19 September 2006

Dingbat Or Dementor?

There's a certain type of white chick that I first started seeing in the late 60s/early 70s, middle class to upper middle class, reasonably educated, semi-good looking, but maybe just a little vacant. They'd hang around the hippie or whatever other boho scene was on offer, but though they wore the right clothes and mouthed the right slogans, they never completely fit in. It was as though they were looking for something more. More what, you ask? Well, ideally something that would really put the boot in to Daddy. When it became clear that the old duffer wouldn't be suitably rattled by marijuana, unkempt hair, and warbly acid rock, the next step was often to turn up with a black boyfriend.

When I say "black boyfriend," I'm not referring to a romantic partner who happens to be of African descent. I'm talking about the kind of guy generally known, especially among other streetwise black guys, by words we no longer repeat in polite company. The kind of guy prone to hanging about on street corners and, in between drug deals or panhandling, hissing lascivious suggestions at anything resembling a female passerby. If anyone - especially Daddy - suggests that he's less than ideal boyfriend material, she responds with accusations of racism and passionate declarations that the bf in question is a "lovely" person whose only problem is having been misunderstood by society.

Fast forward a couple years and you'll see her, purse-lipped and pinch-faced, a kid or three in tow, and the misunderstood man of her dreams nowhere in sight unless, of course, it's welfare cheque day, and/or he's in jail waiting for her to go his bail.

This phenomenon seems just as common in the UK as it was in the USA, but here in Britain there seems to be a new variation on the theme, wherein instead of taking up with a ghetto hustler, the angst-ridden female rebel finds herself smitten with a Muslim fundamentalist, converts to his religion, and soon can be seen, similarly purse-lipped and pinch-faced, sporting a hijab or modified burkha, trailing a few respectful paces behind hubby as they head down to the Post Office on giro day. Raise so much as an eyebrow at her and bang, you're a hatemongering Islamophobe.

I know nothing about Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting apart from her writing, but I've often thought she represents the intellectual equivalent of the dingbat described above. In Bunting's fantasy world, there was never a street thug or an Islamist bombthrower who wasn't at heart as cuddly as a kitten and gentle as a little lamb. And if either of these characters ever did indulge in a little murder or mayhem that wasn't quite acceptable in civilised society, it certainly wasn't their fault. No, they were obviously driven to it, forced and manipulated, I say, by the diabolical machinations of the white, patriarchal, Christian, imperialist male hierarchy.

Her latest upwelling of indignation is directed at the Pope. As I noted the other day, I've never been a big fan of the guy, but when it comes down to it, at worst he was making the kind of statement you'd expect of any religious or political leader, i.e., my gang's better than yours, and at best, raising a very valid question about whether it is ever appropriate to use violence in pursuit of one's religious beliefs.

But not according to Bunting. No, in her view, the man is dangerous. She talks about an elderly nun being shot to death in Somalia, about churches being firebombed in the West Bank, and makes it sound as though it was the Pope himself who did it. She buys, hook, line and sinker, into the notion that Muslims have no choice but to throw themselves into an orgy of violence every time somebody expresses an opinion that they don't like. "Islam is a peaceful religion," they cry, "and if you say it isn't, we'll kill you."

"Reverence for the Prophet is a non-negotiable," Bunting bleats, "What unites all Muslims is a passionate devotion and commitment to protecting the honour of Muhammad." Hang on just a minute here: unless Bunting is herself a Muslim, which I'm pretty sure she isn't, why is Muhammad being referred to as "the Prophet" as though it were a fact rather than the opinion of a religious sect? And if he's anywhere near as holy or as powerful as his followers suppose, why on earth would his "honour" need protecting by hordes of half-crazed individuals working themselves into a frenzy in the streets?

I've never once seen Bunting refer to Jesus Christ as "the Son of God," even though his status as such is every bit as much an article of faith with Christians as Muhammad's standing as "Prophet" is with Muslims. Not that she should, but why does she pander to the superstitions/beliefs (take your pick) of one religion while completely ignoring or dismissing those of another? Because she's a dingbat, has always been my pat answer, but of late a darker suspicion has entered my mind.

Could it be that her coddling and cultivation of clearly evil men and values mark her out as one of the Dementors? Readers of the Harry Potter series will recognise them, described by Remus Lupin as "the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can't see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

Too harsh? Bear in mind that the Pope never so much as hinted that violence directed at Islam would ever be appropriate. On the contrary, he unequivocally stated the opposite. Yet when fanatics scream that the Pope must be executed, that those who insult Islam should be "subject to capital punishment," do we hear a word of protest or concern from Bunting? No, somehow it is the Pope and the Pope alone who is responsible. Sticks and stones, anyone?

It would be one thing if Bunting were the product of some backward culture or country, if she'd been denied an education and fed a steady diet of the sort of superstitious nonsense that persuades people that their "God" wants nothing more than for them to die in the act of slaughtering others. But she's a child of the Enlightenment, the beneficiary of an advanced liberal education, holder of a highly privileged position in a highly privileged society, yet she squanders that inheritance on defending the indefensible and cherishing precisely those men who, given half a chance, would have her shrouded in a burkha and locked away in a medieval harem.

So: is she just plain dumb? Or is something more invidious at work here? A well-intentioned dingbat or a just-plain-evil Dementor? My generous view of human nature would prefer the former, but the feeling of peace, hope, and happiness being drained out of me every time I read a Bunting column leads me reluctantly to suspect otherwise.


Anonymous said...

About the Pope think, Canadian political strategist Gwynne Dyer put it best:

Most Muslims are well aware that violence is an inappropriate way to protest against accusations that Islam is a violent faith, but why do they care what the Pope says?

Benedict needs a few lessons in manners, but the real reason for the uproar is that so many Muslims feel under attack by the West. Two Muslim countries have been invaded by the United States and its allies since 9/11, and another, Lebanon, has been bombed to ruins by Israel with full support from the US and Britain.

At least 20 times as many Muslims have died in these brutal wars as the number of Americans who died in the 9/11 attacks, and almost none had anything to do with that terrorist atrocity.

So the suspicion grows among Muslims that all this is not really about 9/11 at all, and almost any minor insult to Islam from the West - cartoons in a provincial Danish newspaper, a foolish quote by an arrogant Pope - is enough to trigger outrage from Morocco to Indonesia.

We haven't achieved a full-scale "clash of civilisations" yet, but we're making progress.

Patrick said...

You completely lost me with the Harry Potter paragraph. NERD ALERT