Monday, December 13, 2004

Violence, Religion and the Media

Apologists for state sanctioned violence were busy this week casting aspersions against the Muslims of Indonesia and Islam in general.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a government funded public broadcaster, was at the forefront of a media beat-up comparable to the current harangue against Iran and reminiscent of the smear campaign that preceded the attack on Iraq.

True to form, ABC News and Current Affairs journalists and editors dutifully purveyed the neoconservative interpretation of an opinion survey conducted by the US-backed Freedom Institute in Jakarta.

ABC’s morning news program, AM, which was publicly attacked by the Howard government for being insufficiently supportative of the illegal invasion of Iraq, has obviously learnt to oblige the Liberal party hacks that control the ABC’s purse strings.

On December 6, ABC reporter Tony Eastly led a news item about the International Dialogue on Interfaith Co-operation held in Java this week, with the following comment...
The conventional belief that Indonesian Islam is a particularly tolerant and moderate form is being challenged by a new survey showing sympathy for the murderous activity of bombers like Imam Samudra, and intolerance for other religions, as well as some anti-Australian feeling.
According to the ABC’s Indonesia Correspondent, Tim Palmer, “the latest research on attitudes of Indonesian Muslims suggests a far greater acceptance of the extremists than previously thought.

Palmer added that “The motivation spelt out in the surveys suggests American foreign policy, particularly in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is feeding the numbers supporting radicalism.

Furthermore, we are told, “Details of the negative attitudes to America and Australia revealed in the survey have been held back by the US Embassy in Jakarta, which funded the poll. But those figures reveal negative sentiment towards Australia.

The same day, ABC News Online published a news item with the headline “Support mounts for Indonesian Islamic extremists”, which basically recapped Tim Palmer’s report.

Two days later, on December 8, the ABC Religion Report made its contribution with a discussion about the International Dialogue on Interfaith Co-operation.

The program began with the comment...
In response to Alexander Downer’s call for religious leaders to denounce terrorism from their pulpits, the leader of one of Indonesia's largest Muslim organisations accused Australia of backing state sponsored US terrorism in Iraq.
But to hope this intro might lead to some fair and balanced commentary would be to hope in vain.

Stephen Crittenden, compere of the Religion Report, wasted no time in debunking the notion that western secular democracies actually support or promote violence. Guest speaker, the Reverand John Baldock from the Anglican Church in Melbourne, a self-described sceptical realist, dismissed such criticism of the West as merely an attempt to shift blame.

Rev. Baldock said it was
a little bit disturbing, you know, some people simply shifted the blame elsewhere, that it’s "all the product of colonialism", or "all the products of globalisation", or "the interference of the US", or in fact with others, even a denial that a problem existed, as though a particular religious tradition could never sponsor terrorism, or our adherents simply don’t behave in that way, they couldn’t be those kinds of people.
Crittenden noted that
Cardinal Pell on the Australian delegation, made a very interesting and perhaps important intervention on just that question. There was a suggestion about State-sponsored terrorism and everything being the fault of the West, and he came in very strongly I understand, and sort of said that you know, there were very specific things that signified a terrorist.
Yeah right... like their religion I s’pose.

I can just imagine it, Cardinal Pell, the haughty, ultra-conservative Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, a stalwart of the Prime Minister, John W. Howard, and an outspoken critic of secular democracy, agitated and defensive, chastising a Muslim leader who dared to criticise Australia’s support for US military aggression.

Of course, Pell is considered a moderate in today’s Australia. His recent remarks likening Islam to Communism barely raised a murmur from the pallid Australian commentariat.

But why would Australians criticise their own religious and political leaders when it’s so much safer to criticise those of others?

Stephen Crittenden again ...
One of the things that came out even on the first day of the conference was a great reluctance on the part of Muslims to be self-critical...
Oh, really, is that so?

What would Crittenden know about Muslims?

For most Australians, safely cocooned in a zone of artificial wealth and prosperity, well-fed, well-housed, well-educated, the reality of life in a foreign land is simply incomprehensible.

Over-weight, ill-informed, complacent, uncaring, racist, homophobic. A majority of Australians support a government that shamelessly championed the unlawful invasion of Iraq.

They don’t care a damn about the effect our military adventurism has on the rest of the world, just so long as interests rates stay low, property prices appreciate and credit remains cheap.



It’s all very well to criticise and condemn extremist groups that advocate violence, but until we acknowledge and address our own extremist tendencies, our own reliance on the threat or use of violence, our willingness to slavishly emulate US interventionism and happily hitch our guns to the US war machine — until we accept responsibility for promoting horrendous carnage in the name of so-called Western values, our carping will remain little more than useless, irrelevant, self-serving hypocrisy.

Let’s not imagine that we are so bloody wonderful we can afford to gloss over our obvious shortcomings. The crimes and scandals that make the headlines are barely the tip of the iceberg. Insularity and contempt for others contaminate every aspect of our society.

Our treatment of child refugees contravenes international law, our complicity in the invasion of Iraq was in defiance of the Security Council. Our politicians lie and twist in the wind, they cover-up and deny any evidence against them, they bully the media and do secret deals with powerful businessmen.

And let’s not pretend that Islam is the only religion that promotes violence and conflict. The Christian Science Monitor published an article on December 10 entitled Marines talk of guns and God on the front lines. According to CSM, Corporal Milholin, a 21-year-old marine, “is as well-versed in the King James text as he is in the killing potential of hollow-tipped bullets”
"I pray earnestly every day, and believe that God puts his angels out before us, to protect us," says the marine. "The big thing is the spiritual battle going on in our lives - the fight we're fighting is good against evil."

US marine, Corporal DeBlanc, easily reconciles war with the biblical commandment against killing. "Doesn't the Bible say: 'There is a time to pick up the sword, a time for peace, and a time for war?' " he asks. "I can pull the trigger here and have a clear conscience."

Another such enlightened soldier, Lt. Col. Gareth Brandl, told the BBCThe enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He lives in Fallujah.

We’re not a model of the moderate, tolerant society we champion.

If we want the high moral ground, we need to clean up our act.

No good blaming the Indonesians.

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