The Twittersphere was abuzz with pointless debate a couple of weeks ago when Annabel Crabb had a televisual meal with Coalition hardman Scott Morrison on her perniciously vacuous program Kitchen Cabinet. My own views about that controversy are well encapsulated by Jennifer “No Place for Sheep” Wilson.
However I also acknowledged at least to myself that compering a vacuous TV program does not mean its host is equally intellectually shallow. Plenty of deeply thoughtful journalists have found themselves assigned by their editors to writing Agony Aunt and gossip columns or even horoscopes.
Nevertheless, it’s reasonable to conclude that what a journalist writes about in a newspaper op-ed column does accurately reflect her real opinions and the quality of her intellectual and analytical powers. By that standard Crabb’s column over the weekend doesn’t reflect well on her, suggesting that the shallow frippery of Kitchen Cabinet may be just about the right depth for her talents. Here is what appears to be the sum total of Crabb’s understanding of the ISIS terrorism phenomenon:
What does IS want?
IS wants more hate. It is a movement built on a kind of human anti-matter, a deep nihilism parading as ideology.
However you don’t need to look very far to find more penetrating analyses that explain ISIS’s ideology, aims and strategies in a much more thoughtful and useful way. This succinct article by Kamel Daoud, for example.
Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hand.s, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.
Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. That translates into an obsessive hatred of imagery and representation and therefore art, but also of the body, nakedness and freedom. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.
To be sure it’s a bizarre and twisted (albeit rational) ideology and deeply alien to western minds, but it’s an ideology just the same, not just “deep nihilism parading as ideology”. If we glibly dismiss it as Crabb does then we’re unlikely to be in a position either to understand or combat that ideology effectively over time. And yet dismissing ISIS as a possessor of a genuine ideology, grounded in both current and historical colonial experiences, is exactly what Ms Crabb and assorted Murdoch minions demand that we must do. Especially Muslim leaders who must repeatedly and publicly demonstrate their loyalty to Australia by condemning ISIS without any shadow of qualification or search for causation, while simultaneously swearing fealty to the Murdoch/Crabb/neocon world view.
The Grand Mufti of Australia’s prepared public statement – in which he encouraged governments worldwide to revisit “causative factors” like Islamophobia, racism, flawed foreign policy and so on – was a serious bum note.
Victim blaming is never a very good look, and the unpleasant implication that Parisians could on some level expect to be murdered on account of their nation’s foreign policy is in the same ballpark as “Dressed like that, she was asking for it”, in my view.
On the other hand, there is an alternative theory of causation: that terrorist attacks are made possible by soft-headed immigration policies in Europe, porous borders, and a culture of political correctness that does not engage appropriately with the reality of Islamic extremism in European ghettoes.
Which is another way of saying that France brought these attacks on itself. Only the culprits are different in this version.
Crabb’s argument that the Grand Mufti’s initial inadequate formal response to last week’s Paris attacks should be seen as comparable to blokes who take scanty female attire as a licence to rape especially reveals the shallowness of her thought. Women however they may dress do not inflict hurt, suffering or oppression on the male of the species. The same can’t be said of the actions of Western powers including France either in colonial times or more recently. Those actions in no sense justify bloodthirsty attacks on unarmed, unsuspecting civilians in the West or elsewhere as a “military” tactic, behaviour that is rightly condemned (including by the Grand Mufti). Nevertheless, that history and the world view it engenders need to be discussed, analysed and understood if we are to have any chance of defeating the undoubted menace of ISIS.
This excellent and much longer article by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books contains much material that Annabel would no doubt instantly dismiss as mere odious “victim blaming”. It also contains a larger quantity of deeply thoughtful analysis than you’d find in a hundred Annabel Crabb columns or a thousand episodes of Kitchen Cabinet, ending with this pearler:
In an earlier era, these conflicts might have remained separate, but they are now linked thanks to the very devices that are the symbol of globalisation, our phones and laptops. It no longer makes sense to speak of near and far, or even of ‘blowback’: the theatre of conflict has no clear borders, and its causes are multiple, overlapping and deeply rooted in histories of postcolonial rage and Western-assisted state collapse. The attacks in Paris don’t reflect a clash of civilisations but rather the fact that we really do live in a single, if unequal world, where the torments in one region inevitably spill over into another, where everything connects, sometimes with lethal consequences. For all its medieval airs, the caliphate holds up a mirror to the world we have made, not only in Raqqa and Mosul, but in Paris, Moscow and Washington.
The whole article is recommended.