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5 Mar, 2006

How Conventional Wisdoms Can be Wrong, Very Wrong

Originally Published: 5 March 2006

One of the best parts of writing a topical and controversial column is the emails I get from like-minded people who, for reasons I can well understand, shy away from penning their thoughts to Postbag but do keep me pumped up enough to make it worth the effort.

This week, I want to share three website articles that I was referred to, all of which are certain to make us pause just a wee bit and ponder the possibility of being wrong, very wrong, in our conventional wisdoms.

The first, sent to me by colleague journalist Lance Woodruff, was an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at the Christian-Muslim Forum in London on Jan 24, 2006 in which he described a pre-Christmas 2005 visit to Pakistan.

The full article is posted on http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/40/75/acns4099.cfm but here’s a quote to whet the appetite:

“Our challenges and our possibilities are both extreme in the world as it is, but the other thing which was said to me in Pakistan more than once and which I am happy to repeat here, is that we have to get out of any remnants of a mindset which thinks in terms of a clash of civilisations.

“That rhetoric does the rounds every so often, it depends on indifferent history, over bold projection and, generally, mutual ignorance. We can do better than that, and the Muslim Christian Forum here in Britain is designed to help us do better than that, to think not of a clash of civilisations, but of a shared religious humanism in the proper sense of the word ‘humanism’, a commitment to the dignity and the liberty of human beings made to serve God.

“Human beings who find their fullest freedom and the deepest joy in the service of God, and who in sharing that together, have something to offer to society around which nothing else can offer. It’s a very ambitious vision with which to begin the work of the Forum, but I think that is where all those involved want to start.

“And they would see it as I’ve said not only as something for this country, but as something which ought to be making a contribution to a global challenge.”

The second article was another classic and dwelt one of my favourite themes, global double standards and hypocrisy. The sender will remain nameless but it was about the Australian launch of “Zoo” magazine, described as “a new semi-pornographic weekly, already a bestseller in Britain.”

The full article is at http://smh.com.au/news/opinion/a-cultural-paradox-stripped-bare/2006/02/26/1140888744908.html. Here’s an excerpt:

“(Australian Prime Minister John) Howard and others find it easy to identify the “problematic” attitudes and societal pressures within Muslim communities that may affect women’s choice of whether to cover their heads; less so to acknowledge the gradual pornification of the West, the “raunch culture” documented by writers such as Ariel Levy, that ends up with professional women such as Terresa Lee, 21, deciding it is a good career move to strip for a magazine that weans teenage boys on to porn.

“Last week, Howard said he found women wearing veils “confronting”. Meanwhile, Zoo has as a regular feature the Real Girls Strip Search, in which “we hit the street and convince young ladies to get their kit off”. It seems it’s now more acceptable for Australian women to appear naked in a magazine than wear the hijab in public.

“While Howard agonises over Muslim attitudes towards women, his well-balanced constituents are pushing magazines for young men in which the only possible female role is semi-naked and gagging for it.”

Saving the best for the last, I refer readers to an article by Shahzad Aziz, a British Muslim and a practising human rights barrister in the U.K. The full post is at www.metimes.com/articles/normal.php?StoryID=20060220-114739-4776r.

It is headlined “Muslims, cartoons and a case of bad eyesight” and here’s the Pavlovian quote:

“When the check-less, qualification-less West then turns its gaze from the mirror to the images the 24-hour news networks provide about the widespread rioting by Muslims over the cartoons (of Prophet Muhammad first published by a Danish newspaper), such images are seen as ridiculous and even offensive because any demands by Muslims requesting the West to censor the cartoons is seen as an attempt to censor that stunning reflection in the mirror (‘how dare they try censor such beauty, my beauty’).

“Reality has been distorted. The reflection in the mirror lies, showing a much leaner image of something that has been pruned of its extra pounds, removed of its extra baggage, it’s well drafted and well crafted checks and qualifications have simply withered away.

“Let me ask you to take off those glasses for a moment, just for a moment and look at some different cartoons that we prepared for you earlier. The first set of cartoons you are being shown date back to the beginning of last century, they are getting on a bit, I accept that, but if you look carefully you will note that these cartoons originate from Nazi Germany and depict the most awful, the most horrendous stereotyping and maligning of Jewish people.

“Not so funny are they? Most Westerners today acknowledge that these cartoons played their part (however great or small) in contributing to the sickening climate of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany.

“They weren’t the only anti-Semitic discourse of course, there were many many others, but ‘we the people’ and ‘the historians’ concede today they did play a contributing part in helping to create, helping to ferment feelings of anti-Semitism by too many Germans towards too many Jews. With the end result being the harm Jews would suffer being much easier to rationalize and much easier for the Nazi mind to stomach, to moralize.

“Such cartoons would never be printed today in the Western mainstream media because the West, because ‘we the people’, acknowledge and recognize the ‘harm’ they can potentially do. Aha! That harm principle has suddenly re-appeared from its game of hide and seek. Once you take those glasses off the checks and qualifications on freedom of speech suddenly come into focus.”

Read these website articles in full. And be prepared to spend what’s left of this weekend indulging in some real heavy-duty soul-searching.