• 18 SEP 05
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    Marching to the drums of madness

    Marching to the drums of madness
    Comments from Nick Possum’s Blog “Whispers from the mean streets”


    1 May 2004

    There was something eerily familiar about the photos of the maltreated Iraqi POWs. I looked again at the snap of the prisoner standing on a box. He was holding electrical leads in his outstretched hands, in a position almost of supplication and somebody had dressed him in a pointed black hood and a shabby black robe.

    Then a frisson of recognition ran down my tail. Yes, it was Goya “ like something from Goya”s painting of the Spanish inquisition in action, or his etchings from The Horrors of War.

    The American boys and girls perpetrating these things are probably good Christians. Quite probably they think of the Iraqis as evil heathens in need of American “civilization”. Not surprising really, since the intellectual titans of neo-conservatism have been pushing this line for some years now, quite long enough for it to find its way from the Washington think tanks to the hayseed schools and churches of the Mid-West.

    We are marching back to Goya”s era, an era before the rise of secularism and religious toleration and a new spectre is haunting the political right “ the spectre of “secular fundamentalism”.

    Like yesterday”s bogy, “political correctness”, the new tag has started to appear in the mainstream press as if by magic, exactly when it”s urgently needed to plug an ideological gap you couldn”t fill with a truckload of Builders” Bog.

    The Australian neo-right is overwhelmingly Christian, and inherently fundamentalist. They actually believe that other religions are evil. When John Howard got into office they were on a roll, and they couldn”t resist a grab for every lever of government.

    Multiculturalism became a sin worse than sodomy. We should be building an “integrated”, monocultural Australia (or “One Nation”), the right shouted. We should stop people learning the language of their forebears (unless it was English) and “treat everybody the same”; all those “foreign” religions probably harboured terrorists in ethnic dress. It was a xenophobic mood John Howard exploited with consummate political skill.

    Now, having spent almost a decade weaseling the God of the Christians back into politics, John Howard”s cheer squad have discovered an appalling fact: the wealthier, better-educated, longer-established Anglo and European majority might be from Christian backgrounds, but they tend to be religiously undemonstrative folk who nowadays think of their churches as more or less innocent ethno-cultural baggage.

    Ah yes, my church, based on the Bible isn”t it? Dim memories of the Sunday School they never really wanted to attend come drifting back: a few uplifting stories, some eternal truisms, some bloodthirsty Old testament stuff, some mad gibberish (that”d be Revelations), and a lot of other stuff (like Genesis) that”s so wide of the mark they”d rather forget it.

    In a word, these people tend to be secularist and this is a huge problem for the new right. The more recently-arrived Muslims also believe in God, and tend to do so pretty strongly. They also believe they”ve got a book dictated by God and theirs trumps the Bible because it came along later.

    And — horror of horrors — the Muslims are now opening Islamic schools. Since the Howard government has already encouraged every half-bright Bible-basher to open a “Christian community school”, this has become a right the Muslims (or the Hindus or Buddhists) can hardly be refused.

    So John Howard”s Christian God-squad are hoist on their own crucifix. They”re seeing danger everywhere. They”re seeing their own troops as irresolute, flabby, degenerate folk who take religion with a grain of salt. The ranks must be purged of the secular heresy.

    And so “secular fundamentalism” was born (or rather, appropriated from obscure right-wing American websites). It”s a codeword for the evils of integration through toleration, respect for diversity, and an old proposition that expresses one of the hardest-won foundations of civilization: that religion (or the lack of it) is properly a private matter, to which the state should be blind.

    That policy is, finally, the only guarantee of anybody”s freedom of belief. Once the state starts down the road of promoting religion, where does the madness stop? There”s no scientifically testable evidence that God exists; there”s no way of proving that anybody”s claim to have God”s authentic word is correct, and every religion claims the others are in error (if not “evil”, as the Jensen Boys would say).

    Call this possum an evil secular fundamentalist if you like, but peace on Earth only arrives when people rise above their religion.

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