Chomsky Lite, with a Scottish Accent

“Senator, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader,
and neither has anyone on my behalf.”

I didn’t expect to see so many people at Galloway’s speech last night. The hall at Auckland Girls’ Grammar was packed out with a variety of people, from Muslim New Zealanders of different flavours to activists to politicians to just interested non-Muslim Kiwis. I suppose I don’t know what I was expecting – a small cosy discussion panel. Anyway, I was wrong.

Scottish MP George Galloway leapt to international attention a few years ago when he appeared before the US Senate to answer charges related to the so-called UN oil-for-food scandal. He took the opportunity to make a speech about the United States’ illegal invasion of Iraq, which spread like porn across the Internet, and he became a bit of a hero.

Then he ended up on Celebrity Big Brother. Huh.

The event was organised by the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, along with Residents Action Movement, a growing socialist Auckland City Council faction. Ostensibly, RAM/FIANZ was responding to the “Mosques and Miracles” conference tour of New Zealand by Australian evangelical speakers/writers Stuart Robinson and Daniel Shayesteh. The tour, organised by Vision Network of New Zealand, was apparently mostly closed to the public – a point that probably seems a bit more sinister than it is.

Both Shayesteh and Robinson are former Muslims, now converted to evangelical Christianity. Their fervour for demonising their ex-religion and promoting their newfound serotonin is no real surprise. Converts later in life are almost always more fanatical than those who grew up with their religion, partly because their conversion is a significant life-altering event for them, and partly because their old beliefs seem all the more evil to them due to the contrast.

The same is true, for example, of Christians-turned-Wiccans. Any number of times I have heard from such a person, “The Bible tells people to… <insert atrocity here>” Converts always feel especially authoritative in criticising the religion of their past, or lack thereof. The difference is that few have a massive and wealthy support structure through which to voice their zeal, like that of the evangelical Christians.

One could be forgiven for wondering if excerpts from Robinson’s book Mosques and Miracles, quoted by RAM organiser Grant Morgan, have been taken out of context. However, it’s hard to imagine what kind of context would render intelligible such utterances as, “Muslims always build mosques on mountainsides… [as] places to retreat when they have destroyed the surrounding cities.” Giving the benefit of the doubt, one might hope the comment was prefaced with, “I once heard a fucking retard say…”

Galloway is a talented orator, and while points of substance were scattered amongst standard left-wing crowd-pleasing platitudes (“Real Christians believe in the Prophets, these guys believe in the profits!” – cue laughter, applause), I found myself more appreciative of Paul Buchanan’s succinct words. With little trace on his face of the unpleasant week he’s had (fired from his lecturing position, commence conspiracy theories at your leisure), Buchanan noted simply and clearly that we are far more at risk of a tsunami than a terrorist attack in New Zealand. He did say, and others echoed him, that the long path to sectarian violence in New Zealand begins with suspicion and fear of the Vision Network variety, and all speakers were clear: it’s not a first step we should take.

Grant Morgan had the misfortune of appearing alongside skilled and experienced speakers, though his good nature shone through any lack of oratorical proficiency. I found his points a little confused, though. He expressed a concern that evangelical Christian networks were inventing or exaggerating “the Muslim threat” for political gain. We all applauded when he said that only around 30 people turned up at the Wellington evangelical meeting – that most Kiwis don’t want a bar of that nonsense. And then he proclaimed the virtues of Residents Action Movement and its commitment to multicultural diversity in the upcoming council elections. Now, I’m no genius, but couldn’t organising a popular international speaker in response to an admittedly tiny group of anti-Islamic nutters with RAM flyers everywhere in the lead-up to a council election be considered to be inventing or exaggerating a threat for political gain?

Someone from the audience near the front seemed to think so; though, given his rudeness in yelling out to interrupt Morgan, I’d like to think he hadn’t thought about it as much as I just did. “You’re fearmongering!” called the man, and Grant Morgan addressed the point quite politely before continuing. The point, though, I think remains.

