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Andrew Bolt

Jul 14, 2010

Pulling apart Andrew Bolt’s anti-Islam crusade

You could have seen this coming. When Andrew Bolt runs a series of blog posts over a few days on a certain theme, he’s often testing his arguments ready for a column in the newspaper.

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You could have seen this coming. When Andrew Bolt runs a series of blog posts over a few days on a certain theme, he’s often testing his arguments ready for a column in the newspaper. His arguments will then get distilled down, his presentation of evidence – which is usually pretty scant in his posts, particularly when the source doesn’t actually say what he claims it says, inevitably gets whittled to almost nothing for print publication – and the end result is a distillation of his claims and misrepresentations with little to back them up. And here it comes:

On choosing Julia’s “right kind of migrant”

MY excuse for this column is Julia Gillard. She’s the one who says we need to bring in “the right kind of migrants”.

More importantly, our new Prime Minister says she wants us to talk frankly at last about boat people – and, I presume – other immigrants.

“I’d like to sweep away any sense that people should close down any debate, including this debate, through a sense of self-censorship or political correctness,” she declared.

I hope she means it, because here are some facts of the kind that normally invite screams of “racist” and an inquisition from our shut-your-face human rights tribunals.

And away we go, with a string of misrepresentations, the goal of which appears to be to inflame opposition to Muslim immigration, and to chide anyone who dares to criticise “Australian” culture, whatever that is.

You definitely could have seen this coming. And if you look back at where it came from, you can see how flawed this effort is.

I’m not going to document every fault in Bolt’s column and where it comes from – I simply don’t have the time. But I’m going to highlight a few clear and egregious misrepresentations. If you find more, add to them in the comments.

Let’s start with this claim:

The latest example is a new guide to teaching Islam in schools, published by Melbourne University’s Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies.

It barely mentions the Islamist terrorism that is the main cause of what it dismisses as our “racism” towards Muslims, and refers to al-Qaida, the killer of so many of us, as merely one of several “famous names”.

Terrorism is brushed off as one of the “constant reminders of this distrust” between the West and Islam, for which the West is blamed most.

Only one reason is given for high Muslim unemployment – “underlying discrimination and prejudice towards non-Europeans in Australia”.

Bolt’s “analysis” of this work started in this post from last weekend. He is commenting about this document – a 120-page paper that aims to serve as an educational resource about Islam, both in terms of teaching to Muslim students and teaching about Islam as part of recognising the make-up of our society and the nations in our region. It’s ironic that Bolt’s entire perspective seems as rigid and dogmatic as he claims the view presented in the guide is – while the guide itself seeks to recognise the extreme views while noting they are not accepted by all and encouraging teachers to challenge those beliefs.

Some examples:

  • Bolt claims the guide “barely mentions” Islamist terrorism. It’s hard to know how much coverage would satisfy him, given that he seems to regard terrorism as the unique, defining feature of Islam, but consider this. The document has a section (p. 95) comparing the moderate and fundamentalist perspectives among Muslims, and noting that “between these two groups lie a plethora of Islamic viewpoints and worldviews.” This is where Bolt gets the “famous names” and “constant reminders of this distrust” quotes. Several pages later (p. 100), the guide addresses the claims that “Islam condones terrorism and the killing of innocents” and that “Muslims are potential terrorists and a threat to national security” as “myths and misconceptions”. Among other things, this section notes that:

    Islam absolutely prohibits the killing of non-combatants, including women, children and the elderly. Muslims who commit acts of terror believe that the ‘ends justify the means’. However, in traditional Islamic law, both the objectives and the means must be in accordance with Islamic principles.

    It acknowledges that some Muslims do condone terrorism, but also makes clear that these beliefs are not consistent with Islam. That might be a view Andrew Bolt seems incapable of accepting, but the fact that they haven’t addressed the issue to his liking does not mean they haven’t addressed it. Terrorism is also mentioned in several other parts of the guide.

