Tasmanian Times


Binning the rhetoric of ‘radicalisation’ will permit a more honest conversation …

Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos at the press conference on the prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism, Brussels 14/6/2016

It is a now an all too familiar post-script to each horrifying incident; Australians are invited to believe that violence committed in the name of religion is only about radicals and extremists.

According to this narrative, ‘radicalisation’ is a contagion, caught like a dog infected with the rabies virus that can be controlled by identifying those already infected. But in accepting such rhetoric a deeper truth is allowed to hide in plain sight.

In reality, radicalisation begins with a much more prosaic activity; institutions teaching that their ‘man in the sky’ will provide an afterlife of eternal reward for deeds done in the here and now. Legitimise this and all else follows. Both the good and bad that religion brings depend a great deal on the nature of this pact.

Morph the narrative further with an historical distortion that tells us that the Abrahamic faiths are “religions of peace”, then we have all the ingredients needed for their profoundly dysfunctional relationship with secular Australia.

As a society, we can no longer afford to indulge ourselves and dodge discussing the more foundational assumptions and motivations that underpin religiously inspired violence and bigotry. Nor can institutions predicated upon the unprovable be expected to practically regulate the excesses of those who act from faith and unknowable personal and ‘spiritual’ motivations.

Today, any elected official of our secular democracy who wishes to stand on a public podium and offer a warranty for religious conduct must know that they risk having the albatross of complicity hung around their necks. For they cannot possibly deliver tangible assurances that religions will conform to secular values. In part that’s what makes religion unique; its unwillingness to be constrained by rational and democratic values .

Disturbingly, many Australian politicians have begun to show a lack resolve to defend secular values and reason, yet these are the most important component of Australian pluralism; the very glue that holds our society and civilisation together.

When secular values are diminished, religious extremism can only grow. The former keeps the lid on the latter.

Insulated from a need to keep pace with public values, laws and ethical principles any creed may throw up potentially dangerous cults. There is no rule book forbidding it and no faith is immune. Let’s stop pretending that religions can police personal and collective irrationality when it slips into madness and barbaric excess. History reveals this to be crystal clear.

In Australia, misjudging the difference between tolerance of and acquiescence to religious wants risks providing the fertile seed bed for extremism of many types.

Accordingly it is high time that an honest and rhetoric-free discussion was had where collective responsibility is demanded for all faith-based institutions involved in the promise of a supernatural rewards to susceptible minds – and I do not mean this in a patronising way. Many who are sick or lack a place in a society largely driven by reason are highly susceptible to the idea that the next world will be kinder to them.

Putting secular values a poor second to a right to promote supernatural claims, sometimes in highly parochial and backward-looking institutions, is not the way of Australian multiculturalism nor the stuff of secularism. Instead it is a creeping sell-out brought on by religious ideologues and their apologists who have colonised our civil and democratic institutions.

In one of the oddest relationships in Australia’s political history, religious ideologues of the right have been greatly assisted by the self-censorship of the far-left who have routinely misconstrued tolerance as requiring the abandonment of secular and reasoned principles. They have sought appeasement by magical thinking; that oil and water will mix so long as we believe hard enough that they might want to.

This is the stuff of cultural suicide and it is high time that we wake up to that unpleasant truth – and another.

For we should also recognise that our own Prime Minister is in practice ‘radicalised’ in the same fundamental sense as more violent extremists; his personal ideology being predicated upon belief in a supernatural godhead and reward in an afterlife. This he claims to be a ‘private matter’, whilst killing in the name of religion plays out in the public square.

In the crazy Australian kitchen of pots calling kettles black, our PM demands increased religious freedom whilst simultaneously lambasting religiously-inspired violence that someone, but not he, should take responsibility for.

And what would such responsibility look like anyway?

Would it be the type of responsibility when religious leaders have the horse-sense to confess that much of the savagery and bigotry of the Abrahamic religions is past its use-by date? Or is it the all to familiar version where the religious elite and ‘priest cast’ are empowered to instruct in bronze-age myths in the privacy of their own religious school, communities and temples? Are these the same religious leaders we are to make our appeal to for moderation?

And what of our elected guardians of our secular state? In particular, what is the responsibility of the far political left and right?

Presently, they are a complimentary set of bookends; the religious conservative right propped up by the PC left, who’s appeasement of ‘diversity at all costs’ makes Neville Chamberlain look heroic.

Their merry political jig is far more responsible for the violence we witness than they would want anyone to know. Each ideology has worked in a truly weird symbiosis, giving up on Australia unapologetically asserting its secular principles.

