Tuesday, June 16, 2009

COMMENT: The Oz gives space to nonsensical analysis ...

Some years ago, I had an interesting exchange in Crikey with a former opinion editor of The Australian concerning what I saw as his refusal to allow space on his page for those who looked beyond his narrow binary view of a world divided into:

... two allegedly monolithic entities of ‘conservative Islam’ and ‘Western modernity’.

Could this judgment also be made about Mr Switzer’s successor? Certainly her choice of author to comment on President Obama’s recent address in Cairo about relations between the United States and Muslim-majority states seems curious to say the least.

Former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Magaan has visited Australia on a number of occasions. I myself had the opportunity to interview her when she was the guest of honour at the Sydney Writers’ Festival some years back. Hirsi Magaan is a strident critic of Islam, her ancestral faith. She herself is an ardent evangelical atheist of the Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens mould.

Being an atheist and an ex-Muslim shouldn’t disqualify Hirsi Ali from commenting on the speech of a politician. But one wonders how seriously we should take someone quite happy to make remarks like this:

Nowhere in the world is bigotry so rampant as in Muslim countries.

How do we define and measure bigotry? How does Hirsi Magaan measure it? Does it include making crude generalisations about hundreds of millions of people? And what evidence does she have of widespread chronic bigotry across over 50 Muslim-majority states? The examples Hirsi Magaan provides are: Saudi Arabia , al-Qaida, Al-Azhar University and Iran ’s leadership. A monarchy, a terrorist organisation, a university and a country whose political establishment is at war with itself. Imagine if people judged the West and/or the "Christian world" by pointing to the KKK, Fox News and Moore Theological College.

And what about Indonesia ? How is it that Hirsi Magaan, a former Dutch MP, doesn’t regard a former Dutch colony as significant enough to mention in her column? Is Ms Hirsi Magaan prepared to convince Indonesia’s religious authorities, not to mention science teachers in pesantrens (traditional religious boarding schools), that there are “edicts of sharia law that reject scientific inquiry”? Or will she tell this to Malaysia ’s imam-cum-astronaut with a straight face? Or will she ignore developments in Iran relating to embryonic stem cell research as shown in the video below?

The Oz's opinion editor, back in February 2007, gave a most generous and uncritical profile of Hirsi Magaan, suggesting that her hysterical views – including that “Islam … discourages the work ethic that is the motor for economically successful societies” – were views that “have added weight because they are not those of an outsider or a dilettante”.

One wonders what kind of editor would give credence to a suggestion that 14 centuries of religious and cultural heritage have discouraged a work ethic and deterred economic development. One wonders how Hirsi Magaan and Weisser would respond to the paper of Chris Berg and Andrew Kemp published in the IPA Review in 2007 entitled Islam and the Free Market.

And as for the notion that former "insiders" always make good sources, should I take for granted the words of a jaundiced ex-Jew about Judaism just because she too isn’t an outsider?

People’s beliefs, cultures, communities, leaders and/or countries can and should and must be subjected to scrutiny and criticism. But there is a difference between criticism and ill-informed bigotry. By providing space for even such extreme and jaundiced opinions, certain segments of our national broadsheet are doing disservice to their readers.