  • Bolt simultaneously claims that the “racism” against Muslims in Australia comes about because of terrorism and dismisses any claims of discrimination and prejudice as significant factors affecting Muslims. He says that discrimination is the only reason given for “high Muslim unemployment” – in fact, the guide acknowledges that “the reasons for this are numerous” and only warns that “underlying discrimination
    and prejudice towards non-Europeans in Australia may be a factor”. And in claiming that all this talk of racism is undermining Australia and masking the fact that we should be scared about Muslims because of terrorism, Bolt neglects to mention the learning activity that the guide refers to in support of its point (pp. 61-62) – a description and discussion of the ANU field experiment [PDF here] that showed people with ethnic names need to submit more CVs to secure a job interview.
  • In the original blog post, Bolt launched into a bunch of other criticisms as well, typically relying on selective quotations or no quotation at all. For instance, he told readers that according to the guide:

    the Crusades are presented largely as noble Muslims defending holy lands from barbaric Christians. You’d never guess that Christians thought they were recapturing holy lands from Muslim armies that had overrun them militarily.

    In fact, the history curriculum section includes a learning sequence (pp. 29-32) that starts by noting that:

    This learning sequence explores the Crusades from the perspective of the Muslim world. It is designed to complement a unit of work on the Crusades.

    The very first activity is to:

    Ensure that your students are familiar with the Crusades and understand the motivations of the Europeans in embarking on the Crusader campaigns. Familiarity with the extent and timelines of the various Crusades is also helpful.

    The sequence then involves giving students quotes from Muslim writings on the Crusades and having a class discussion about questions such as:

    Why do we usually explore events from our own cultural perspective? What are some reasons that make it difficult to explore alternative perspectives? Is it important to explore both sides of the story? Why or Why not?

    It’s not proposing an indoctrination of the Muslim perspective, but merely exposing the students to the fact that “our” history tends to have been written from one side. All of which is predicated on the idea that students are also aware of what the Christians thought they were doing. And the sequence concludes by highlighting the link between these historical perspectives and some modern views about Western incursions into Muslim nations — again, inviting the students to consider to what extent they agree or disagree with it.

I suspect I could go on and on with more examples — every time Bolt provides a fragmentary quote or trails off with an ellipsis, it seems to be concealing the fact that the guide says something that contradicts his description of it. Anyone who reads the guide and finds more examples should feel free to share them. But of course, the first post served to claim that the Islamic community failed to confront their own failings. Another post was needed to build the case about those failings – and it came yesterday:

The latest religious news

The “news” was a set of links to acts of violence associated in some way with Islam. It was exactly the sort of oversimplified bigotry he seems to demand in reporting on Islam, but which of course would be an unconscionable smear if a similar approach was taken toward any other religion. This post has already had a good round-up in our open thread, including some of the charming comments that have been published by the Herald-Sun in response to it. Just as Julia Gillard would have wanted it, I suppose.

And that gave Andrew the material he needed to put together a whole column that boils down to arguing that Islamic culture is synonymous with terrorism, that they refuse to deal with this and that therefore we should be talking about blocking Muslim immigration. The amazing thing is that after working so hard to build this argument, Bolt still seems to have no problem demonising a different group on the same day. Matthew of Canberra does a good job of summarising the problems with that “claim” about Tamils and the alleged vindication of Uncle Ironbar, and I’ve noted a similar pattern before, but it’s great to see that Bolt isn’t troubled by the inconsistency of arguing that Islam is a unique threat and then bringing an entirely different group up as a danger who must be blocked.

But of course, his claims that the “racism” against all the Muslims who live in the world is only because we’re (quite understandably, you see) deathly afraid that they will all start blowing us up is only half of the attack. The other half is to condemn those of us who criticise Bolt, or his commenters, or anyone else who disparages an entire religious or ethnic group because of the extremists who pervert that group’s views, because we’re undermining Australia’s values and pride. I thought one of our values was judging each individual on their own merits, accepting different views and beliefs and being free from dogma – Andrew Bolt’s approach to the efforts for dialogue and education about Islam don’t seem to reflect any of those things. And frankly, I could feel a bit more pride if I didn’t see such base and baseless arguments as such a regular part of our media and our politics.

