Some churchmen seem to be afflicted by a disease similar to hydrophobia in a dog:
Scott Stephens, religion editor for ABC Online, is a former Uniting Church minister.Â You’d expect him to preach a milksop peace, reconciliation and love of even our enemies.
But Stephens has just published an astonishing paroxysm of abuse – a true shock-jock sermon.
He has found a heretic so evil – guess who – that he denounces this Beelzebub as not just “mad”, “lunatic” and “maniacal” but “idolatrous”.
Idolatrous?Â Now there’s a word we don’t hear much these days in a culture unmoored from its religious foundations.
So which faith have I wickedly blasphemed against with what Stephens calls my “pseudo-intellectual thuggery”, “vulgar generalisations” and “desiccated reason”?
Well, it’s not Christianity, of course. No violence against that faith ever prompts a Uniting Church minister, past or present, into this kind of vilication.
No, my sin is, of course, against Islam, which Scott rapturously praises as embracing “conscientious humility, the devout hesitation before the inscrutability of the Divine”. My sin is particularly against that faith’s great new preacher, an ABC presenter who Stephens says speaks “against the idolatry in one’s own heart”.
This preacher, Waleed Aly, was born in a land so distant from his father’s home in the Middle East, and Stephens says his “very presence, prominence even, in the Australian media is enough to give the most despondent among us hope” .
And in case you didn’t get the Messiah allusions in Stephens’ text, the ABC has published an accompanying photo-shopped picture showing Aly, former spokesman of the Islamic Council of Victoria, with blood pouring from wounds on his head, as if I’d pressed down with particular force a crown of thorns. (See above.)
I don’t think I could ever win an argument about Aly with a man determined to see him as a modern Christ. Against such faith, reason wilts.
Even so, it’s astonishing to see how Stephens tortures the truth, like some medieval Inquisitor.
My criticism of Aly – adopted by the ABC, Fairfax newspapers and Network 10’s The Project as a model moderate Muslim – was perfectly reasonable and easy to understand, I naively thought.
Asked on The Project to explain who’d stolen nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, Aly, who doubles as a lecturer at Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre, had claimed:Â “It’s hard to identify who they are and they might just be vigilantes”.
In fact, in his entire interview, not once did Aly say the girl-stealers were Boko Haram terrorists, identifying as Muslims. Not once did the word “Islamic” even cross his lips, even though Boko Haram’s leader had already been filmed telling the world had Allah commanded him to take these schoolgirls and sell them.
Be very clear about what I argued, because Stephens grossly misrepresents it.
I pointed out that these men claimed to be motivated by Islamic teachings.
“Nor is there any mystery about Boko Haram’s agenda.
“Boko Haram means ‘Western education is sinful’ â€” haram being the loaned Arabic word meaning sinful or forbidden by Allah. The group’s official title is Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad.
“In his latest video Shekau stated his group’s agenda so clearly a true terrorism expert could not have missed it.
“This was ‘a war against Christians’, Shekau shouted, and “real Muslims, who are following Salafism” should support him.
“‘Kill, kill, kill, kill.’”
And I concluded: “They are yet another variety of the Muslim extremists who have struck from Moscow to Mumbai, Bali to London, Syria to New York.”
Someone asked to explain the motivations and program of Boko Haram could not sensibly avoid mentioning they were Islamists. How else could we understand, for instance, why Boko Haram has declared war on Christians and slaughtered thousands, or why it demands shariah law be imposed in Western Africa?
You don’t have to agree with Boko Haram’s interpretation of Islam, and hundreds of millions of Muslims don’t . But pretending it isn’t an interpretation – with Boko Haram itself quoting passages from the Koran to justify enslaving female captives and killing infidels – is intellectually dishonest.
To be fair, Stephens is not quite that dishonest. He actually agrees Boko Haram has roots in Islam, even if he is far quicker than me to distance it from Islamic tradition.
“Boko Haram is, at best, a kind of bastard Salafism,” Stephens writes.
“Perhaps more accurately, it represents the still-born offspring of Salafist ahistorical restorationism and unprincipled political opportunism, on the one hand, and Wahhabist anti-intellectual supremacism, on the other. This corrupted and all-corrupting Salafabist hybrid …Â has been aggressively disseminated and massively funded throughout the Muslim world – including Nigeria – by Saudi Arabia, who promote it, not as one expression or sect of Islam, but as Islam tout court.”
It’s odd that Stephens, the former Uniting Church minister, believes he knows better than Saudi Arabia’s leaders and imams the truth of Islam, which he says actually advocates “devout hesitation before the inscrutability of the Divine” and urges a “penitent, generous life in shared pursuit of mercy, charity and beauty”.
The fact that a rich Muslim power has spread a radically different view through much of the Muslim world – and that dozens of terrorist groups do likewise – should make Stephens wonder, as I do, whether the Koran too easily lends itself to interpretations that licence terrorism, intolerance, oppression and the subjugation of women.
But this isn’t an argument I covered in this column on Aly, other than to note in a single sentence that Boko Haram again raised a question the Left did not want to debate and which it looked to Aly to deflect: “Is Islam a threat?”
My column instead criticised Aly for not acknowledging what even Stephens does – the Islamic roots of Boko Haram’s program.
So it’s strange to find Stephens then demonising me as “mad”, “lunatic”, “maniacal” and “idolatrous” for making this rather obvious point. What could possibly be my sin?
I suspect it’s just the “vibe of the thing” – my pointing out (correctly) that yet another terrorist group claimed Islam as its inspiration, and that the Left’s favourite Muslim apologist had pretended not to even notice.
So if Stephens essentially agrees with me, how can he then rationalise his mortification, fury and collectivist support for a fellow ABC staffer?
Simple. He invents my transgressions.
“What Bolt wants from Waleed Aly, it would seem, is the same maniacal lucidity that Abubakar Shekau exhibits,” Stephens claims.
“Without the slightest hesitation, the leader of Boko Haram can claim to speak in the name of God…”
No, Scott. That’s not what I want or argued. I made plan that I merely wanted Aly to acknowledge exactly what you’ve just said, that “the leader of Boko Haram can claim to speak in the name of God”.
Stephens again:Â “It is not at all clear to me that Waleed Aly was being purposefully evasive in his description of Boko Haram. If anything, his attempt to characterise so impossibly diffuse and promiscuous an ‘organisation’ suffered from too much detail.”
False again. Aly’s description contained absolutely no detail, including the most obvious of all – that the group claimed Islamic inspiration. Aly even suggested the girl-stealing could have been done by “vigilantes”, although the leader of Boko Haram had already taken credit on video. And Aly has a history of such evasions, in my opinion, examples of which I gave.
Stephens again: “What Bolt wants, in other words, is for Aly to admit the “obvious”: that Islam is defined by the conduct of those who purport to be Muslims.”
False again: No, I just wanted Aly to admit the girl-stealing was by Boko Haram, and that it claimed to act from Islamic principles.Â That’s it. That’s all I wrote.
True, elsewhere I have argued that an ideology should be judged not just by what it says but the behaviour it actually inspires, yet I cannot see Stephens really quarrelling with that truism. Isn’t that how many people legitimately question, say, Marxism, arguing it means well but, alas, leads too easily to evil? (That’s not quite my argument, I should add.)
In the same way I should ask Stephens what faith he follows that licences such abuse, such misrepresentation and such intellectual evasion? Against which faith have I been so “idolatrous” that I must be pronounced not just wrong but “mad”?
I suspect Stephens, in fact, is the true voice of the “maniacal clarity” he denounces. Witness him now scourging blasphemers and diagnosing madness in any who dare mock his new Christ.