'Menzies House'* grandly bills itself as "Australia's leading online community for conservative, centre-right and libertarian thinkers." 'Thinkers' like Cory Bernardi, that is.
Scanning the comment threads which follow its opinion pieces provides an insight into the prejudices and obsessions that animate what might be called today Abbott's Army.
Now Geert Wilders, you'll be unsurprised to know, is a hero to these folk, and masochist that I am, I recently found myself reading the comments which followed the January 16 post Dutch MP Geert Wilders to Visit Australia.
There was, of course, the usual band of Islamophobic nuttjobs typical, I suppose, of those currently flocking to Abbott's colours. And then there was Stacy, a woman sufficiently brave - or maybe foolish - to at least make an attempt to inject a little common sense, nuance and human decency into the 'conversation'.
In a world where Muslims have largely replaced Jews as the favoured target of reactionaries, racists, and retards, I found her contributions both poignant and reassuring. So here they are, along with those of her detractors and my annotations:
Stacy: "I was friends with a very nice Muslim family next door many years ago. The husband was religious but very generous and tolerant of everyone else's beliefs. His wife was much the same, and she would always bring over fantastic Lebanese food once a week, and we'd do the same, keeping in mind to make sure it was halal - but she'd always tell us what was and what wasn't. She didn't even have to wear a hijab. Her husband told me that was because all the Koran tells you to do is dress respectfully, and that's what she did.Then her husband died of a heart attack. She then married a more fundamentalist man, one who took issue with her associating with us. He made her wear a hijab outside the house and forbade me from speaking to her alone. Eventually, they moved away, and sadly I haven't heard from the family in years. The point of this story is that it isn't Islam that we should have a problem with, but the fundamentalists that curtail all forms of freedom and interpretation that all religions need."
Well, as you can imagine, that was like waving the proverbial red rag at the proverbial bull. Enter 'Abraham'. Seeing as how Stacy's neighbour's husband didn't quite conform to Abraham's stereotypical Muslim, he just had to set her right:
"Well Stacy it is quite clear that her first husband wasn't an extremely devout Muslim. Her second seems to take his vows to Allah serious [sic] and as a result he has brought his new family in line with the prophet's teachings. So no Stacy, it's not whether you are fundamentalist or not. It is whether you adhere to the teachings of Islam or not. Islam is the problem. Your naivety is understandable."
'Ah yes. Thank you for that clarification, Abraham,' Stacy was expected to respond. 'You're right, of course, I now see that my neighbour's husband wasn't the real Muslim McCoy.' But Stacy, bless her, had attitude and shot back with this:
"Actually, Abraham, he was a very religious person. He went to Friday prayers and adhered to the laws of Islam. We even had discussions about his religious views and he said that it was only the observers of strict Sunni Islam that follow 'the more devout path' as he called it. He also said that there were many paths to paradise in Islam and that the prophet [had] stated that in his teachings. So no, Abraham, it's not [simply a matter] of [focusing] on some Islamic fundamentalists behaving badly, it's whether you've done your research on the area and actually have half a brain to think with. Your naivety is understandable."
Such cheek! Look out, Stacy! Did you really think you could give Abraham lip on his own turf and get away with it? Surely the lurid Islamophobic fantasies, the simple-minded knee-jerk assertions, the faux scholarship, the snearing condescension and the execrable prose didn't come as a complete surprise? Ah well, at least the 72 virgins didn't get a mention:
"You said it yourself '... the more devout path...' And of these 'many paths' would you agree martyrdom to be one? Killing innocent women and children by self-sacrifice? Is that one of the 'many paths' your dear Muslim brother referred to? So, Stacy, I will concede to your argument if you can name me one Islamic country (with that I mean a country with a Muslim majority) where Christians, Bahia's [sic], Buddhists, Catholics, homosexuals, atheists and women are treated with respect, equality and basic human rights. You have to understand Islam is a comprehensive philosophy governing every sphere of Life. Spiritual, mental, physical, social and cultural. But you of course knew that from your deep discussions with your 'friend'. Why do you think Islamic countries are poor, underdeveloped, oppressive, and primitive? And why do you think Western countries are wealthy, developed, progressive and modern? Put yourself in your neighbours shoes. She is now subjected to the most oppressive and primitive existence possible and that in Australia. What if it was you? What would you have done? Accept it as the prophet's will. Insh'allah I guess. However my offer stands. One country."
Inevitably in these 'discussions', a self-styled Quran/sharia expert or three will weigh in. In this instance, he was going by the name of 'Linne':
"Stacey [sic], before you get completely out of your depth I suggest that you have a read of the Qu'ran and Sharia Law. While reading Sharia Law you will quickly reach the part that says that it is completely acceptable for Muslims to lie to non-believers. They do it all the time and that has been the reason for most of their success in having the gullible believe that they are really a peaceful ideology. If you read 'Islamic Sharia Law In Brief' you may have a different opinion."
There you go, Stacy, your neighbour's husband was lying through his teeth! You were conned!