(NB: Thanks to Matt and the other readers who contributed information that went into this post. More input is welcome in the comments.)

UPDATE (July 16): The Punch has run a pair of articles on Bolt’s anti-Islam column. Tory Shepherd takes issue with Bolt’s column, saying it “fuels racist thinking” and “sets one society against another”. Bolt responds by claiming that Shepherd has misrepresented his argument. Rather than create a new thread, discussion of those articles is welcome here.

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77 comments

77 thoughts on “Pulling apart Andrew Bolt’s anti-Islam crusade

  1. [Snip – There’s no shortage of conspiracy theory and truther sites on the web, but it’s not part of the dialogue here – Dave}

  2. Also of course, if they make it illegal to wear the veil at work, beekeepers are going to be furious.

  3. Matthew,

    I am myself of mixed race.

    My mother was Pakistani, my father preferred the 100 metres.

  4. Mulga at 51. I cannot see how you can claim the Madrid bombings, the London Underground attacks or the 9/11 atrocities were “black ops provoked by Western intelligence”.

    However many terrorists attacks in other countries undoubtedly are. See my post on the weekend thread (forgive me for cross-posting) about US support for terrorism in Iran. In this case we (the west) are supporting an Al-Qaeda affiliated group who have attacked a girls school, bombed Mosques, beheaded a young girl and murdered hundreds of innocent civilians. Makes you kinda proud to be a westerner doesn’t it?

    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/purepoison/2010/07/16/weekend-talk-thread-july-16-18/

  5. angra @70

    “Maybe the vague and ill-defined word is the problem. It seems to mean anything the user wants it to mean, which of course means its open to abuse.”

    Yes. But we can still safely use “xenophobe”, or the always-dependable “bigot”

    I’ve seen a fair few comments Over There that start by saying “you can’t call me racist because islam isn’t a race! Now …”. It’s childish. By that standard, being anti-semitic isn’t racist either. Luckily we have a different term for that, though. In a sense, discriminating against migrants from europe isn’t racist either – we’re all caucasian. That doesn’t actually change the nature of the thing itself, though.

  6. Re Tory Shepherd’s post at the Punch, I made a post myself, was challenged by a poster known as Hamish, I responded to Hamish, IMO I put the smack down, unfortunately the Punch wont publish it, it wasn’t rude…. Pricks. I want to let you guys know what my unpublished response was.

    Hamish wrote:

    [RobJ, frankly I couldn’t care less if you think I’m a racist, but why not debate the actual points. Do you think we should have high immigration intakes from countries where there is a demonstrated propensity amongst existing migrants to commit crime? I know it’s more fun to sloganeer and talk about Australia’s ‘inherent’ racism and other assorted sound-bites which are not based on any form of research probably because any research would find them to be demonstrably false, but give it a shot.]

    To which I responded that I’m more concerned about the individual than the nation they came from and that considering the US has a very high homicide rate should we stop people emigrating to Australia from the US?…

    Anyway, I let the Punch know what I felt and suggested that because the Punch is a News Ltd blog then the whole thing is a ruse to make Tory Shepherd look bad and News Ltd’s most important blogger (in their opinion) look good, and that even though I realise that the moderation at Bolt’s is biased (in my experience) I expected better of the Punch. I should have realised that it’s a News Ltd site thus my expectations were too high 🙂

    [I do enjoy reading how every major ill of this planet comes down to Andrew Bolt, Tony Abbott, The Catholic Church, John Howard, Israel, George Bush or Sarah Palin. If we could just think of a way to control this handful of power-jerks, it’d be wonderful.

    Grow up.]

