A festival of grovelling to terrorists
If works of art are withdrawn because of fear of reprisal, we lose the chance for open debate
Have you heard about the first novel by a young American woman that has become the "new Satanic Verses", sparking terrorist attacks on the publishers and riots by Islamic militants that make the protests against Salman Rushdie's book look like an English tea party?
No, you probably won't have, since there is no book for anybody to riot about. The US publishers Random House pulled The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, due out today, on the ground that it "might be offensive to some in the Muslim community" and "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment". An executive told the author that they had stopped her racy historical novel about Aisha, young wife of the Prophet Muhammad, out of "fear of a possible terrorist threat from extremist Muslims" and concern for "the safety and security of the Random House building and employees".
There had been no acts of violence or terrorism, nor even threats or protests. All that happened was that one non-Muslim associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, who was sent a proof copy, apparently cautioned that the book would be seen as "a declaration of war... explosive stuff... a national security issue" and more offensive than The Satanic Verses. There swiftly followed a riot of retreating publishers, and the book was blown out before anybody had the chance to set light to it for the cameras.
It looks like another example of a quiet wave of self-censorship and cultural cowardice sweeping Western art circles. Two years ago, when the Deutsche opera in Berlin scrapped a production of Mozart's Idomeneo for fear that it might offend some Muslims, I described it as "pre-emptive grovelling". This now appears to be the modus operandi of the transatlantic arts elites.
It has just been reported that the BBC has dropped a big-budget docu-drama, The London Bombers. A team of journalists had spent months researching it in Beeston, Leeds, home of some of the 7/7 terrorists, and a top writer was preparing the final draft, when it was scrapped. The journalists were reportedly told by BBC executives that it was Islamophobic and offensive.
Last year, the New Culture Forum published a survey of similar cases, from the BBC hospital soap Casualty changing Muslim terrorists into animal rights activists, to the Barbican cutting out scenes from Tamburlaine the Great and the "cutting-edge" Royal Court Theatre cancelling an adaptation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, both for fear that they might offend some Muslims.
The threat to freedom here does not come from a few Islamic radicals, but from the invertebrate liberals of the cultural establishment who have so lost faith in themselves that they will surrender their freedoms before anybody starts a fight. The mere suggestion of causing offence to some mob of imagined stereotypes is enough to have them scurrying for a bomb shelter, their creative imaginations blowing up small protests into the threat of a big culture war. Of course, such pre-emptive grovelling only encourages any zealot with a blog to demand even more censorship.
Who needs book burners if "offensive" books are not allowed to be published in the first place? Why bother to protest against provocative plays if the theatres will turn the lights off for you beforehand? There is no need even for a polite exchange on Points of View if the controversial programmes never get made.
The quality or lack of it in the self-censored works is not the issue here. That associate professor from Texas condemned the novel about Muhammad's wife as "soft porn". But so what if it was? Free expression should mean freedom for what others see as filth, too. If there are artists childishly causing offence for its own sake, feel free to ignore them, but not to gag them.
Pre-emptive grovelling, encouraged from the top down by our illiberal authorities, is bad for the arts and for society. The arts can only flourish in a climate of cultural anarchy rather than compulsion and conformity. The attempt to limit what can be said must have a chilling effect, encouraging other writers and artists to pull in their horns.
Such self-censorship is also dangerous for those who don't much care about high culture. There is indeed a lesson from the Satanic Verses controversy, but not the one often cited. The dominant response to that clash of cultures was to try to bury it beneath worthy multicultural claptrap about celebrating difference. After more than 15 years of such attempts to suppress honest debate, the tensions festering beneath the surface exploded on the London transport system. As one female Muslim writer critical of the decision not to publish The Jewel of Medina says: "The series of events that torpedoed this novel are a window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world."
As an old libertarian of the Left, who has long upheld the Right to Be Offensive, what makes me most angry today is to see fearful self-censorship and pre-emptive grovelling in the name of liberal values. That really is something worth intellectually rioting about
Humans Are Not 98% Genetically Identical to Chimpanzees
I have been researching the purported genetic near-identity between humans and chimps - asserted as the "scientific" basis for the Great Ape Project - and found (unsurprisingly) that the entire advocacy line that "humans and chimps share 98% of our genes" is plain false. This gets a little complicated, so stick with me.
First, the 98% figure is probably overstated. An article in Science puts the actual figure at 94%. (Jon Cohen, "Relative Differences: The Myth of 1%, June 29, 2007). But even these figures are only measuring about 2% of our total genetic makeup - that is, those genes that code for proteins, the building blocks of our physical bodies and functions.
