Why do conservatives hate this Western success story?
Since September 11, the right has been at pains to argue there is no such thing as root causes for the jihadist terrorism that currently plagues us. To even mention things like US foreign policy as a source of grievance for criminals such as al Qa’ida was to invite ridicule. To this day, John Howard and his supporters attack anyone who dares suggest the invasion of Iraq makes us more of a target. The argument was that these terrorists were simply evil, that their actions were a personal failing that needed no reference to any socio-political context to explain.
But it seems times are changing. Conservatives have decided to embrace the notion of root causes, and a recent spate of op-ed pieces inform us that all our problems are down to (wait for it) multi-culturalism.
Yes, folks, mention that blowing up thousands of civilians in cities like Fallujah might tend to get some Muslims off side and you’ll get called a traitor. Put forward the notion that Western acceptance of religious and cultural practices from around the world in a spirit of liberal democratic tolerance is the problem and you’ll be hailed as an intellectual.
I suspect conservatives like Janet Albrechtsen and others are drawing on The West and the Rest, the recent book by British conservative, Roger Scruton. I’m actually a part-time fan of Scruton’s, but the thrust is the same as Albrechtsen: we have been far too tolerant and all our ills can be traced to progressive social innovations that have undermined ‘our way of life’.
The thing that strikes me about these conservative screeds is that although they purport to be defences of Western culture against the corruption of the so-called postmodern left, they actually glow with their own Western hatred and a blasé dismissal of genuine democratic achievement.
Scruton speaks (correctly) of the need for society to ‘renew itself’, but fails to notice that that is precisely what multiculturalism was: a successful exercise in which the West managed to accommodate the post-WW II changes forced upon it. It was a sign of supreme cultural confidence and generosity which we should be proud of, not looking to scapegoat.
But scapegoat it they will. Australian conservatives also manage to combine a sense of colonial cringe with the dispiriting view of Western achievement they share with Scruton.
Pundits like Albrechtsen wish to abandon Australia’s success because of British difficulties, while Mr Howard takes his lead from Tony Blair rather than having the confidence to suggest that maybe the Brits could take a page out of our own book.
The fact is, conservatives have never liked the idea of multiculturalism, and you can draw a straight line from Enoch Powell, through Margaret Thatcher, to John Howard and Pauline Hanson as indicative of the sort of opposition that has been mounted against commonsense, pragmatic measures that have actually worked very well. The truth is that these attacks on multiculturalism and other social policies are opportunistic and have nothing to do with fighting terrorism and everything to do with gaining domestic political advantage. Why else do they blame Western progressives rather than Islamic terrorists?
In amongst all this ranting from conservatives it is interesting to note the case of Matthew Stewart, a Queensland kid who went to a Lutheran school, loved surfing, joined the army, quit and joined al Qa’ida, and who is currently suspected of being the masked jihadist in a video tape promising to destroy Australia.