We rarely go out on Monday nights because we don’t want t miss ‘Q&A’, an hour-long ABC TV programme with a panel of interesting people and a live audience. Usually there are two Australian politicians from opposites sides, but this week the panellists were all foreign writers who were attending Sydney Writers’ Festival.
The most interesting, I thought, was a woman called Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As you can see from the screenshot below, she is remarkably beautiful. And as you might guess from her name, she was born a Muslim. She writes about the need for reform in Islam. One of her books is called ‘Heretic’: I haven’t read it, so I can’t personally recommend it.
I was particularly taken with her accusation that white liberal infidels are reticent about criticising Islamic dogma and custom, even those aspects that stand in stark contradiction to the ideals of liberal democracy – including forced marriage, devaluation of women and persecution of homosexuals and religious minorities. She used the phrase “bigotry of low expectations,” referring to a failure to hold Muslims to account because they cannot be expected to meet the standards we demand of our own kind.
This resonated with me. I am guilty of this kind of bigotry and so are most of my fellow-citizens. For example, Aborigines are not expected to succeed in the mainstream world of study and work. They are patronised, subsidised, favoured and cosseted in ways that guarantee a continuation of low achievement from generation to generation.
By the same token we make excuses for unconscionable conduct for which perpetrators claim a religious pretext. I am thinking, for example, of halal and kosher slaughtering of animals and opting out of the general obligation to vaccinate one’s children. There was even a case, reported this morning, where a group of accused men refused to stand when the judge entered the courtroom. Their lawyer claimed that their faith forbade them to stand for anyone but Allah, and cited precedence.
Perhaps it’s our legacy of colonial guilt that makes us unwilling to demand as much from people of other races and faiths as we demand from ourselves, but I agree with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This is bigotry and we should shrug it off, and tell people to pull their socks up and behave like decent, responsible citizens irrespective of their ethnicity or religious affiliation.