This afternoon, I had the privilege of reading an article by one Irfan Yusuf (you can find it here) about the thuggery that marred Sydney’s central business district recently. I am not going to quote all of what he wrote here. If you have any interest at all in the complex reactions to incidents like the Sydney riot, then I ask you to read his article. However, there is an aspect of his article that I do want to comment about. It can best be summed up by the following quote (mistype preserved):
When you insist there is a singular Muslim community, it because easy to ask: ‘When is that community going to rein in its extremists?’
I think he means “becomes”, but his point is a good one. Just like the autistic, there is no singular, monolithic community that we can point to and say “this is Muslim or Islam”. It does not work that way.
In my earlier comments concerning the Sydney riot, I stated that if the Islamic community as a whole wants to be taken seriously when it professes a desire to integrate with the society that exists around it, it has to do a few things. I mentioned the fact that it has to denounce the kinds of people who turn a protest into a riot, to openly declare that it does not want to be represented by this kinds of fools. This has precedent. I think that not only has secular society made very clear it does not wish to be represented by the ilk of Pat Robertson or Mitt Romney, but so too has a large percentage of the Christian community.
Unfortunately, to a large degree, Islam is defined by its extremists. In the Steve Martin-written film Traitor, we encounter numerous examples of people either well-versed in or living under Islam. One such individual, an FBI agent who studied Islam and Arabic language at school has a sit-down with the mother of the suspect he and his partner are chasing. Said mother asks the agent, casually, if he knows what the word “Islam” translates to in English. He answers, apparently correctly, that “Islam” would be “submission” in our language.
Friends and neighbours, I have a problem with that. Not just because I am autistic, either. My paternal grandfather, from the little I have heard, migrated out to Australia from Scotland. I have always identified with the people of Scotland far more than the people of Australia. Not because of any connection or bond with my grandfather (he died two years before my birth, and you would be more likely to get his children to speak about nuclear physics than him). But because if there is one word that Scots do not know the meaning of, it is submission. Regardless of which folk hero from Scotland you care to nominate, or the mythical race that some speculate the Vikings patterned upon early examples of them, you will find that they all fit one powerful theme. It goes something like respect my desire for freedom, or one of us is going to end up dead.
Mister Yusuf, whilst I respect the story you cite of Muhammad refusing the services of an angel who offered to crush the inhabitants of a town where the leaders sent their children to pelt him with stones, and what I think the point you were offering in it is, I cannot respect what you state to be Muhammad’s wish. That someday the descendants of that town would become believers. We know for a fact that belief is something rarely chosen, but rather beaten into a person from a young age. Even “chosen” belief at a later age is frequently the result of psychological coercion over a lengthy period of time.
In my prior writing about the reprehensible behaviour that recently took place in Sydney, I also stated that Islam and being autistic are incompatible. I do not merely base that on my personal experience of being able to adopt or keep my mouth shut about a belief of the world’s shape that I know to be untrue. I also base it on the fact that when I was in school, establishment of a religion in schools was to a degree the accepted norm.
Americans might be able to learn something from this fact. Part of the reason that religious instruction ran into one ear and out the other is because I heard what it consisted of, what its makers proposed as explanation for our world, and found it utterly incompatible with my reality. Most of the people who come into Australian schools to tell children the fairy tales associated with the New Testament, ironically, are not very good at telling stories.
But this is getting away from the point. Yusuf might not be aware of it, but the reason I mention him and his article here is because he helps highlight a key difference not only between Islam extremists and other Muslims, but also curebies and the rest of the world. The protestors in Sydney who tried to protest the existence of what I understand to be a badly-made video, and those who turned said protest into a riot, have one thing in common. It is not merely that they come across like braying mules. It is that they have both made thuggish demands to a society that is under no obligation to tolerate them, and have refused to even talk to the people their demands may have an effect upon. Autistic self-advocates the world over will tell you that this pretty much exactly resembles the behaviour we expect of curebies, and I am here to tell you that if the government were to propose to outlaw being a curebie tomorrow, I would be all about it. Not because I am against people being able to speak as they feel fit (or whatever straw-man you propose). No, it is because I am against the harm that they do, usually on purpose, with their speech.
