Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A scary fool who will doom us all

Okay, “a scary fool who will doom us all” may be an overstatement, but I really do begin to panic when people start pontificating that gay rights are “elite squabbles” and “moralistic grandstanding”.

Waxing lyrical in her column "The muscular liberals are marching into a dead end", The Guardian's Madeleine Bunting slobbers over a new book by “maverick thinker” Frank Furedi, it was all going swimmingly well – albeit in a sloppy cesspool of psychobabble and moral relativism - until it got to this:

His analysis of American politics is that the political elite (particularly the media) have seized on values as a form of cod politics. Put simply, instead of economics, same-sex marriage and abortion become the defining issues. It's a cod politics that suits the political elite because it gives them reasons for an argument and an audience (always important for an insatiable media).

The "clash of civilisations" could become Europe's cod politics. So an elite squabbles about Islam's take on gay rights and gender equality in a charade of moralistic grandstanding.


It’s nice to know that the struggle of women’s rights – of which Bunting herself is a beneficiary – and for my rights as a gay man are “elitist” and merely “grandstanding” and supposedly in the worst Lindsey German sense “shibboleths”.

Islam, at least as practiced by the likes of Qaradawi, has no take on gay rights or women’s rights in the sense that it is approaching the issues from a slightly different angle. Executing gays and mutilating women is not a trifling difference and a minor debate over details. It is fundamental to the secular, humanist – and indeed muscular – liberalism we must defend!

As Harry’s Place say in their posting on the subject:

We do need dialogue, but it would be much more helpful to this progress if flaccid liberals like Bunting hunted around for interlocutors from the Muslim world who spoke up for the rights of sexual minorities instead of defending a dialogue with scholars who call for rocks to be thrown at them until they die.

And. there is a lot to criticise in our culture – excessive consumerism, inhumane treatment of working people and economic migrants by corporations, disrespect for the environment, criminal treatment of animals, racism, arms dealing, you name it… but we have a civilisation where activists make progress – frustrating slow, with many setbacks, but progress nonetheless. And indeed, our culture allows such robust criticism and activism to take place. There is therefore no need to loathe our civilisation.

Bunting evidently does. The signs were there earlier. Bunting seems to have reinvented the proto-racist 18th century ideology of the Noble Savage for the 21st century – a product then of misplaced romanticism and so it is today.

Bunting declares:

How do British values look to an African? Perhaps they might see through our illusions quicker than we can, and see the brittle, episodic relationships which constitute many lonely lives; the disconnectedness whereby strangers live together as neighbours, colleagues, even friends and lovers, with little knowledge and less commitment to each other; our preoccupation with things; our ever more desperate dependence on stimulants from alcohol to porn.

First of all, what the hell is “an African”? It is a huge continent. Is Bunting really saying that culture and values are the same all over Africa? Is she saying that Africans no nothing of “brittle, episodic relationships”? I imagine she would say that perhaps they do now, but that’s due to overexposure to Western influences. Ah yes, the “Noble Savages”. And before colonialism, when African men could take multiple wives – as the Swazi king still does? Is that an antidote to “brittle, episodic relationships”? Or in Zulu culture where women went out to work in the fields while men chewed the fat in the kraal? Is that what she had in mind? Or when Dingaan did in his brother Shaka to take his crown (in the most Shakespearean way), was that the good neighbourliness she meant? Perhaps it was the imperialism of Shaka himself that she meant by “good neighbourliness”.

Of course there is good neighbourliness and community spirit in many African cultures, but they are no different to the same in smaller and rural communities anywhere in the world. What Bunting is mistaking as “Western” is actually the “Urban” – what she imagines to be “African” values are actually universal and will be found in most small communities. There is an African tradition of ubuntu (pronounced ‘ooh-boon-too’), but it is only an ideal, and no different to similar ideals found in other cultures. It is only people like Bunting who appear to fetishise other cultures that believe that an entire culture - indeed an entire continent - carries the same values in its heart.

Bunting says “Fatalism was once the charge levelled at peasants because they didn't believe they could transform their lives. Now it's our turn …” and later “Furthermore, this muscular liberal project is a dead end. It's a nostalgic grab for old certainties”.

Doesn’t she realise it is her fatalism and her uncertainty that she is transferring onto everyone else. She sees essential human rights struggles as “elite squabbles” and “moralistic grandstanding”. It is her wavering – if it catches on – that will doom us all. If such rights can be so easily dismissed, then we’re not looking at ‘The New Enlightenment’, as she irrationally supposes, but darkness.


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