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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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