It would be a bit more a point if RAM didn’t have several other strong campaign platforms, not the least of which is public transport and climate change in Auckland. They are hardly a one-item voucher.

Christians versus Muslims isn’t a concern for me, theologically speaking. I’m not inclined to pay attention to people arguing over the colour of Santa Claus’s socks. But religious freedom – both institutionally and societally – is a value I hold dear.

Basically, fuck off, Aussie evangelical preachers. Here in New Zealand, we don’t think it’s “cool” to be a “cunt” to people.

12 Comments Chomsky Lite, with a Scottish Accent

  1. Rich

    Did I see you up at the back on the right?

    Paul Buchanan was very good in his measured fashion. What’s the background to his firing – was he on a fixed contract that expired?

    Reply
  2. Anti-Flag

    Galloway was great, if you enjoy superficial political rhetoric. I respect the guy and appreciate his passion, but his politics is naive. Buchanan didn't say anything profound. He merely stated the obvious about the ridiculousness of a Muslim threat here in NZ. Thanks Buchanan, you really are a fountain of knowledge! I found myself thinking…And as for him being fired, I found it hilarious that he had the audacity to come speak at a conference on Islamophobia- especially considering the reason (or one of) for being fired in the first place. A strategic move on his part? Or had nothing better to do that night? Who knows.

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  3. Ryan Sproull

    I have yet to read the letter he sent the student, and don’t know enough about the surrounding circumstances to really comment.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Sahar’s hatred of Buchanan–for reasons that seem to be due to her hallucination that he is a Zionist CIA spy–discredits anything she says about him, either by name or pseudonym. She was a major part of the movement to have Buchanan fired, and she is the most vocal voice bringing up the bogus racist claim about the email. She needs to understand the notions of defamation and character assasination before she continues down the anti-Buchanan track.

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  5. Anti-Flag

    Anonymous(care to name yourself? ): I suggest you get your facts straight. What movement are you talking about? Care to fill me in? I’d appreciate that. If by ‘movement’ you mean the lecturers within the politics department who were insulted by Buchanan and most likely were involved in this final decision to fire him.

    Or if by ‘movement’ you mean the student who received the email that insulted her in every possibly way? And how was it bogus? I’ve read the email and it is dripping of racism. Are you going to tell that student that it WASN’T racist? That’s a special sort of arrogance. Perhaps your admiration for Buchanan is clouding your reading comprehension. (assuming you’ve even read it) The student who made the complaint wasn’t even asking for him to be fired, but expected disciplinary action considering the serious nature of the email. I guess Buchanan had stepped over the mark too many times and the complaint was the final straw.

    Oh, and there’s no need for me to defame him, his behaviour alone has done that.

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  6. Bryce

    Thanks for the interesting post. A friend of mine also went to the meeting and had the following to report:

    Auckland Girls Grammer auditorium was packed tonight for the Galloway talk in Auckland. Last night around 400 had turned up to the talk at University and tonight there may have been 800 present. The crowd looked like a mix of people from the Muslim communities and middle class liberals.

    Galloway was very engaging as a speaker, very much the old-school orator, speaking without notes, injecting humour while delivering his message. The first part was an impassioned appeal against “Islamaphobia”, which would have resonated more if there was such a movement on the march in NZ. The rest of his speech was better as it was a blistering attack on the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. What was lacking though was an appreciation of NZ’s status as an imperialist country. Calling for NZ troops out of Afghanistan to ‘uphold NZ’s good name’ was weird, as if this country was not part of the US-imperialist bloc and sent troops here and there out of poor judgement.

    Opposing the invasion of Iraq was where Galloway shone. And if he’d been brought out to NZ to reach out to a wider audience than the antiwar movement has to date, that would have been a great thing. Instead he was here to oppose a Christian gathering that was attended by 30 people.