After each killing, religious moderates and hard-liners of all flavours wash their hands of a collective problem that begins with their most fundamental and common assumption. In doing so they have forced secular Australians to pay the price and wait in a deafening silence for an inevitable replay.

Yet a time must be rapidly approaching where secular Australians need to make it clear that they are no longer willing to be offered up for religious sacrifice. Those who need to hear this clearly are truly the most dangerous extremists in our nation; ones who exist on the polar opposite of the Australian political spectrum. It is they who must take responsibility for the consequences flowing from the odd resonance of their ideologies and policies, but most of all, for their dishonest rhetoric that has got in the way of a more useful conversation about the place of religion in a secular society that we should have begun almost two decades ago.

Jack Jolly attended an Anglican school and spent many happy hours of his childhood and young adult life at Pellegrini’s in Melbourne. He has lived and worked in Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu cultures and while he has no axe to grind with any religion believes that reason, humanism and secularism define essential values that protect all Australians irrespective of their race, colour or creed. He finds it irritating that currently this view needs to be defended.

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  1. Christopher Eastman-Nagle

    November 15, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    My dear Jack, your apologia for the continuing hegemony of ‘enlightened’ secularism over traditional religion is hopelessly obsolescent.

    Like almost all libertarian humanists, you seem to be blithely unaware of just how damaged your regime ideological goods have become. The weakness, corruption, lousy governance, incipient chaos and unsustainable behaviour from top to bottom of the social and economic system might have escaped your notice, but not anyone else’s, especially in the religious heartlands. Nobody should be surprised that religion has taken over where socialism left off because that is what happens when an existential and social vacuum appears.

    It is no coincidence that as soon as the Soviet empire collapsed, secular governance all over the world, and the liberal consensus that underpinned it, started to erode and collapse with it, as we saw and continue to see reappearing in the sort of wars of religious toleration that marked the beginning of the modern period.

    Even the dear old Buddhists seem to be getting into the swing of things …

    Unsustainable secular behaviour isn’t just restricted to abuse of the ecological commons by free market economies that are ridiculously over producing and consuming, or the sort of scandalous economic misgovernance we have seen come out of the finance/insurance/tax industries, or the thoroughly wilful and wildly irresponsible behaviour of the fossil fuel industries. The social libertarians suffer from exactly the same disease, driven by the same agenda and deriving from linkages between the economy, its social relations of production and its ideological iterations; you know, the Marxist view that the economic ‘substructure’ determines and shapes the social and ideological ‘superstructures’.

    By way of illustration, the recent Nyland South Australian royal commission into the child protection system exposed a social welfare system crumbling under the pressure of crumbling and chaotic social infrastructure that is becoming dangerous for women and children. Nyland estimated that 4 in 10 children in the state will be subject to welfare notification, and that becomes 9 out of 10 with aboriginal children …

    So why is this happening?

    By the 1960s, needs and wants were no longer sufficient to drive sufficient economic growth. Fantasy based consumer and social management did the trick and indulgence was its leitmotif, ie the promotion of excess and excuse-making toleration of poor behaviour and attitude to produce the perfect self absorbed sociopath, narcissist, and helpless consumer who would buy anything once the right buttons were pressed.

    The mechanisms for undermining autonomous socially and politically coherent behaviour were deregulation and privatisation of the economic and social systems at the expense of social/political infrastructure and its authorities in favour of market forces that delivered freedom as disinhibition, and rights as producer/consumer entitlements-on-demand.

    The system looked benign as it rolled out, but it was extremely corrosive to everything it touched, particularly boundaries, rules-based behaviour and its enforcement and behavioural templates and disciplines; in short any ‘authoritarian’ and ‘repressive’ limitations that get in the way indulgence as a way of life and thinking in the pursuit of personal and institutional self interest .. and egoistic fantasies.

    As feminists have found to their great cost, the ‘liberation’ that was foisted on their sisters was their personal and gender fantasy commodification as sexual servants-on-demand and sexual symbols of consumer fantasy, the stripping of their domestic family infrastructure of its labour with little or no extra help from their menfolk to fill the gaps, and the replacement of the formal patriarchy with an informal and unstated sexist one, both at home and at work.

    They actually lost dignity, respect and such personal authority that had once been their preserve, and it was replaced by an open-season hunt on them where they were the bunnies with a status not that far above prostitutes. And if they don’t ‘cooperate’ they’d get a very hard time.

