ANGRY PEOPLE: Both The Age and The Australian ran pieces by me this week. Lots of mail resulted, most of it the cheery, happy kind, but much also from hostile anti-Tim factions.
Here's one response to the column in The Age, which made fun of Monty Python member Terry Jones's absurd demand that Al Qaeda terrorists captured by US forces should not have their heads covered, burka-style:
"Dear Mr Blair,
"After reading your article 'Of bags, burkas and Western Arrogance', I'd like to make you aware of some incredible 'arrogance' (read: historical inaccuracy and misinformation) you portrayed while accusing the likes of Salter, Fisk, Leunig, Pilger, FitzSimons and Jones of similar misdeeds.
"I don't want to sound like an 'apologist' for any of those fanatic and anti-democratic groups like the Taliban and I don't condone the Taliban's extremist and 'Un-Islamic' interpretation of the Muslims scripture, Quran, in relation to the dress code for the (Afghan) women (not just for women but for men too which doesn't get a single mention in any Western media); however, I need to remind you of a (historical) fact which you greatly overlooked about the history of 'Burka' in Afghanistan which many rural, regional and even urban-living Afghan women have traditionally been wearing -- 'outside home' -- as an 'unofficial' national dress code for almost two and half centuries. Yep, you heard it right, nearly 250 years."
Wow! 250 years! I guess that means we in the West should revert to the ancient tradition of denying women the vote. Tradition is everything. Nothing must change!
"While in the Muslim world, the Talbanesque style of an Islamic governmentality is (rightly) not widely supported or respected as the only and 'puritan' form of an Islamic State (as the Taleban have always claimed to implement) which according to Muslim scholars, their imposition of such type of 'Islamic' dress code (head to toe Burka) even breached the orthodox Islam's notion of an 'Islamic Hijab' (head scarf) as well as significantly violating the women's right."
Right to what? Blah, blah, blah. This email was longer than my article, and even less logical. Whoever wrote it signed off as "Ozi Media-Junkie". I suspect we're dealing with a tragic victim of journalism school. He/she/it continues:
"Now lets closely examine your clever attempt to the jump to the high moral ground of journalistic commentary. I always believed that journalists are trained to be partial observers and objective commentators. I just wonder if a little bit of research could have put some credibility into your diatribe against 'arrogant' commentators. Little background info would not have harmed you argument and article's authority, it might have even brought you couple of more readers.
"I find it puzzling that for someone like you who's a keen advocate of free speech, is attacking those rival commentators from the other end of the political spectrum for being self critical of our Histories, Official policies and our dealing with the rest of the world in this 'uncertain' and borderless global village. It's not shame to disseminate information but it's shame to censor information."
Criticism is censorship. And spelling, grammar, and brevity lie bleeding on the ground.
Here's another missive, this one written by an actual academic from an Australian university, taking issue with me over my column in The Australian about McDonald's:
"Fastidious supporters of globalisation don't welcome scrutiny of their position. Question the universal benefits of free trade and pretty quickly you're plastered as a flat-earther, a regressive protectionist, a throw back to Neanderthals. Dare and suggest that big-money corporations might have a little too much influence over the democratic process and you've bought your ticket to la-la land. Globalisation is a religion, you're either a supporter or a heretic. Embrace the system, or be damned."
We're off to a promising start. "Dare and suggest"?
"Trouble is, like all good evangelism, the stronger the preacher's demand to conform, the more people want something different. After all, isn't 'consumer choice' the modern mantra? If you oppose McDonalds, then sure, no one makes you buy it. But should Hungry Jacks be the only opinion?"
He/she means "option". What snobbery! As though McDonald's eaters only frequent fast-food restaurants.
"Of course, then there's KFC -- yet they all do pretty much the same thing. Mass advertising; outlets everywhere; deals and meals; drive through or eat-in. A fast-food culture, wrapped, branded and available now. Well, perhaps you can always eat your tofu and lentils at home."
Yes, you can. Or at any one of Sydney's vegetarian restaurants.
"It's easy to demonise the protestors from recent years as a lost tribe of miscreants, intent on destroying the bounties of this age. 'How could they possibly oppose McDonalds?' people want to know. 'McDonalds is just a business, making its way in the world, creating charities and making people feel good, with full tummies to boot.' This obscures the true focus of the protestors. The battle for public hearts and minds is changed to turf that favours a massive multinational, laden with advertising, image consultants and spin-doctors, compared to a disaffected group armed only with alternative ideas.
"People's eating habits are only a sideshow for the protest movements. McDonalds is representative of mass Western culture, the same menu worldwide, replete with fountains of Coca-Cola. There are plenty of symbols for cultural homogenisation -- business practice, economic theory, school teaching styles, even the idea of sovereign countries all emanate from the West -- but McDonalds provides a common reference point. McDonalds makes a convenient target for protestors by insisting on such prominence in our public space.
"Opposition to McDonalds is only a symptom of a deeper malaise, where people are questioning their expected role as an atomised consumer. This is a global issue because economic interaction occurs at an international level. Protests will stay global as long as brands do."
With enemies as scatterbrained and illogical as these, who needs friends?