Geert Wilders finally arrived in Australia this week for his controversial speaking tour on the grand theme of ‘Freedom, Islam and the West’. The delay, due to Immigration minister Chris Bowen needing over a month late last year to decide on the Government’s position on hate-preachers, meant people in Australia had to wait an additional three months to hear Wilderian fantasy – such as the call for all Muslims to immediately embrace Christianity or atheism (or ‘whatever they want’) to save themselves and society from themselves.
In the past Wilders has called for things like the banning of the Quran, a tax on the hijab, a ban on Muslim immigration, a ban on building of mosques, and shooting youth of Moroccan descent who commit crime in the knee cap, all, believe it or not, in the name of the wonderful western value called freedom.
Such positions and the ‘arguments’ (long-discredited orientalist fiction) they are based on are more worthy of mockery than intellectual engagement. Nevertheless, insofar as they are typical of the broad approach of the right-wing, they are instructive. In two main respects.
The first respect is the need for the far-right to look closer to home if its concerns are indeed bona fide. The charges it hurls against Islam – totalitarianism, actively encouraging violence, causing problems in social harmony, and discriminatory treatment of the Other – are in fact accurate descriptions of secular liberalism, particularly in the way it is practiced by modern western liberal democracies.
The totalitarianism of liberalism is found in the moulding of social norms along liberal lines within which people who hold other values are forced through ‘soft’ state policies and a media monoculture. A celebrated ‘formal’ freedom is used as a weapon to restrict ‘actual’ freedom. ‘Intolerance of the intolerant’ is not only the war cry of the right but also the policy guideline of the ‘mainstream’. What it effectively boils down to is that liberalism cannot tolerate anything other than itself.
Where the far-right talks the talk of imposing values – Wilders condition’ of considering Muslims as equal citizens is that, “…they adhere to our laws, to our constitution, to our values,” – the mainstream has long been busy walking the walk.
We now have citizenship oaths that require people to “share” (adopt) western values, politicians regularly lecturing Muslims about these values, and millions being spent by the state in pushing a state-sanctioned version of Islam (‘moderate Islam’) under the guise of ‘counter-radicalisation’ and ‘counter violent-extremism’ programs. Countering ‘radical’ and ‘extreme’ ideas (those not in line with liberal ideals) is now part and parcel of western state interaction with Muslims.
As for actively encouraging violence, there has been no greater violence in our time than that perpetrated by western states on weaker nations such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, with hundreds of military bases of western states littered across Asia, Africa and the Middle East (the US alone has over 1000 military bases abroad), it is astounding that the charge of using violence can be thrown at Islam with a straight face. Is it Muslim soldiers who stand in occupation of western capitals or the other way around?
In this context, Wilders’ claim that western politicians are afraid to deal with the ‘problem’ of Islam (the ‘Eastern question’ all over again) due to political correctness is dumbfounding. He must either live under a rock or be blind to western foreign policy with respect to Muslim nations.
As for causing problems in terms of social cohesion and harmony, this has little to do with Islam. Liberalism has simply failed to address the issue of ‘minorities’ in any satisfactory way. The decades-old and still persisting issues with blacks in Britain, African-Americans and Hispanics in the US, and Aborigines is Australia, to pick but a few random examples, is testament to this failure.
As for discriminatory treatment of the Other, we need not look beyond the draconian Anti-Terror laws now operative in all major western states which, de facto if not de jure, represent a different set of laws for Muslims. They may be couched in neutral terms but everyone knows they target Muslims specifically.
Thus, if Wilders and co. are genuine about these concerns they have their work cut out in their own backward. Perhaps Mr Wilders can change the theme of future tours to ‘Freedom and the West’.
The second main respect in which the right-wing is instructive is in their being of little more than nuisance value. In the broader Islam-West conflict the right-wing is but a sideshow to the main act dominated by mainstream political establishments and media. The right-wing only exploits the damage inflicted by the mainstream.
The negative image of Islam established in the western psyche is a result of the persistent demonisataion of Islam by mainstream media, not the right-wing. Attempts to westernise Islam and dominate the Muslim World economically and politically are led by the mainstream political establishments, not the right-wing.
The right-wing offers rhetoric and incites hatred that in the worst case leads to some level of communal violence. The worst example one can cite is that of Breivik. The mainstream, on the other hand, inflicts wholesale political, economic and military domination of entire nations. There is simply no comparison between what a Cory Bernardi does against Islam and Muslims and what a Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott does. Only the superficial of thought would be fooled to think otherwise.
In this respect, the protestations of mainstream politicians against the far-right are manifestations of good cop bad cop tactics. Speaking out against those who, on the superficial view, come across as worse than you, makes you look good. In reality you act on what they are naïve or brave enough to say.
The Wilderian far-right does, therefore, provide more than a nuisance or humour value (depending on one’s mood). It shines a light on deep problems at home in the West for examination by all those who are sincere. It also carries a warning to not be side-tracked by the sideshow or fooled by the protestations of the protagonists, for actions speak louder than words.