The vast majority of our DNA, known as "non-coding DNA" - sometimes called "junk DNA" because it was once thought not to have function - is very different in humans from most non-coding genes found in chimps and other apes. However, recent research has found that, contrary to previous belief, this repetitive DNA isn't "junk" after all, but has distinct purposes.
Research continues as to the exact nature and functions of non-coding genes, but given the wide differences between human and ape non-coding DNA, even if the purported 98% genetic similarity to coding DNA is true, it is actually only 98% of a much smaller percentage of our total genetic makeup, perhaps as low as 98% of 2%! Proponents of the Great Ape Project might reply in defense that the coding genes are the ones that really count, but that is not scientifically supported anymore. And even if true, as we have discussed previously here at SHS, the 2-6% difference constitutes tens of millions of biological differences.
So this is the bottom line: Creating a human/chimp moral equivalency is not scientifically justified based on a close biological relationship between us that is actually quite vast. Rather, as one scientist quoted in the Science article referenced above put it about this issue: "I don't think there is any way to calculate a number [percentage of similarity]. In the end, it's a political and social and cultural thing about how we see our differences." Exactly. This is about politics and ideology, pure and simple.
A weird view of Australia from hate-filled Leftists
Gerard Henderson writing from Sydney, Australia. Similar observations could be made in the USA and UK
To obtain a glimpse of two different views of Australia start at Circular Quay where the First Fleet came ashore in January 1788. The crowd is invariably busy on weekdays and relaxed at the weekend. It's usually a fun place to be and, right now, the newspapers on sale there toast the successes of the young Australian men and women at the Beijing Olympics. However, not very far away, alternative views prevail.
The 16th Biennale of Sydney is under way. A major venue is the Museum of Contemporary Art. The artwork on the MCA proclaims such messages as "200 Years Of White Lies". This suggests that the history of European settlement in Australia is based on wilful calumny. It also indicates that left-wing alienation is alive and well and on show in contemporary Australia. The biennale is funded by grants from the Australian and overseas participating governments - in addition to corporate support. All the governments backing this festival of contemporary art are democracies. The theme is "Revolution - Forms That Turn".
Step inside the MCA and there, hanging from the ceiling, is an artwork titled A civilizacao occidental e crista (Western Christian Civilisation) by the Argentinian Leon Ferrari - depicting a crucified Christ attached to a US F-107 fighter aircraft. This is presented as a critique of Western civilisation. But what about the double standard involved? It is impossible to imagine the MCA would show an artwork which showed the prophet Muhammad attached to, say, an Iranian missile.
Move to level three and there is a collection of fine photographs by Yevgeniy Fiks of various places where members of the Communist Party of Australia have worked and met in Sydney since the early 1920s. This work essentially praises the party and such communist operatives as Eric Aarons and Rupert Lockwood. There is no mention of the fact that, up to the 1960s, CPA functionaries were allied to Lenin, Stalin and their heirs in Moscow and were committed to overthrowing Western democracies and replacing them with communist totalitarian regimes.
One photo at the MCA depicts a CPA building which was raided by police in 1940. Reference is made to the fact that the Communist Party was banned in the early years of World War II. But no reason is given, perhaps to prevent embarrassment. So let's state the facts. The party was banned circa 1940 because it supported the (then) pact between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union and, consequently, opposed the Allied war effort. The CPA only began to support the war effort in mid 1941 when Germany unilaterally broke the Nazi-Soviet pact and invaded the Soviet Union.
Not far from the MCA, the British-born Nigel Jamieson's play Gallipoli is showing at the Sydney Theatre. This is yet another version of the familiar left-wing interpretation of World War I. The theme is set early in the first act. It is 1914 and Imperial Germany's leader Kaiser Wilhelm wants to invade Belgium. Jamieson's solution? Let him. And France? Well, according to the playwright, that seems OK, too. As long as the Allies, including Australia, do not go to war to support Belgium and France. Or to oppose Germany and its Ottoman Empire ally.
Last month Jamieson told the journalist Elissa Blake that his straw-bale bush house is "pretty much carbon neutral" and contains a compost toilet. How about that? In any event, there were emissions aplenty in Gallipoli, as the playwright-director sought to re-create the conditions of the Dardanelles campaign in 1915. Technically, the play is a great success. But its message is the familiar they-all-died-in-vain line. Sure, the Dardanelles campaign was a military debacle. But it was devised with the best of intentions - namely, to help reduce the killing on the Western Front.