    Grow up? Sure, when you stop making things up.. Sarah Palin and Andrew Bolt just shoot their mouths off, the other entities you’ve listed are in my opinion reprehensible pricks, you’ve got the Catholic Church that is responsible not only for the sexual abuse and abuse of children but also for covering it up, you can deny it as much as you like but in any decent person’s opinion paedophilia and other crimes against children are reprehensible therefore the defenders of the Catholic Church are reprehensible individuals, but hey, just keep denying it, it makes life (for you) easier.

    I could go on about the other entities listed but to be honest I realise it just goes straight over your head 😉

    That’s my Saturday morning rant for this week PPers..

  7. Am I missing something or is there a trend to conflate “racism” with “anti-a-particular-religion”?

    It is of course generally accepted as racist to say “all Nigerians, or Chinese are … ” etc. But to say “all Muslims, or Buddhists are…” is what exactly? Maybe we need a new word here.

    Just about any religion can comprise people from just about any ethnicity. I hesitate to use the work ‘race’ because I think it is becomingly increasingly meaningless. Is a Torres Strait Islander the same ‘race’ as an Australian Aboriginal? Is a white Australian of German ancestry of the same ‘race’ as an Australian of Scottish ancestry?

    Is there a ‘US’ or ‘European’ or ‘African’ race?

    Maybe the vague and ill-defined word is the problem. It seems to mean anything the user wants it to mean, which of course means its open to abuse.

  8. Upyasmum rants like a spoiled kid who refuses to engage in any meaningful debate (lalalala, I can’t hear you):

    I do enjoy reading how every major ill of this planet comes down to Andrew Bolt, Tony Abbott, The Catholic Church, John Howard, Israel, George Bush or Sarah Palin. If we could just think of a way to control this handful of power-jerks, it’d be wonderful.

    And then asks the rest of the forum to

    Grow up.

    Oh, the irony.

  9. Powder? Your generation sure had some whacky remedies.

    Anyway, you’ve given me heaps to do this weekend, I’d better get into it.

  10. Upyasmum @64

    I’d love to hear what you think about the actual topic of the thread 🙂

  11. Well don’t ponder too hard Upy, I’d hate to see you blow a synapse or something.

    [If a (Labor) government designs a bad policy, then implements a bad policy, then continues with that bad policy, how is it Andrew Bolt’s fault?]

    Good grief! What on earth are you babbling about? I’d suggest you start at the top with Tobby’s post and work from there. Why you are crapping on about Labor policy is anyone’s guess. And Sarah Palin, WTF?

    Take a powder.

  12. That’s a great question, Confessions (@53). I’ll ponder that over the weekend and definitely get back to you on Monday. Tuesday at the latest.

    What I will also do is apply Pure Poison Philosophy to my thinking though so that my answer is palatable. It’ll go a little like this: If a (Labor) government designs a bad policy, then implements a bad policy, then continues with that bad policy, how is it Andrew Bolt’s fault?

    I do enjoy reading how every major ill of this planet comes down to Andrew Bolt, Tony Abbott, The Catholic Church, John Howard, Israel, George Bush or Sarah Palin. If we could just think of a way to control this handful of power-jerks, it’d be wonderful.

    Grow up.

  13. From Bolt’s response to Tory Shepherd:

    [Even when I mention plenty of other immigrant groups around the world with signs of dysfunction – Canadian Latinos, Tongans, Vietnamese, Samoans, those of African heritage and more – Tory still claims “he picks on (Muslims) to the exclusion of all others”.]

    Translation…..”I’m fair and balanced, I have a go at all ‘minority groups’, not just Muslims”.

  14. I’ve read threads where his simple arithmetic is wrong. I must admit though, I don’t read him that much, I don’t have the stomach for it.

  15. RobJ @60

    “I agree with most of that, except for the ‘well researched’ part, he might be but it isn’t reflected in his rants.”

    Some of his articles are very well-researched – particularly on australian politics. On matters of federal politics he seems to be attached to some curiously informed lines of information, too.

