Uncle at ABC Watch and Tim Blair have both blogged on ABC Radio National’s suspension withour pay of Religion Report host Stephen Crittenden. Nothing surprising about that in itself. Both are serial Auntie-bashers from way back, and both seem to define “bias” as a concept measured by the extent to which views expressed on the ABC differ from the World According to John Howard. Nevertheless, Crittenden’s suspension for “serious misconduct” raises issues which should disturb everyone who values freedom of speech and ideas, whatever your ideological orientation. That’s why it’s disappointing to say the least that not a single left-leaning blogger has so much as mentioned this story even in passing.
According to Blair and Uncle (confirmed by Gerard Henderson in yesterday’s Age newspaper), Crittenden has been disciplined for publishing an op-ed article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 July. The article discussed Samuel P. Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilisations? in the light of Al Qaeda, Afghanistan, Iraq and the like. Nothing very remarkable (or especially controversial) about that, nor was Crittenden’s treatment of it sensationalist or outrageous. Moreover, even if it had been extreme or offensive to many (like numerous diatribes by ABC leftie pundits Phillip Adams or Terry Lane), you’d have to wonder how this could amount to “serious misconduct”. According to Uncle, Crittenden was at no stage given a direction not to publish the “offending” article. Even if such a direction had been given, there would be a real issue as to whether it was lawful. Uncle immediately leaps to the most negative conclusion, as is his wont. However, despite the need for caution because I simply don’t know enough of the facts to express a concluded opinion, he may well have a point:
This is now to be official ABC doctrine: to conduct jihad against the US, to hate liberal capitalism and the social values it has made possible, to call the great majority of your fellow countrymen racist bigots and to excuse their murder as politically reasonable, all this is permitted, both on the ABC and in other media. To question the role of Islamic values in Islamic terrorism is a sackable offence.
On the face of it, I can’t see any other obvious explanation for the treatment meted out to Crittenden. According to today’s Age, ABC radio staff are threatening to strike over the issue. So they should. Here are some extracts from the offending article by Crittenden to give you the flavour. They seem eminently restrained and reasonable to me. In fact I agree with just about everything he says:
“Differences among civilisations are not only real; they are basic,” he writes in the essay. “Civilisations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most importantly, religion. The people of different civilisations have different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views on the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes.”
Huntington divides the globe into nine occasionally awkward tectonic plates Western (led by the US), Orthodox, Islamic, Hindu, Confucian and Japanese, with Latin America and Africa more doubtfully classified as “candidates” for civilisation status, and Buddhism, oddly, as a “fossil” civilisation largely absorbed and superceded by China and India.
He envisages friction in all directions along the borders between these civilisational plates, and also within civilisations. At various times, the vast and increasing global reach of Western power and influence will bring us into conflict with each of the other civilisational groups (the West against the rest). But in particular there will be two major clashes: one in the short term with a resurgent Islam and, perhaps more ominously, a longer-term clash with an emerging China. …
The Huntington thesis has annoyed almost everybody. From the start, he was accused of massively over-simplifying the causes of Islamic extremism, offering “civilisational incompatibility” as the reductive explanation for Islamic extremism rather than dealing with specific Muslim grievances.
More recently, and especially since the war in Iraq, he has been dismissed as a darling of the US neo-conservatives, and his theory as a justification for the juggernaut of globalisation and the new Bush doctrine of pre-emptive unilateralism.
The truth is that Huntington is an old-fashioned Democrat rather than an ideologue. A former speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson and Jimmy Carter, he is a teacher who shuns interview requests. Ironically, he developed his theory during classes at Harvard to get his students to challenge their triumphalist Western assumptions.
In the 1990s the world had become fixated on globalisation the new-found ability of capital, corporations and technology to move around the planet almost instantly, uniting it into one market. Indeed, a few years earlier, Huntington’s former student Francis Fukuyama had come up with his own theory of the end of history, in which he anticipated the onset of globalisation by arguing that, Western democratic liberalism and market capitalism having beaten Soviet communism, the rest of history would be a kind of American mopping-up operation.