People who want to weaken enforcement of their commitment to get along in the society they inhabit often go to extremes when proclaiming that their right to speak freely is being infringed. These Islamic thugs, for instance, will try to tell us that by disallowing them to call for violence against someone who “insults” Islam, we are infringing upon them. But that is now how it works in reality. In fact, such an argument is the equivalent of proclaiming that you have the right to falsely shout “fire” in a crowded shopping mall or theatre. But for reasons that should be obvious to anyone with a sense of logic or reason, such an action tends to be looked upon rather dimly by the fire brigade and police services who will inevitably be called to the scene.
It also comes as a slap in the face to societies that have bent over backwards to try and accommodate the people in question. I doubt that anyone will ever find a society where English is the primary language that is more tolerant of Islam or the peoples from countries where it is the state religion than Australia. Sure, a lot of the people are not very tolerant, but when they see images of yelling thugs wandering through the street calling out the equivalent of how Islam must be treated better than everyone else or else, it brings a question to mind. Specifically, when an Australian who has never seen a world outside of a little house on the prairie, having seen these images, is intolerant of Muslims and Islam, can you blame them?
In the welfare offices that are all over Australia, or indeed any building dedicated to the provision of government services, you will find signage in numerous languages including at least two of those spoken in Islamic nations. A substantial portion of the budget for every service goes into arranging for translation if one of these migrants cannot make themselves understood by any other means. This is money that cannot be used to keep workers out of poverty, keep children healthy, keep soldiers paid, keep military contractors happy, and the list goes on. If you believe that W.A.S.P. taxpayers who are already struggling with having to pay for everyone else’s share of the burden are not conscious and resentful of this, then you are kidding yourself.
I have also written that I grew up in a rather multicultural section of Sydney. I mean multicultural in the true sense of the word. Not a suburb where pockets of different peoples isolate themselves and reinforce their own prejudices about one another. I mean I went to a school where Mediterraneans, Scot-Irish-English, Aboriginal, and later Lebanese children mixed together without fear or disfavour. And whilst there were blow-ups relating to displays of racism or cultural differences and misunderstandings, these arguments and flashes of anger were over almost as quickly as they started because we knew and accepted that whilst there were many things that made us different, there were a lot of things that made us alike, too.
There are people who want to be able to live in comfort, without fear of their neighbours, without fear in general, with the comfort of being taken care of if they get sick or grow old, and with the world in a slightly better state when they die. Did I just describe Muslims? Or W.A.S.P.s? Or the autistic? Well, I think most people who are old enough to recognise this desire in themselves will realise that I could be talking about the vast majority of any group anywhere in the world. Whilst it is true that there are people out there who, as Michael Caine put it so brilliantly in The Dark Knight, just want to watch the world burn, they are a vast minority.
That is why I feel that political correctness, separationism, and cultural gagging have proven to be extremely destructive forces in our world. And with all apologies to Irfan Yusuf, it is also why I feel that the self-proclaimed Muslims who went on a rampage through Sydney should either be imprisoned with a bunch of neo-Nazis or sent back to wherever they migrated from. Because I was a child and in my early teens before the whole political correctness thing started, and in terms of integrating with one another, and getting along, we have only gone backwards since then. A society where one segment of the populace, however large, is afraid to say anything for fear of offending another is not democracy.
That is why proclamations by Muslims that we should, and must, all live by so-called Sharia law, or that people who have an unkind word to say about Muhammad should be killed, send chills up my spine. In an actual democracy, the right to be offended and the right to offend others go hand in hand. That, friends and neighbours, is why an actual democracy is the best place for a Powell type like myself. Because if you expect me to padlock my own mouth in order to not offend you and your imaginary friend, you are not simply barking up the wrong tree, but rather a whole forest of them.
So in closing, I would like to say this. It might be easy to ask when the Muslim community is going to rein in extremists like these, Mister Yusuf. But that is because it is not only a fair question, but also because publically divorcing yourself from the extremists will improve your standing in the community. And unlike the autistic, the Islamic community, extremists and all, is only imagining itself to be at war with what I will for the sake of argument pretend is a monolithic norms community. Were that not the case, police would be turning blind eyes to the murders of individuals originally from Muslim countries or their descendants. Interpreter services at government department offices would be offered for every language other than those that are predominantly spoken in Muslim countries. And if people in my sister’s current community made a stink about her children being in the same playgroup as ones of Arabic descent, nobody would tell the people making the stink to knock it off.
I respect the postition that there is no monolithic Islamic or Muslim community. But having one that the thugs who ran amok in Sydney could be told in front of the rest of Australia they are no longer a part of would help both of us quite a lot.