will be much more difficult to combat multiculturalism.” He then concluded his speech with this: “The Western blessings since 1945 must be maintained. The freedom’s we’ve enjoyed since then will not continue unless we fight for them.” His profound hatred of anything or anybody non-Western was revealed, and yet he wore this badge proudly. He had no problem with the West humiliating or exploiting other cultures for his pleasure because, after all, we all want to maintain our cosy lives since 1945.

Nowhere in his speech did he define “Western values”. In fact, when later asked about George W. 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 that the Iraq war had been a success.

Owen Harries was far more considered in his comments. He rightly claimed that, “most conservatives are overly alarmist about the West.” He said that the US and Europe were becoming “less Western” due to growing Latino and Muslim populations and there is little pressure for assimilation.

The tone of the evening argued that such developments are a threat, when surely they should be seen as an opportunity to naturally develop and evolve our communities. Paranoia should not be the default position of the Western mind-set (despite the existence of occasional terrorism.) After all, the “war on terror” is a fraud.

The Q&A session consisted primarily of old men railing against Islam, the West, immigrants, multiculturalism and the “elites.” One question, from Sydney lawyer, commentator and Muslim Irfan Yusuf, asked Steyn how much he actually knew about Islam and whether he’d simply 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.

The crowd were unimpressed with the question and Steyn displayed his usual wit to avoid answering it. He did say, however, that he’d been told moderate Muslims do exist but they all seem to be weak and ineffective.

Even Pauline Hanson asked Steyn to explain why many Western countries, including Australia, were changing beyond recognition. What she meant, of course, was the arrival of immigrants from non-white backgrounds.

One audience member asked Albrechtsen what she thought of the media landscape. She started by acknowledging the difficulty in speaking frankly due to her position on the ABC board, but said she thought the last 5-10 years had seen a steadily improving media, “such as Fox News.”

The evening proved that many Western conservatives have a strong desire to replace one “evil” – communism – with a 21st century version. Enter Islam. Steyn and his fellow travellers speak eloquently about Western civilisation on the verge of collapse, but the kind of world they imagine is not one that I either recognise or want. Thankfully, his “vision” is likely to die with the Bush administration. Likewise the elderly types at last night’s event probably still fondly remember the White Australia policy. They’ll be dead soon enough.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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