Less than a week after police thwarted a plot by jihadists to attack St. Paul’s Cathedral and Federation square, we read Fairfax propaganda that the barbarians are again at the gate, preparing to destroy our civilization and our way of life. The ironic thing is that in this narrative the barbarians are Christians.
The Age’s Chris Johnston complains with the horror of a housewife discovering a rat in the pantry, that not only are the eastern suburbs infested with Christians, but many of them even hold office in local councils. Johnston’s article, Melbourne’s New Bible Belt Where Politics Swings to the Right, looks like something rehashed from the old Soviet rag Pravada and the more recent ISIS publication Dabiq – a recent issue of the latter was entitled “Breaking the Cross” about depopulating the world of Christians – both publications are known propagate the view that Christians are the enemy of the state, whether communist or caliphate.
Johnston’s article was not a piece of investigative journalism benignly describing the religious demographics of eastern Melbourne, nor neutrally reporting the religious affiliation of certain local leaders. His obvious intention was to imbibe prejudice into his readers, manufacturing outrage that Christians are holding political office and – heaven forfend – seeking to govern out of those Christian values.
Let me say a number of things in response.
First, hmm, I have heard this argument somewhere before. Oh yes, now I remember. Back in Germany in the 1930s there were vicious pamphlets published saying that the Jews were over-represented in public offices in the Reichstag and in the Weimar government. There was the imminent danger of the judaizing of the German people. Also, in modern day Israel, ultra-Orthodox leaders claim that Arabs and Muslims are over-represented in the Israeli Knesset, and the nation is on the verge of being overrun by fertile Muslim mothers and their children. In India, Hindu nationalists resent the representation of Muslims in the national assembly. Then, in Fiji, indigenous leaders seek to curtail the powers of ethnic Indians who are elected to office.
Johnston’s article belongs to the same genre as the above writings. Complaining that some minority, ethnic or religious, has somehow manipulated their way to power and now threaten to destroy all that we hold dear and distinctive about our way of life. Let’s not muck around, this is the rhetoric of political hatred against a minority.
To be clear, if someone is elected to office in a fair and transparent democratic process, then irrespective of their ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation, or gender, they are the rightful representatives that the people decided upon. When a journalist like Chris Johnston outs certain politicians as “Christian,” he is engaging in an ad hominem argument of the circumstantial species, appealing to the circumstances of his implied readers, who are meant to be horrified that such a large cohort of Christians hold office. This type of journalism does for multi-culturalism what Hannibal Lecter does for vegetarianism.
Second, particularly appalling was his treatment of Casey Council Mayor Sam Aziz and his children. I won’t defend every single view, personal and political that Aziz has, but I believe he has the right to hold them and he has the right to hold office. In a secular state public office has no religious qualifications and no religious disqualifications, that is the whole idea behind secular government! For frac sake, separation of church and state does not mean barring people of faith from political office. Look, if Johnston wants to critique Aziz’s beliefs and policies, fine, but using his ethnicity and religion against him is a cheap shot. Johnston even named the school that Aziz’s children attend and conveniently cherry-picked their doctrinal statement to portray them as right-wing fanatics. This is beyond poor form, it is malicious and malevolent.
Australia has a significant Coptic diaspora, many fled Egypt because of the discrimination, intimidation, violence, and terrorism against them. The bombing of the Coptic Cairo Cathedral only three weeks ago is the testimony of how Copts live in constant fear and why many long to come to Australia. For such reasons you’d think that Johnston might show some restraint or at least offer a disclaimer. Instead, Aziz was portrayed as some right-wing religious fundamentalist lunatic, and spoke about him as if he was just about to be appointed as secretary of pacifying unions and suppressing gays in the Trump administration.
The Copts are adherents of one of the oldest sects of Christianity that emerged almost 2,000 years ago. Our history stretches back thousands of years connecting us to ancient Egypt. The Coptic language is the last form of the ancient Egyptian language. The Copts have faced the violence of sectarian persecution, as have many other ancient peoples of the Middle East. The Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, the Yazidis and the Kurds have all been on the front line, taking the brunt of violent extremism of Daesh. They deserve our support.
Rather than support a persecuted Middle Eastern minority, Johnston offers the type of ethno-religious hatred one would expect from an alternative universe where Pauline Hanson was a left-wing journalist. While I’m venting my spleen, can someone tell me how the firecracker do social progressives like Johnston advocate the virtues of multi-culturalism, pluralism, inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance, when they try to manufacture a witch hunt against an Egyptian Copt and his family. Oh wait, I know. They believe in sexual diversity and ethnic diversity, but not in a diversity of ideas, those who think differently must be demonized and destroyed.
Third, to demonstrate the incivility and bigotry of Johnston’s article, try reading his article and changing “Christian” to “Jew” and “Satan” to “Israel.” It makes a fun read, here’s an example.
Casey’s mayor, Sam Aziz, is a devout Orthodox Jew, born in Israel. His children go to Beth Hillel College, a private school in Kensington that highlight its “conservative stance” on moral issues to prospective parents and teaches a literal interpretation of the Tanak. One of their ‘foundational faith statements’ on the school website reads: “We believe in the continuing existence of Israel.”
Or let’s do the same with Muslims:
Casey’s mayor, Sam Aziz, is a devout Muslim, born in Egypt. His children go to King Khalid Islamic College, a private school in Coburg that highlight its “conservative stance” on moral issues to prospective parents and teaches a literal interpretation of the Qur’an. One of their ‘foundational faith statements’ on the school website reads: “We believe in the actual existence of Muhammed.”
Seriously, if someone wrote either of these statements about a Jew or Muslim there would be outrage, and rightly so. And yet, it is somehow socially acceptable and politically expedient to engage in such bitter and rancorous polemics against Christian politicians for the heinous crime of being Christian.
I’m no fan of religious political groups like Rise-Up Australia, I despise ethno-nationalism that uses religion as currency, I believe in secularism (properly understood), and I believe that Christians of all types, whether progressive or conservative, make invaluable contributions to our society. As a priest, I work with people of all faiths and none, I deal with all sorts of saints and lunatics, and let me tell you something: I know prejudice when I see it, I know it exists on both the left and the right, and I see its ugliness in Johnston.
Johnston exhibits the typical deficiency of the left, unable to muster arguments that are either convincing or compelling, their cerebral fonts are dry, their cognitive wombs are barren, and intellectually bereft as they are they resort to the only possible tool of discourse left to them: prejudicial rhetoric rooted in their own ideological self-righteousness. That, to be frank, is how we got BREXIT, Trump, and Senator Pauline Hanson. So good luck with that!
My plea to Johnston.
Try reading your article through the lens of a fourteen year old girl at St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox College in Donvale who came to Australia fleeing violence in Egypt.
Forget the cannabis flavoured tofu in Brunswick and try a steak and salad in Blackburn across the table from one of these councilors you’re dissing with Peter Khalil as a mediator.
Have a go at writing a substantial argument rather than resorting to ad hominem polemics about somebody’s religion.
PS. Enjoy the rest of advent.