Huntington warned against such assumptions, arguing that “in the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilisational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous.”
Why the hostility to Huntington’s theory? In the West, there are signs that it points to a change in academic fashion potentially a change on the Left, not merely a shift to the Right. Cultural materialists on both Left and Right are annoyed because the theory returns us to the idea that religion matters in explaining how people live and how the world works that culture is fundamental, enduring and more important than economics. It also challenges the illusion of the ecumenical pacifists that true religion is only ever about love and peace. Above all, it cuts across three decades of Western self-hatred since Vietnam, challenging us to reacknowledge not just the West’s misdeeds, but also its vast collective achievement.
Huntington has been extremely reticent about any suggestion that he predicted the attacks on the World Trade Centre, but if he provided the theory, the planes on September 11 provided the material facts. In response to nihilistic evil on this scale, postmodern relativism was seen to flounder. After September 11, it is clear that the grand old narratives are holding and the long historical view is back. …
Huntington insists that the Islamist resurgence of recent decades really is a revival, and that it is not just anti-Western but also genuinely modern inspired by such 20th-century thinkers as Egypt’s Sayyid Qutb of Egypt , Sayyid Maududi of Pakistan and Ayatollah Khomeini and was ignited by the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
In this, he appears to disagree with leading Orientalist professor Bernard Lewis, an important influence on Huntington. Lewis coined the term “the clash of civilisations” in a 1990 article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled The Roots of Muslim Rage. The author of What Went Wrong? (Oxford University Press, 2002 ), he views the Islamic world as backward, paralysed and oblivious to Western developments like the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution and he suggests that Islam is intrinsically unable to modernise. On this reading, an event like September 11 is an expression of envy at Western success, the impotent fury of a religious civilisation in terminal decline. The really significant clash between Islam and the West seems to have happened in the past.
This leads to what for me is the most interesting question behind the Huntington thesis: what is modernity? Is it just about technology? Or is it also about a state of mind that is only possible because of Western individualism, egalitarianism, freedom of choice and civil institutions and rights? Doesn’t America’s greatest strength lie in its culture, which enables its economy to work brilliantly? Isn’t modernity a quintessentially Western invention which is gradually being exported to the rest of the world? Or is it just another slippery word? We are back to Francis Fukuyama (these days speaking the language of the “clash of civilisations”), who in 2001 wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “It is not an accident that modern liberal democracy emerged first in the Christian West, since the universalism of democratic rights can be seen in many ways as a secular form of Christian universalism.” …
Huntington is also haunted by a sense of Western decline possibly too much so. His suggestion that the world is becoming less Western defies common sense. His concern that “the West no longer has the economic or demographic dynamism required to impose its will on other societies and any effort to do so is also contrary to the Western values of self-determination and democracy” turned out to be an accurate description of Europe, but not the US and its coalition partners.
In fact, the bombing of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq pose many interesting problems for the Huntington thesis: a significant part of the Western public, especially in Europe, was clearly opposed to war under almost any circumstances.
The Iraq war has also driven a wedge between America and Europe, problematising Huntington’s idea of a secular West led by the US. Richard Butler, Australia’s former UN ambassador, recently suggested that the EU is deeply concerned by US unilateralism, and beginning to respond. He says we may see the present unipolar world give way to a strangely Orwellian “tri-polarity”, where superpower status is shared by the US, Europe and an Asian bloc led by China. In this context, it is surely not insignificant in cultural terms that the “coalition of the willing” comprised three Anglo-Saxon nations, while France, Germany and Russia fumed on the sidelines. …
But perhaps Huntington’s most confrontational contention for a society like Australia is that culture is not in the end “multicultural”. He is an opponent of US multiculturalists, whom he says “wish to create a country not belonging to any civilisation and lacking a cultural core. History shows that no country so constituted can long endure as a coherent society.”