The only real hero of Gallipoli is the Turkish military commander Ataturk. Jamieson maintains that in 1915 Australia decided "to invade a Muslim country who posed no threat to us". He attempts, unsuccessfully, to draw comparisons with Australia's involvement in the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq nine decades later. Even to the extent of (gratuitously) showing a photo of a military funeral for one of the Australian fallen from a recent conflict. Jamieson seems unaware that Australia joined others in invading the Ottoman Empire in 1915 because it was an ally of Imperial Germany. That's all. Moreover, he does not seem to know that very few, if any, German historians today would support his interpretation as to why World War I began.
The prevailing criticism of the West and Western democracies - on show at the MCA and in Gallipoli - is also evident in the initial response in the media to the conflict between Russia and Georgia. Quite a few journalists, particularly on the ABC, were quick to blame the Western ally Georgia and/or the United States. For example, on Radio National's Late Night Live its presenter Phillip Adams and his left-wing regular guest Bruce Shapiro pointed the finger at the US for Russia's evident aggression in the Caucasus. It's as simple as that, apparently.
The contrast between the views of the alienated intelligentsia and the majority of Australians are seldom more evident than at times of international events. Witness the hyperbolic claim by Germaine Greer in her essay On Rage that "Australians are now becoming aware of the dire plight of their island continent, and the utter bleakness of its future". Witness Barrie Kosky's bizarre assertion on the 7.30 Report that "the absolute soul" of democratic Austria can be located in the basement where Josef Fritzl allegedly imprisoned and raped his daughter. And rejoice that most Australians following the Games are oblivious to such alienated nonsense.
Australia: The germy one's rant is racist, says Aboriginal academic
Grievance is all the germy one is good at
Marcia Langton has delivered a stinging rebuke to Germaine Greer, describing her views as outdated and simplistic and condemning the feminist for a "cleverly disguised" racist attack on Aboriginal people.
Writing in The Australian today, Professor Langton dismisses Greer's claims that Aboriginal men suffer a rage they "can't get over" and urges the expat academic and author to read more history. "Taken as a whole, her arguments are racist," says Professor Langton, the chair of Australian indigenous studies at Melbourne University. "They are also just plain wrong."
Greer says in her provocative essay published this month, On Rage, that the loss of land, women, language and culture over 200 years has caused a rage among indigenous men that is at the core of problems in Aboriginal communities. She also asserts that indigenous women who supported last year's intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities will be seen as colluding "with the enemy".
But Professor Langton - herself a target of Greer's criticism - says most Aboriginal women who have fallen victim to the "anarchy and violence" endemic in some communities have welcomed the intervention. "What the children who have been victims of violence and abuse will make of all of this in the future, we cannot know," she writes. "But they will surely wonder why a feminist of such fame as Greer has come to the defence of those who destroyed their innocence and damaged their sense of self."
Professor Langton accuses Greer and her publisher of "attention-seeking" behaviour, distracting from genuine efforts to ensure a dignified future for indigenous children. This goal does not interest Greer in the least, she says. Professor Langton also backs the views of Cape York indigenous leader Noel Pearson and Perth-based indigenous human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade, who say perpetrators of violence should take responsibility for their actions. "We are not in the mood for failed leftist excuses for the rising levels of homicide, femicide and suicide," Professor Langton writes.
"Dr Greer's panoply of protest slogans deployed as social theory was dismissed long ago by the research and policy community as incapable of explaining the present day levels of huge disparities in life expectancy, morbidity and mortality rates and other socio-economic indicators. "While the 'burden of history' is acknowledged in much of this work, the everyday suffering in communities at risk is caused by a multiplicity of factors ... all more complicated than Dr Greer would have us understand."
Greer's essay has been criticised by the first Aborigine elected to the NSW parliament, Fair Trading Minister Linda Burney, who asked how the British-based academic was qualified to make her assumptions. "I think it's quite presumptuous to say that you know what is happening in the minds of Aboriginal men," Ms Burney told The Australian.
Greer was in no mood to discuss her claims when approached by The Australian at the launch of the essay in Sydney last week. But she told the ABC's Lateline program that the rage she identified among Aboriginal men could lead to the "annihilation of black communities". "All I'm saying is that unless we deal with the pathology that underlies it we won't get anywhere," she said. "We won't actually stop the violence. We may even cause it to escalate."
At the launch of the essay, former NSW premier Bob Carr endorsed Greer's work as "one of the most powerful pamphlets ever written in Australia". He added: "I had hoped there would be some hope at the end of Germaine Greer's essay."
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.