Sunday 18 February 2007

Unstated questions, hidden answers

An investigation into some phenomenon is an endeavour that can span years. As has been mentioned previously, it matters whether the explorer is comfortable with the idea of the result just in case it should happen. Meanderings are not always due to a faulty compass.
A question represents a similar issue on a smaller time scale. Often the answer is not completely obscure but already casts its shadow in the light of the inquiry. And we all know how frightful a shadow can be, especially if its substance must not be known directly.
Currently Australia is approaching its federal elections. John Howard, our Prime Minister, and Kevin Rudd, his contender from the Opposition, have already clashed on several occasions. As usual in such cases, what is perceived to be most prominent becomes a weapon on both sides. When it comes to standing apart, the Iraq war has few rivals.
Much is made of Mr Howard's subservience to George W. Bush. The PM's insistence that "mates" are bound by solidarity no matter what, does not bear a more mature view of this thing called friendship between nations.
In any case, the deteriorating situation over there against the whishes of the Allies, has spawned any number of investigations into the "why" and an even greater number of suggestions. Arguably the most in-depth analysis has been the Iraq Study Group Report, its findings still being debated by all sides.
This report is not only interesting for its detail but also for the answers it could supply, if only one asked the right questions. In it much is made of the sheer opaqueness of local affairs, of the fragmented nature of politics in the Middle East in general, and the unconstrained brutality confronting everybody day by day. The fundamental reasons are obscured by many verbal contortions, serving the political spin of the moment. As usual in scenarios that have acquired a life of their own, the core perceptions are the driver, pushing them ever onwards.
Over the last few decades the West has been subjected to a major re-orientation of its intellectual acuity. Its propensity for questioning for its own sake, its readiness to play the devil's advocate, its complexity of mind; these have been turned around to show their dark side. Post-modernism with its irreverent challenges, minority groups with their wish lists, and top-heavy sophists - in the end they found a seemingly never-ending feast catered by their wealthy host. Nevertheless, the rest of the world still exists.
Its own violence, its own religious fanaticism, and its own non-chalance towards human rights go virtually unnoticed as the West contemplates its own navel. The notion that people are not the same, that intelligence differs among individuals as well as demographics, that some heed advice, others need restraint, and others still warrant confrontation, had been superficially tied to such scapegoats as racism and colonialism.
Combine that with our own obsession with the Middle East, nurtured through the Christian centuries, and a cauldron such as Iraq is seen as a disadvantaged victim only waiting for well-meaning social workers to weave their spells. Of course, as European history should teach us, as Arab despotism has proven, as Islamic fervour demonstrates daily, nothing could be further from the truth.
How else can a nation such as the United States spend about US$400 billion on this engagement, unless not reason but pathology governs its thought processes.
By comparison, Australia's estimated total revenue for the fiscal year 2006/7 is just over A$230 billion, or just over US$180b.
And for what? To infuse our standards with Islamic markers, to clutter our daily lives with Middle Eastern upheavals, to mix our rationalism once again with religious fervour?
Political correctness means much more than an annoying phrase here or there; it is well under way dissolving the framework of a civilisation.

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