But doesn’t history shows the very opposite? Multiculturalism is the reason why the Roman Empire lasted so long, and Muslim societies have also been at their most vital when they open to people and ideas from outside. At this point perhaps Huntington’s critics are correct and he does reveal how static and monolithic his thinking about civilisations really is. They change constantly, if slowly, and are much more porous than he allows.
These are challenging times for Muslims living in the West. September 11 has brought increased suspicion, police raids and occasionally violence, when we know that the overwhelming majority of Muslim migrants are loyal citizens in their adopted homelands. For Australia, the US and much of Europe, the future is surely multicultural.
Arguably, multiculturalism has always been a more sophisticated process in practice than its opponents usually recognise, or indeed its supporters. Immigrant communities do indeed gradually absorb the core values, and even the underlying cultural myths of the host society. And far from an end to multicultualism, there are already signs, especially in Europe, of an emerging Multiculturalism Mark Two, where shared values are more openly insisted upon.
For example, the Dutch have established a new seminary near Utrecht for the training of imams, who will be expected to speak Dutch and be familiar with Holland’s anti-discrimination laws. And France has always staunchly promoted republican values through the education system. A new inquiry there has just been announced to look at whether Muslim girls should be allowed to wear the hijab at school, and earlier this year a national Muslim consultative council was established to encourage more French Muslims into the national mainstream.
However, all this may be more applicable to the surface of society than to the fundamental forces that shape it in the long term. In the end, Huntington provides a very useful and endlessly stimulating diagnosis of the problem at a global level. What he doesn’t see so clearly is that the solution doesn’t just lie in the consolidation of Western power but in learning how to live together in local communities.
You might have hoped that the ABC would actually be pleased to have a commentator capable of writing thoughtful, challenging analytical political prose of such obvious contemporary relevance. On the contrary, it seems they prefer the sort of poorly written, ill-considered but eminently PC bilge that Phillip Adams writes week in and week out in the Australian.
PS – Today’s Age article clarifies the legal basis of the disciplinary action against Crittenden:
Crittenden, presenter of Radio National’s The Religion Report, faces dismissal for failing to get permission to publish the article on the clash between Islam and the West in The Sydney Morning Herald.
It is believed that Crittenden provided a synopsis of the article well in advance and the finished piece five days before the publication deadline, and that he rang several times for approval but did not hear back.
An internal investigation found that he wilfully disobeyed a lawful instruction to get approval. His future will be determined by the end of the week.
Crittenden, who is unable to comment, is reportedly mystified, as Radio National’s management has encouraged such public engagement, even including it in criteria for promotion.
I’m anything but an expert on employment law, but on first glance one might suspect there would be very real legal questions as to whether such a direction is lawful, and whether disobeying it provides proper grounds for dismissal (or even suspension without pay). Here is a relevant extract from my trusty Halsbury’s Laws of Australia:
The employee has an obligation to obey all lawful orders of the employer, even where the employee believes the order to be outside the bounds of the contract or where the order relates to a comparatively insignificant matter. The duty is to obey lawful orders, so refusal is a breach of contract. But whether it will amount to grounds for dismissal or other disciplinary action will depend on the particular facts and circumstances of the individual case. There is no obligation to obey instructions which go beyond the nature of the work the employee has contracted to perform, though an employee is expected to obey instructions to do things incidental to that work. Orders and instructions which endanger the employee’s life or health, or which the employee reasonably believes endanger his or her life or health, are not lawful orders, and there is no obligation on the employee to obey, unless the nature of the work itself of necessity involves the peril, in which case the employee has contracted to undertake the risk. There is no clear line of authority as to whether it is a breach of obligation to disobey an order which, though lawful, is unreasonable. …
Comment box analyses from legal eagle readers with greater knowledge in this area would be very welcome.