By now the penny was beginning to drop for Stacy. However, feisty as ever, she soldiered on:
"Well, Abraham, it looks like I'm not going to change your mind on any of these matters but I'll retort, just to have a laugh at your reply. First point, no. My 'dear Muslim brother' said that those fundamentalists were practising a flawed version of Islam, one that is contradicted by passages in the Koran. Should our perception of a religion be based solely on the practitioners who demonstrate the lowest morals? Second point, Israel. That has a Muslim majority and they have quite comprehensive rights for all those people. [Yes, I know, Stacy's got Israel wrong, but let's continue.]
Then there's Turkey, which also has those basic rights. Forgot about those counties, Abraham?
Third point, of course I knew that, and your simplified, reduced, uninspired and quite frankly inane comment on that serves only to detract from the discussion we're having.
Fourth, they're not all poor. In fact, they controlled one of the largest empires in the modern world at one point. Remember the Ottoman Empire from history? They were quite successful until they picked the wrong side in WWI, neglected the Turkish people to maintain the empire during the war and then had said empire dismantled piece by piece. After which, those countries had to rebuild everything from scratch.
Sixth, I wondered exactly the same thing and I even asked her if she was happy. You know what she told me? She wasn't. Then why did you marry him? I asked. She said that he was a good provider and that with his help she'd be able to afford to send her son to university and to care for her other son who had Downs Syndrome. I didn't agree with her choice, but it was hers to make."
In response to Linne, our expert on all matters Islamic, Stacy replied coolly:
"Do you have any sources for this claim? You made it, the burden of proof is on you. And you do have to prove they lie 'all the time'. I also assume this 'lying' extends to eating with us, inviting us to dinner at their place, the polite conversations, and the mutual generosity. I think you'd better jump in a lake, Linne, and cool off, the heat must be getting to you."
But her simple requests merely provoked this equivalent of projectile vomiting from our resident Professor of Islamic Law:
"Islamic Taqiyya vs. Reality of Islamic Sharia! Caution! Islam permits devout Muslims to lie, cheat, and deliberately bluff non-muslims to protect or promote his religion of Islam, anytime, anywhere. And this tactic is known as 'Islamic Taqiyya' (read: Islamic deception), and was originally used by the Prophet of Islam to fool, and later subjugate and destroy enemies of Islam. As Prophet of Islam repeatedly asserted: 'War is a deception' and with this holy-tactic, Prophet of Islam established his most intolerant religion of violence (by 80 plus bloody battles) which he later named as: 'religion of peace'!"
Abraham, by contrast, thought he'd play the schoolmaster taking an errant pupil to task. Particularly noteworthy is his tender concern for "homosexuals" on a site which features posts by Cory Bernardi, the Abbott frontbencher who was sent to the backbench last year for linking gay marriage to bestiality. Hell, maybe Abraham is Cory Bernardi!:
"As per Israeli Bureau of Statistics, the Religious Makeup of Israel (end of 2008) is as follows... [He rattles off the relevant stats] Now unless you know something the IBS doesn't... it's a FAIL on Israel. As for Turkey, they might have a majority Muslim population but are homosexuals granted the same rights as say homosexuals in Australia? You state your 'friend' considered Sunni Islam to be prone to exploitation bt fundamentalists due to its more stringent form of Islam, correct? Turkey has a Muslim population of 90% of which 85% are Sunni. Could you with certainty propose Turkey as a successful and progressive Islamic nation? Not according to your own statements. Lastly, the Ottoman Empire, seriously? That's the best you can come up with in supporting Islam as not some primitive and oppressive failure? The Ottoman Empire ceased to exist in 1922 after 623 years. And since then? They have become a social and political powerhouse... or not. So... again... on Turkey also a FAIL."
With this ex-cathedra judgment, Stacy just knew in her bones that if she continued to value her sanity, the only course of action open to her was to put as much distance as possible between 'Australia's leading online community for conservative, centre-right and libertarian thinkers' and her good self. I'm outta here! summed up her final contribution to the 'debate':
"All I came here to do was say not to judge a religion from the worst it has to offer, and offer the story of my neighbours, but it seems that we have to judge everyone from the lowest common denominator. I could go on and correct Abraham on his flawed history lesson regarding the collapse of the Ottoman Empire or the current history of Turkey, including gay rights - not that Abraham gives much thought to gays unless he's trying to prove a point, but I'd just be wasting my time. I wish you all the best."
Assuming victory over this recalcitrant female, unctuous Abraham just couldn't resist delivering a patronising little 'West is best' homily with a fatuous nod at tolerance for those who dissent from the party line - just so long as they're prepared to 'fess up and admit when they're WRONG, that is:
"Having to defend your position is never easy. Vigorous debate and acute differences of opinion is [sic] what made Australia (and the West) great civilisations and societies. Freedom of speech is an absolute. It has never been the intention of any contributor to this blog to 'chase' away individuals such as yourself. True, you and I differ on this issue. However it would be sad to see you leave because it is our diversity which gives flavour to our lives. Imagine a Chicken Korma or Tandoori Beef made only with salt. No other spices allowed? It would be absolutely horrible to say the least. Admittedly my style [?] is a bit forthright but my intention is never to humiliate. So please remain a faithful reader and if you truly feel passionate about your own personal convictions, defend them with pride and honour. But remember to always question. And admit when you are wrong. Hope to see you soon."
I don't think so.
[NB: You can see the results of an earlier visit to Menzies House in my 30/8/11 post I, Danielle Keys.]