By Janet Albrechtsen
It’s so rare for a politician to climb out on a limb that the very notion of a brave political speech has almost become an oxymoron. So let’s give credit where it is due.
Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron confronted a tough debate with brutal honesty. For too long, Western leaders have danced around the real reasons for the rise of Islamic State.
From US President Barack Obama to Tony Abbott, Western leaders have shied away from telling it like it is, choosing instead mealy-mouthed political correctness and cultural infirmity.
Speaking at Birmingham’s Nine¬stiles School, Cameron said this: “In the past, governments have been too quick to dismiss the religious aspect of Islamist extremism … But simply denying any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists doesn’t work.”
He’s right. In Australia, Abbott, normally a straight-shooter, has failed to make the honest link between Islam and Islamic State.
Cameron made the obvious point that “these extremists are self-identifying as Muslims. The fact is from Woolwich to Tunisia, from Ottawa to Bali, these murderers all spout the same twisted narrative, one that claims to be based on a particular faith.”
He said it is futile to deny that. Worse, it is dangerous to deny the link because you neuter the important voices that seek to challenge the religious interpretations adopted by extremists. Cameron wants to embolden those voices that provide an alternative view of Islam to halt the slide along the spectrum of extremism by so many young Brits.
It has taken a long time for even one Western leader to confront the truth that, as Graeme Wood wrote in The Atlantic in March: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”
Wood added that while most Muslims rejected Islamic State, to pretend it was not a religious group with theology drawn from Islam had led the West to underestimate its ambitions and meant we could not hope to counter it.
The British Prime Minister also admonished Muslim groups for thinking it’s enough to say “we don’t support IS”. As he said, al-Qa’ida doesn’t support Islamic State either. “So we can’t let the bar sink to that level. Condemning a mass-murdering, child-raping organisation cannot be enough to prove you’re challenging the extremists,” he said.
This is bracing stuff. When was the last time Western leaders demanded that Muslim leaders who genuinely want to challenge extremists must also condemn the wild conspiracy theories about the malevolent power of Jews, about the West’s aim to destroy Islam, about Muslims being wronged by the evil actions of the West? When did we last hear a leader say it’s not good enough to condemn terror attacks in London, then feed an ideology by siding with those who set off suicide bombs on Israel?
As Cameron said: “No one becomes a terrorist from a standing start.” Conspiracy theories feed the extremist narrative.
Cameron is right to condemn the grievance mindset and the victimhood mentality adopted by many Muslim groups and exploited by Islamic State to attract followers. What Cameron failed to do was explore how the West itself encouraged victimhood complaints and grievance contests to flourish. While he pointed to the growing segregation of Muslims in schools and public housing, Cameron failed to admit the West’s pursuit of unbridled multiculturalism 40 years ago encouraged this segregation.
Whereas once we expected migrants to integrate into our culture, accept our values, multiculturalism unshackled those cultural connections. Whereas 40 years ago, the only label that attached to a migrant was, for example, “new Australian”, multi¬cul¬turalism encouraged each migrant group to adopt a hyphenated identity that allowed cultural and moral relativism to flourish. And that unleashed identity politics and its close relatives, grievance games and equally spurious victimhood claims.
Cultural appeasement emasculates our values. It means that in Australia, the Abbott government refused to deliver its promise to bolster free speech in this country. When Abbott dropped his pre-election promise to reform section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, an illiberal law that allows people to shut down words that are offensive or insulting, he said it was about preserving national unity and team Australia.
In fact, it was a political sop to those so-called community leaders who oppose moves to shore up free speech. Without a rock-solid commitment to free speech, important debates are stifled.
Cultural complacency explains the 10th annual Lowy Institute survey finding only 60 per cent of Australians, and just 42 per cent of young Australians aged 18 to 29, believe “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government”.
Cultural complacency explains the results of the Institute of Public Affairs’ recent report, The End of History … in Australian Universities, which found that while Australia’s political and cultural institutions have their origins in Britain, of the 739 history subjects taught in Australian universities last year, only 15 covered British history.
As the IPA’s John Roskam wrote last week, “There’s no space for economic history in any history department, but there is room for 15 film studies subjects, 14 feminism subjects and 12 sexuality subjects.”
Cultural appeasement has horrendous physical costs too. Cameron pointed to nearly 4000 cases of female genital mutilation reported in Britain last year and 11,000 cases of so-called honour-based violence in the past five years. And he added, these are just the reported cases.
We would be foolish to imagine the same evils are absent in ¬Australia.
The British PM also condemned many British universities for pretending to be bastions of free speech but stifling intellectual debates when it matters. Cameron pointed out that the universities invite Holocaust denier David Irving onto a campus so they can rightly condemn him. But when an Islamic extremist spouts their evil ideology to university students, university leaders don’t say a word to challenge this ideological filth. Cameron denounced the “misguided liberalism and the cultural sensitivity”.
Once again, he should have added that 40 years ago a virulent strain of multiculturalism introduced freedom-loathing viruses into our societies. Only when we combat those viruses can we start reasserting confidence in our own culture — a crucial prerequisite for convincing others about the great virtues of living in a free society.