    But I’ve come across threads that made me wonder if he’d even bothered to google the topic. He also comments on subjects about which I’m not sure he keeps up to date.

    What I’ve noticed lately is a reliance on selective quoting, and using sources that don’t support his position in a way that suggests that they do. That article about asylum seekers today is a perfect example, but the skewing of that educators’ guide to islam deserves some sort of prize.

  16. [Bolt’s a great opinion columnist. He is well researched, eloquent, and knows exactly which buttons to push to whip up indignation and outrage. That’s his job, and he’s bloody good at it.]

    I agree with most of that, except for the ‘well researched’ part, he might be but it isn’t reflected in his rants.

  17. Lacquered Studio @ 56, don’t forget to include Anglo-Celtic Australians in discussions regarding ethnic tension in this country.

    Just saying…

  18. Ok, it’s time to coin an expression. Do we call them “Andrew’s Notes”? Or “Bolta’s Notes”? I’m looking for something that parodies those cheat sheets that arts students find profitable at university, but to apply to a thread which consists of cherry-picked quotes to present a simplified, tailored view of an otherwise much more sophisticated source:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/how_mad_to_even_think_we_should_be_a_new_home_for_an_ethnic_army/

    Look for the ellipses – they’re actually the story, and stand in for most of the interesting information in the original article. Here’s an example of some of that information that, sadly, didn’t make it into the Bolta Notes:

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/tamil-tigers-at-the-front-door/story-e6frg6z6-1225892362845

    “The Sri Lankan government says every Tamil is a Tiger. You can’t rely on anything the Sri Lankan government says because it’s all lies,” says Sydney-based Tamil activist Saradha Nathan.

    She says many Tamils have Tiger connections by virtue of having lived and worked in areas where the LTTE held administrative power.

    “Anyone who worked for the police or public service or judiciary [in those areas] is branded a Tiger,” Nathan says.

    Some non-Tamil commentators share her scepticism. Bruce Haigh, a retired diplomat who served at the Australian high commission in Colombo, says information provided by the Sri Lankan government is “biased and unreliable”. The Australian Tamil Congress says it’s part of a smear campaign orchestrated from Colombo.

    As I’ve posted before, nobody in the press seems to actually know what terrorism means anyway. It seems to have been dumbed-down to mean just violent non-state actors.

  19. It’s an ugly place over there, Tobias. The sad thing is that these people who claim 80% of Australians are anti-immigration/anti-asylum seekers are probably not far off the mark.

    For a country founded on immigration, you know what our problem is — once they get in here, everyone wants to lock the door behind them. Doesn’t seem to matter what part of the world they’re from, one generation is usually all it takes for the xenophobia to get off and running.

    Thing is, we have all these immigrants coming here to get away from wars and dysfunctional societies (understandably) … only to have their kids revive all the same old conflicts here. I’m thinking of the Balkan hostilities at the tennis, for starters. I honestly don’t know what the solution is.

    There’s one — just one condition I think everyone should adhere to if they want to make a new start in this beautiful country:

    Leave your wars behind.

    Is that racist?

  20. Issues of theology aside, The Koran has many beautiful passages that endorse honesty, kindness, respect for Christians, compassion and tolerance. And for every quote you can find that seems to suggest otherwise I can match it with ten bloodthirsty and vicious quotes from the Old Testament (bashing the enemies babies brains out is about the sickest.)

    Do you think the likes of Bolt, Jones etc have read any Muslims teachings or great writers?

