to the drums of madness
was something eerily familiar about the photos of the maltreated Iraqi
POWs. I looked again at the snap of the prisoner standing on a box.
He was holding electrical leads in his outstretched hands, in a position
almost of supplication and somebody had dressed him in a pointed black
hood and a shabby black robe.
Then a frisson of recognition ran down my tail. Yes, it was Goya
like something from Goyas painting of the Spanish inquisition
in action, or his etchings from The Horrors of War.
The American boys and girls perpetrating these things are probably
good Christians. Quite probably they think of the Iraqis as evil heathens
in need of American civilization. Not surprising really,
since the intellectual titans of neo-conservatism have been pushing
this line for some years now, quite long enough for it to find its
way from the Washington think tanks to the hayseed schools and churches
of the Mid-West.
We are marching back to Goyas era, an era before the rise of
secularism and religious toleration and a new spectre is haunting
the political right
the spectre of secular fundamentalism.
Like yesterdays bogy, political correctness, the
new tag has started to appear in the mainstream press as if by magic,
exactly when its urgently needed to plug an ideological gap
you couldnt fill with a truckload of Builders Bog.
The Australian neo-right is overwhelmingly Christian, and inherently
fundamentalist. They actually believe that other religions are evil.
When John Howard got into office they were on a roll, and they couldnt
resist a grab for every lever of government.
Multiculturalism became a sin worse than sodomy. We should be building
an integrated, monocultural Australia (or One Nation),
the right shouted. We should stop people learning the language of
their forebears (unless it was English) and treat everybody
the same; all those foreign religions probably harboured
terrorists in ethnic dress. It was a xenophobic mood John Howard exploited
with consummate political skill.
Now, having spent almost a decade weaseling the God of the Christians
back into politics, John Howards cheer squad have discovered
an appalling fact: the wealthier, better-educated, longer-established
Anglo and European majority might be from Christian backgrounds, but
they tend to be religiously undemonstrative folk who nowadays think
of their churches as more or less innocent ethno-cultural baggage.
Ah yes, my church, based on the Bible isnt it? Dim memories
of the Sunday School they never really wanted to attend come drifting
back: a few uplifting stories, some eternal truisms, some bloodthirsty
Old testament stuff, some mad gibberish (thatd be Revelations),
and a lot of other stuff (like Genesis) thats so wide
of the mark theyd rather forget it.
In a word, these people tend to be secularist and this is a huge problem
for the new right. The more recently-arrived Muslims also believe
in God, and tend to do so pretty strongly. They also believe theyve
got a book dictated by God and theirs trumps the Bible because it
came along later.
And -- horror of horrors -- the Muslims are now opening Islamic schools.
Since the Howard government has already encouraged every half-bright
Bible-basher to open a Christian community school, this
has become a right the Muslims (or the Hindus or Buddhists) can hardly
So John Howards Christian God-squad are hoist on their own crucifix.
Theyre seeing danger everywhere. Theyre seeing their own
troops as irresolute, flabby, degenerate folk who take religion with
a grain of salt. The ranks must be purged of the secular heresy.
And so secular fundamentalism was born (or rather, appropriated
from obscure right-wing American websites). Its a codeword for
the evils of integration through toleration, respect for diversity,
and an old proposition that expresses one of the hardest-won foundations
of civilization: that religion (or the lack of it) is properly a private
matter, to which the state should be blind.
That policy is, finally, the only guarantee of anybodys freedom
of belief. Once the state starts down the road of promoting religion,
where does the madness stop? Theres no scientifically testable
evidence that God exists; theres no way of proving that anybodys
claim to have Gods authentic word is correct, and every religion
claims the others are in error (if not evil, as the Jensen
Boys would say).
Call this possum an evil secular fundamentalist if you like, but peace
on Earth only arrives when people rise above their religion.