    Even their biological sex isn’t safe any more from transgender predators who want to rip off the few genuine female defence mechanisms, compensations and refuges from the ever more deeply entrenched and more powerful sex.

    It is no coincidence that bizarre, narcissistic and depraved behaviour by people who haven’t been given even the most basic moral potty training, or the capacity for responsible social agency or sense of stewardship, is erupting out of all levels of our society. The sexual revolution and the social deregulation that accompanied it had, and has, a very nasty underbelly that is increasingly coming to the surface because after several generations, there just aren’t intact mechanisms left to stop it happening or to limit its effects.

    And the pimps are now able to come out of the woodwork and make whoopee by suggesting that prostitution is just another ‘industry’ or ‘career path’ for ‘sex workers’ because exploiting and demeaning women sexually is now so normal that they may as well be paid for their trouble.

    And if the girls complain, unlike with the formal patriarchy where the political rules of their second class citizenship and obedience to it was spelt out and legally enforced, informal sexism just sloughs them off as unreasonable, threatening and heartless bitches with ‘an attitude problem’ that is built into the emotional assumptions, work patterns and unstated expectations, regardless of initial good intentions and promises to the contrary. Boys will be boys .. and they just ‘can’t help it’ because ‘that is the way things are’ in the muddy bog that is the present status quo.

    In some ways, women are better off under a much more orderly and specified second class citizenship under Islam than secular laissez-faire. This is not an argument to go back to that, so much as a focus of anger and resolve to start punching holes in that status quo by starting to organise in the way the working class did in the nineteenth century to stop employers playing them off against each other.

    You see Jack, the secular system isn’t what it is cracked up to be. It is actually a real mess because, to put it in really traditional terms, seculars have been worshipping false gods and they have been screwed by them, which is how false gods behave. We cannot live by goods and services alone .. or at least, not for long.

    When it got into bed with capitalism, liberal utilitarianism made a deal with the devil in a very Faustian collective bargain, and now the devil wants, and is getting, his due. The religious heartlands can see it as clear as day, which is why when particularly our Muslim community gets significantly larger it will start to tell the secular ascendency what it really thinks of it, and its disgust at the behaviour coming out of secular society will not only drive its hostility and militancy, but it will clean up in the infidel conversion business as increasingly large constituencies of them become existential desperadoes who need an ideology that actually floats, at any price, because nothing else does.

    Jack, you have absolutely no idea how much trouble your secular ideology is already in. Your complacency is stunning. The world order that put your worldview together is crumbling. The modern period may well be coming to an end .. and sooner than you think. If that happens, the secular ascendency will share its disorders and its fate, and by the time it does, hardly anyone will be mourning the fact. People will be too busy trying to rebuild a sustainable economy and society to make up for the centuries that the locusts ate.

    • Jack

      November 18, 2018 at 1:18 pm

      Christopher … blaming secularism and humanism for the neoliberal agenda and equating its decline to that of the Soviet Union makes little historical sense. If anything we are seeing the consequence of unconstrained capitalism that has grown from within the bosom of the USA’s quasi-religious state. You may want to read the dollar bill for “in god we trust” and read up on the religious fixation of the US population.

      And just how you could blame secularism for the key feature of religious radicalisation (the man in the sky) is lost on me.

      My ‘secular ideology’? It isn’t an ideology as much as it is a form of government:

      “In political terms, secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institution and religious dignitaries (the attainment of such is termed secularity).”

      You can have totalitarian secularism (Soviet Union; Communist China) or democratic secularism and pluralism (Australia; New Zealand; Canada). Notice any difference?

      My point, which seems to have been missed, is that the failure to do this in practice, and to defend it, has eroded secularism. Your decay is overseen by religious hypocrites at the centre of power attempting to protect their man in the sky .. in whatever religion you may care to pick.

      The biggest regions’ hypocrites combine a love of money and power with their god. These have been the ones who have undone the West through their neoliberal religion that uses ancient religion as a way to dress as a good person. Morrison is a classic in that respect.

  2. Keith Antonysen

    November 15, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    Beware of the white supremacists. They murder far more people in the US than do religious terrorists.

    It is domestic violence in Australia that kills far more people than do terrorists .. and this problem needs far more attention.

    Something that does need to be remembered is that there have been Muslims in Australia since the 1900s, and that there had been no violence through them in the past.

    But it is good to see potential terrorism foiled.

    • Simon Warriner

      November 18, 2018 at 8:51 pm

      Wikipedia puts the Afghan cameleers as arriving in 1860. They were Muslims.

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