    Just how little traction Islamaphobia has in NZ was inadvertently highlighted in Grant Morgan’s talk which proceeded Galloway’s. Morgan noted that the Christian group visiting from Australia which he claimed was spreading a message of hate against Islam drew only 30 to its conference in Wellington. When Morgan repeatedly issued his dire warning of the threat of Islamaphobia rising in NZ someone from the audience interjected “no there’s not, you are scaremongering”. Morgan then concluded the heckler may be one of the Christian fundamentalists he had been talking about.

    Javed Khan, president of Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ was the first speaker of the evening. He was full of praise for the government and for the diversity and “inclusiveness” of NZ society (though how included the refugees in Mt Eden prison or the deportees feel is debatable).

    Paul Buchanan spoke, although he was only introduced by name, he is a lecturer and an international security analyst & director of the Working Group on Alternative Security Perspectives at the University of Auckland. He talked about ‘risk assessment’ and pointed out that Islam was no great danger to the world.

    The MC, Robin Hughes (RAM councillor on the ARC) made special mention of the MPs present in the audience several times.

    RAM’s leaflet was pretty odd. While exhorting people to respect all faiths, and to treat Muslims accordingly on the front of the leaflet was a picture of a woman dressed in dark headscarf and top. However, the “Muslim Woman” in the picture is not Muslim at all. It was in fact a member of Socialist Worker, dressed up as a religious Muslim.

    The message of tolerance wasn’t extended by RAM to activists who wanted to hand leaflets outside the hall entrance. Workers Party people were told to clear out beyond the grounds, out through the car park to the street. Grant Morgan made a point of loudly trying to move us along when we handed out leaflets for a protest supporting refugees in Mt Eden prison who have been detained for years. One is on a hunger strike that is in its 17th day. Morgan put the security guard on to those of us handing out the leaflet, after his yelling failed to budge us from where were were standing (2 metres away from the doorway). At first he maintained he didn’t want a crush of people at the door – but there were four doors that could have been opened on to a large empty foyer. But only one door was opened and there was no congestion at all. Activists from Students for Justice in Palestine were also told to clear off.

    A bit of Marxismaphobia perhaps?
    ——–
    Bryce
    http://www.liberation.org.nz

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  7. geofrey hamlin rainey

    anti-flag et al,

    I think the email was indeed harsh, but I disagree in suggesting it was racially motivated. He said she was “preying on some Western liberal guilt”. A foolish outburst indeed, but racist? please, it’s just dumb to say that – that’s a branding technique internalized by certain individuals – like you, to punish someone for their views because they disagree with yours, ie, anyone who suggests there is an Islamic threat must be branded a racist. This is of course a good way to get adversaries defending their position against racism when that’s not even the issue at hand, which is a potential future Islamic threat in this country, not an untenable idea and indeed quite reasonable a discussion one would think considering our allies are facing this threat – of course that’s unless you want to believe first class liar Michael Moore with his razor sharp insight around 9/11 – “There is no terrorist threat against our country”.

    What bothers me mostly is one who listens to and praises individuals’ such as George Galloway spreading his vitriolic message of hatred against his opponents, and arguing that this is progressive, and enlightening. While simultaneously condemning and vilifying an individual like Paul Buchanan for a little angry outburst that really only needs minor disciplinary action taken against him, or a group of Christian people exercising their right to open and free discussion of ideas on Islamic extremism in our country. This results in the suppression of these ideas from public discourse due to the fear of being branded something so insidious as racist. All this really because they are in disagreement with you and your present version of the truth (based on what you’ve read, or haven’t) – which is absolute of course. If you want to talk about tolerance, this is it right here, and your ideas appear to be deeply intolerant of others’ ideas.

    The author Patrick Buchanan (not related) says this is what the Marxist theoretician Marcuse called repressive tolerance; “Intolerance of movements from the right, but toleration of movements from the left”. Such arguments seem so accurate when applied to reasoning as yours, don’t you think?

    Kind regards,
    Geofrey Rainey.

