Monthly Archives: July 2011
Quite a lot is being made in the Australian media of the Oslo bomber’s manifesto and its mentions of Australian conservatives.
The story seemed almost too delicious to be true. Even though I’m a conservative, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if racists looked to Howard as one of their own. Alas, the journalists didn’t bother to dig much deeper, favouring the obvious linkbait: ‘Howard praised by bomber manifesto’.
The manifesto, ‘A European Declaration of Independence’ is 1,492 pages long as an Adobe file. The writing style varies rapidly: neither tone nor content is consistent. This shouldn’t surprise us: it’s not a manifesto. The author — ‘Andrew Berwick’ — states that it is a ‘compendium’.
There are two passages relating to John Howard. The first begins on page 519:
Federal Treasurer Peter Costello said Australian Muslim leaders need to stand up and publicly denounce terrorism in all its forms. Mr. Costello has also backed calls by Prime Minister John Howard for Islamic migrants to adopt Australian values. Mr. Howard caused outrage in Australia’s Islamic community when he said Muslims needed to speak English and show respect to women.
A tiny amount of Google-fu makes it clear that this passage comes from a 2006 article published to News.com.au.
The second is on page 675:
Luckily, not all Christian leaders are appeasers of Islam. One of the intelligent ones comes from Australia, a country that has been fairly resistant to Political Correctness. They have taken serious steps towards actually enforcing their own borders, despite the
predictable outcries from various NGOs and anti-racists, and Prime Minister John Howard has repeatedly proven to be one of the most sensible leaders in the Western world.
George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, tells of how September 11 was a wakeup call for him personally:
“I recognised that I had to know more about Islam.” “In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages.” “The predominant grammatical form in which jihad is used in the Koran carries the sense of fighting or waging war.” “Considered strictly on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion and its capacity for fear-reaching renovation is severely limited.” “I’d also say that Islam is a much more war-like culture than Christianity.” “I’ve had it asserted to me is that in the relationship between the Islamic
and non-Islamic world, the normal thing is a situation of tension if not war, or outright hostility.”
This comes, word for word, from a 2007 article published by the Assyrian International News Agency.
The ‘manifesto’ reads like chainmail. The penultimate section is about the best producers of sugar beets. The final section is a series of weird, weird pictures…
The question here is what is the relationship between the writer of the manifesto/compendium/copypasta and Howard? There doesn’t appear to be one. There’s no admiration expressed by the compiler because in compiling a document, you don’t express your own opinion.
Does the compiler agree with Howard’s position? It’s also hard to tell. Although they were distasteful and repugnant, almost none of Howard’s ‘multicultural’ policies are expressed in the collated news clippings.
If the media were being honest and balanced, the story would be: ‘Oslo bomber copy and pasted news clippings which praised Howard’s policies.’
But that story wouldn’t manufacture outrage or sell adverts, so we didn’t get to read it.
Let’s start this off with a massive caveat: the treatment of David Hicks degrades us all. If we are fighting to ‘preserve our way of life’, abandoning fundamental principles of justice and dignity is surely counter-productive.
Further, while we should be concerned about the treatment of David Hicks, we oughtn’t forget that non-Australians were also subject to the same treatment.
That all being said, there is an extraordinary amount of rubbish circulating about the latest in the David Hicks saga. Very briefly, I’ll outline an argument showing that the rubbish circulating is indicative of an impoverished public dialogue about legal issues.
You might (and should) disagree with the conditions under which Hicks was convicted. He pleaded guilty in a court which has not been found invalid under US law (Guantanamo Military Commission). A conviction under the GMC is recognised by the Proceeds of Crimes Act.
What does this all mean?
Despite everybody’s best efforts, there is not a one-to-one relationship between guilty people and guilty findings. Most of us can think of cases where people were found to be guilty who were later proven innocent. It’s one of the trump cards played by abolitionists in the capital punishment debate.
But the factual inaccuracy of a conviction does not mean that the conviction is unlawful.
Here is where our public debate breaks down. When high profile lawyers state that an act of government or of a court is unlawful, what they mean to say is that, if it went before another court, they believe that the act or decision would be overruled.
But that’s not snappy enough for our media.
And that’s what is at the heart of the current Hicks debate. As much as we might be (correctly and justifiably) revolted by the treatment of Hicks, he was convicted by a court recognised by our laws against profiting from crime. If his actions breached the Act, he committed a crime.
Hicks could pursue a court case to have his conviction overturned. The effect would be that — from a legal point of view — his conviction had never occurred (though, of course, the court system can’t give him back the years of his life that he lost).
But it is neither logical nor reasonable to think that his treatment at Gitmo ipso facto means that his conviction was somehow invalid. He needs a court to decide that.
We need the media to play a role in accurately representing and analysing legal issues. Portraying the current issue as a question of the legitimacy of his conviction, rather than as a question of whether he broke proceeds of crime laws, does little to progress public knowledge of the law.
Can a film explore a philosophical issue in sufficient depth to consider it a contribution to philosophy?
This isn’t a new question by any stretch of the imagination: philosophy and the arts is Routledge’s philosophy theme of the month and has been a topic of interest to philosophers since, at least, Plato.
The fun part about philosophy and art is that it’s not a one-way street. A significant amount of academic attention has been given to the philosophical underpinnings of art. What is art? How can we distinguish art from not-art? How do we value art? Is art good?
But there’s a second question which has, until comparatively recently, been shafted to literature studies: how can art discuss (and inform) philosophical questions?
I am probably a huge snob, but I think that there’s something missing from popular culture’s treatment of philosophically interesting questions. First, ‘philosophical’ films are almost universally pretentious and pander to a particular kind of undergraduate male. I can think of a handful of comic books which have done interesting, nuanced, and meaningful explorations of philosophical themes which were quickly canned because they don’t sell. Similarly, philosophical nuance is thrown under a bus whenever it threatens sales. When the focus of popular culture is pecuniary (even mercenary), how can it present challenging philosophical ideas that don’t just regurgitate the prejudices of the audience?
There is a danger that the previous paragraph will be read as ‘Boohoo, films aren’t 15,000 word theses on Kantianism.’ I’m not denigrating films for not being able to explore philosophical themes in significant depth; on the contrary, I think popular culture is supposed to be popular and entertain audiences (and make vast amounts of money for the studios).
While people can use their reactions to films to explore philosophical ideas, I’m not sure the films themselves are capable of capturing them.