OPINION: by Raymond WatsonNews Weekly
Robert Manne - the case against
, August 19, 2006
In the last News Weekly, Melbourne writer Bill James defended leading Australian author and academic Robert Manne from his right-wing detractors. He argued that Manne's present-day critics were too hasty in seeking to diminish his reputation.Another Melbourne writer, Raymond Watson, however, takes a very different view.In his opinion piece, "Robert Manne, the intellectual hero" (News Weekly, August 5, 2006), Bill James notes Manne's lurch to the Left, but says he has remained consistent with his past principles. He writes: "We don't have to agree with everything he says, but he has earned the right to be listened to. He has paid his dues."
In view of Manne's previous defence of liberal democracy, and his staunch opposition to totalitarianism in the face of a leftist bias in Australian academe and political journalism - and out of gratitude for his publishing some of my journalism when he was editor of Quadrant
- I too was loath to criticise him.
However, when he took to the pages of Melbourne's Age
(September 16 and 25, 2002) to accuse The Australian's
Janet Albrechtsen, the Herald Sun
's Andrew Bolt and The Age's
Pamela Bone of "Islamophobia", I had second thoughts.Muslims and multiculturalism
He defined "Islamophobia" as "an ugly new phobia and a form of racism, part of a rightward drift in Australian political culture", which he attributed to the "the period of Hansonism, a response to Muslim asylum-seekers after the Tampa crisis and September 11".
The journalists were "guilty" of drawing attention to the growing fundamentalist tendencies within Australia's Muslim communities - something News Weekly
's own writers have also done and, in light of recent events, something which seems a valid subject of concern for those who wish to preserve liberal democracy in Australia.
Adding to the already formidable nomenclature of politically-fashionable multiculturalists, "Islamophobia" is, like the use of other negative terms such as "racism" and "xenophobia", freely used to anathematise opponents and dismiss their views as contemptible or unworthy of discussion.
As I wrote in National Observer
"Manne's radical transformation from leading conservative commentator to leading leftist critic of conservatism, has been dizzying to behold, but he seems to have lost his objectivity and part of his memory during the transition. As editor of Quadrant
, he published several letters or articles criticising multiculturalism's divisive effect upon Australia's national and social cohesion.
"He also published many letters warning of the possibility of Australian Muslim and Arab radicals siding with foreign powers and movements hostile to Western liberal democracy.
"It is historical revisionism to claim that these concerns are part of a new 'rightward drift in Australian political culture' that has only occurred since 1996 and can somehow be blamed upon the incumbent Federal Government and its policies.
"As far back as 1989, during the furore over Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses
- long before John Howard's prime ministership, Pauline Hanson or Middle Eastern 'boat people' came upon the scene, and long before September 11, 2001 - there were many articles in both Quadrant
and the Melbourne Age
warning of the phenomenon. But these were the days before Manne discovered Orwellian 'memory holes' down which inconvenient historical details can be made to disappear."
In December 1990, for instance, while Australian forces were participating in the Gulf War, and many Australian Muslims and Arabs took to the streets to support Iraqi forces opposed to our troops, he published a full-page letter of mine in Quadrant
, in which I wrote, in part:
"... Multiculturalism has not been able to separate the maintenance of customs, traditions and 'culture' from the political and ideological concerns of foreign countries. It has removed from immigrants the onus to be Australians first and foremost. ...
"When the policy of multiculturalism can be even partly to blame for what used to be known as treachery, it does not strike me as fantastic to worry about our nation's fate."
Manne may not necessarily have agreed with my views, but the essential issue is that he allowed me a full-page letter to express them. In other words, he was once prepared to disseminate views that he now simply dismisses as "racist".
When the major threat to Western liberal democracy was totalitarian communism, Manne correctly identified the enemy. I would suggest that in the current era, the major threat to liberal democracies is an Islamic fundamentalist jihad
In attacking precisely those commentators who warn against this threat, Manne is not only off-target, he is exhausting the "credit" of the "dues" Bill James claims he has paid - especially by the use of the scurrilous charge of "racism" to anathematise those with whom he disagrees.
This is neither "intellectual" nor "heroic".- Raymond Watson