    Here are some quotes to prove it –

    – Honor each other: “O mankind! We created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know and honor each other (not that you should despise one another). Indeed the most honorable of you in the sight of God is the most righteous.” Chapter 49, Verse 13

    – God loves the kind: “God does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who have neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes. In fact God loves the equitable.” Chapter 60, Verse 8

    – About Jesus: “And in their [the earlier prophets] footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the law that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel, therein was guidance and light and confirmation of the law that had come before him, a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God.” Chapter 5, Verse 46

    – Good and evil: “Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein, and whoever recommends and helps an evil cause shares in its burden.” Chapter 4, Verse 85

    – Reaction to evil: “Repel (evil) with what is better. Then will he, between whom and thee was hatred, become as it were thy friend and intimate. And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint.” Chapter 41, Verse 34 and 35

    – Do good: “Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden (paradise) whose width is that of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous – Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity or in adversity, who restrain (their) anger and pardon (all) men – for God loves those who do good.” Chapter 3, Verses 133-134

    – Reward for righteousness: “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily, to them will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions.” Chapter 16, Verse 97

    – Acts of compassion: “And what will explain to you what the steep path is? It is the freeing of a (slave) from bondage; or the giving of food in a day of famine to an orphan relative, or to a needy in distress. Then will he be of those who believe, enjoin fortitude and encourage kindness and compassion.” Chapter 90, Verses 12-17

  21. [Actually, I asked what fair-go conservatives might think about the demonization of muslims, not about refugee policy.]

    Oops, sorry Matthew, that’s my bad for misinterpreting your comment. I can only point you to Andrew Sullivan, a British conservative who has been living in the US for years, and who recently has been blogging against the collective punishment meted out to Palestinians, and the broad demonisation of muslims by the Right more generally as hindering the war against muslim and islamist extremism.

    Upy: what do conservatives have to do with the demonisation of muslims? Let me help you out.

    Andrew Bolt is a self-described:

    a) socialist
    b) communist
    c) leftist
    d) conservative

    Get back to me with your response.

  22. Angra @44

    I think it can be even simpler than that. Often it’s a simple case of perceived insecurity, or a legitimate beef with the “other” group that leads to belicose behaviour that is mirrored until it gets out of control. The GWOT is pretty much always described in terms of ideology – but a lot of the local disputes are good old-fashioned fights over resources, power, security and (occasionally) self-determination (bits of china and kurdistan, for example). Those causes are as old as history – religion just isn’t a requirement. But religion IS an excellent way to delineate between two identifiable groups. Race can also do it, language too (see sudan). If those two groups also have different histories and interests (which is probably inevitable) then you’re off and running.

    I posted once before that I reckon I’m a structural realist (w.r.t international politics). Kenneth Waltz worked it out (IMHO). If you’ve got some time to kill, I seem to recall that this paper nails one cause of ethnic conflict quite nicely:

    http://web.mit.edu/ssp/people/posen/security-dilemma.pdf

    Author’s page here: http://web.mit.edu/polisci/faculty/B.Posen.html

  23. Angra’s post 44 is very interesting and a real step up from the usual imbecilities from the usual suspects. They, as Angra noted in an earlier posting, are the type who, when faced by facts that undermine their preconceived biases, are incapable of learning,of intellectual growth or, crucially given their invariably and laughably hypertrophied egos,of admitting error.
    The simple truth is that most ‘terror’ attacks on the West have been black ops provocations by Western intelligence, often Mossad, which has a long record of such practices, all on the public record.Most other so-called ‘Islamic terrorism’ eg Hezbollah’s ejection of Israeli occupying forces from South Lebanon, is the perfectly justifiable resistance of people to alien, fascist, occupation. It is exactly morally equivalent to the French Resistance to the Nazis or the Soviet partisans during WW2.
    The really evil,mass murdering, refugee creating, country destroying terrorism is Western state terrorism, which has killed millions of Moslems over the last few decades. It is why ‘they hate us’- they hate ‘us’ ie our ruling elites in the West, because they are evil predators who have killed their families, devastated their countries and occupied them,installing Quisling puppets who jump to Washington and Tel Aviv’s tune. And, of course, the Right in this country supports the fascist invaders from the West because they are driven to do so by innate hatred of those of different race, ethnicity and religion, and because the Rightwing media has brainwashed them over decades to do so. Taking regard of these truths, the posture of moral superiority taken by the Right is not only contemptible, its truly laughable.