    Reply
  8. Ryan Sproull

    Geoffrey,

    You seem to be under the impression that “tolerance” involves letting any old idiotic utterance go unanswered for fear of being labelled “intolerant” by someone such as yourself. The Mosques and Miracles people were saying idiotic things. They were exercising their right to say idiotic things, yes, but no more than the Voices of Peace people were exercising their right to point out the idiocy.

    As for racism, it’s worth keeping in mind that most racists don’t know that they’re racist. It is, as you say, insidious – which means not just “very bad”, but gradual and difficult to detect.

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  9. geofrey hamlin rainey

    Ryan,

    The following press release indicates to me an unwarranted branding to publicly stigmatize a group for talking about an important issue on aspects of Islam:

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0707/S00314.htm

    Therefore, I’d like to know what exactly it is you think the Mosques and Miracles people are saying that’s idiotic?
    Furthermore, do you think someone like Stuart Robinson is the sort of person that would say something like the following to a person?

    “Basically, fuck off, Muslims. Here in New Zealand, we don’t think it’s “cool” to be a “cunt” to people.”

    Reply
  10. Ryan Sproull

    The following press release indicates to me an unwarranted branding to publicly stigmatize a group for talking about an important issue on aspects of Islam:

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0707/S00314.htm

    That’s a press release from the organisers.

    Therefore, I’d like to know what exactly it is you think the Mosques and Miracles people are saying that’s idiotic?

    That all mosques are centres of war against non-Muslims, that Muslims have an obligation to rape and murder virgin non-Muslim women, etc. I have yet to be killed by any Muslims I know. Or raped.

    Furthermore, do you think someone like Stuart Robinson is the sort of person that would say something like the following to a person?

    “Basically, fuck off, Muslims. Here in New Zealand, we don’t think it’s “cool” to be a “cunt” to people.”

    You mean make a blanket statement about all Muslims? Yeah, he probably would. But you’ll note that I didn’t say, “Fuck off, Christians.” I said, “Fuck off, Aussie evangelical preachers,” clearly specifically talking about these particular speakers.

    They’re ex-Muslim evangelical Christian converts with a hard-on to discredit their previous religion. Christians who already don’t like Muslims (or, potentially, don’t like Arabs or Pakistanis or Indonesians) love such speakers, calling them “experts”.

    Naturally, such a title isn’t similarly bestowed on people like myself, who used to be Christian (and even studied to be a pastor). While Christian ex-Muslims are “experts on Islam”, Buddhist ex-Christians are not experts on Christianity.

    Daniel Shayesteh is associated with a political party that has advocated a moratorium on letting Muslims into the country. I mean, think about that. They’re talking about denying people immigration on the basis of their religious faith.

    But no matter how many current Muslims say, “Hey, um, I’m just trying to raise my kids and hold down a job and save for retirement over here,” they don’t count as experts, unlike these preachers who claim that Muslims are religiously bound to declare violent war on all non-Christians.

    It’s just daft. I’m not saying such nonsense should be quashed by the Government or anything. Let Daniel Shayesteh speak, let David Irwing speak, however nutty they all are. But nothing in my sense of tolerance compels me to refrain from pointing out nuttiness.

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  11. geofrey hamlin rainey

    That’s a press release from the organisers.

    Yes, what’s your point?


    I have yet to be killed by any Muslims I know. Or raped.

    I have yet to be killed also but it is relative to any immediate threat. I will add though that I am reluctant
    to accept such statements unless it is referenced to some authoritative source such as Robinson himself, but I can’t find such a source, so since you are suggesting you’re quoting him, what is the reference?


    But you’ll note that I didn’t say, “Fuck off, Christians.” I said, “Fuck off, Aussie evangelical preachers,” clearly specifically talking about these particular speakers.

    We should verify all facts before having this discussion really.

    While Christian ex-Muslims are “experts on Islam”, Buddhist ex-Christians are not experts on Christianity.

    I think you mean People who already don’t like something love those that endorse their views, calling them experts.


    They’re talking about denying people immigration on the basis of their religious faith.

    Yes that sounds bad. It’s very analogous to Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria.

    Reply

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