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CounterPoint With Paul Morris

Paul Morris



“Not politically correct either”
It is hard to know quite how to respond to the two-part ranting rave on Islamofascism in recent issues of Salient. We should probably read and respond with roughly the same degree of seriousness of research and attention exhibited by the writer. These two pieces appeared under the rubric of ‘not politically correct’ and were clearly intended to shock and provoke rather than inform and generate reasoned debate and discussion.
The author laments that his substantive points and arguments about Islam have not been addressed, although his response to students who did reply in good faith was to lampoon and insult them. The wild assertions were justified on the grounds of ‘freedom of speech’, but the only issue that they seem to have generated is whether Perigo has finally gone beyond the pale or not. And while this may well be of some inherent interest to a tiny minority, it is hardly at the top of the global issues of our time. I subscribe to the freedom of the press but see this as a right that entails a duty to be informed and responsible, not a licence to distort and misrepresent.
But let us try and take the matter at face value. The claim is that terrorist attacks are motivated by the subscription to an ideology known as ‘Islamofascism’. This neologism has been taken up by the US president and others, and is now included in the latest Oxford Dictionary. Perhaps the attraction for its users is that just as fascism was defeated in the last century, so this so-called contemporary form of it will be too. The dictionary definitions are clear that ‘Islamofascism’ is an extreme position held in various forms by a small minority of Muslims.
My objections are the slippage from the correct or false attribution of a political ideology to a tiny minority of Muslims to the claim that Islam and all Muslims are Islamofascists. And this is exactly the claim made by Perigo and it is simply false.
Perigo insists that “Muslims must discover rationality and decency,” and that “Westerners must rediscover them,” but makes it very hard to take this seriously when he writes that Muslims require “robust sodomy as (they) bend towards Mecca.” This is neither rational nor particularly decent and can only be intended to be offensive.
We do live in a world that is increasingly religiously diverse and we do need to seriously think how we might live together in non-violent ways. This is an issue in New Zealand, in our schools, universities, workplaces, suburbs, and even sometimes in our families. Regionally too, our closest Asian neighbours are Muslim-majority countries and our Asia-Pacific region is home to many of the world’s religious traditions. Finally, globally we are going to have to try and live with each other. While we might agree with the call to condemn fascism in all its forms, we don’t really help anything with intemperate calls of ‘death’ to a religion of perhaps one and half billion people. The alternative is exactly Perigo’s rationality and decency – rational discussion and dialogue and a degree of decency that goes beyond, “You all ‘stink’ and I’m not going to listen to you.” Students are better off taking a course on Islam or joining a local interfaith group and actually meeting and talking to Muslims about what they actually believe and do.
Professor Paul Morris
Religious Studies
Victoria University of Wellington