There’s no doubt that Western liberal democracies such as Australia, the UK, France, Germany and the United States are under attack. In Melbourne and Sydney Islamic extremists have killed innocents, and the Islamization of the UK and Europe is leading to ethnic ghettos and home-grown terrorism.
Given such threats the recent decision to establish a foundation to champion Western civilisation, funded by a bequest from the late entrepreneur Paul Ramsay and chaired by John Howard, is significant and timely.
As I argue in The Culture of Freedom whether it is the enemy within, preaching political correctness, identity politics and victimhood, or the enemy without, represented by Islamic terrorism, our way of life is facing an existential threat.
The traditional academic curriculum has been replaced by a rainbow alliance of radical Neo-Marxist, postmodern and gender theories in which Cardinal Newman’s ideal of a education championing “freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom” is condemned as elitist, inequitable and obsolete,
As noted by the American academic Christopher Lasch, universities are no longer committed to independent critical inquiry “as it is no longer necessary to argue with opponents on intellectual grounds or to enter into their point of view. It is enough to dismiss them as Eurocentric, racist, sexist, homophobic – in other words as politically suspect”.
Only this month American students at Middlebury College in Vermont violently disrupted a speech by Charles Murray, an academic who argues that genetics play a powerful role in academic performance, chanting “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away!”
In England a report by the Adam Smith Institute based on the fact that “50% of the general public supports right-wing or conservative parties compared to 12% of academics” concludes “individuals with left-wing and liberal views are overrepresented in British academia”.
Australian universities, with the occasional exception, are not immune. In his 1996 Boyer Lecture the ANU academic Pierre Ryckmans bemoaned how universities had also been captured by the cultural-left. After noting one incident where a young academic attacked a speaker, describing him as elitist and bourgeois for daring to make judgements of relative value and worth, Ryckmans concludes “to deny the existence of objective values is to deprive the university of its spiritual means of operation”.
More recently, John Carroll from LaTrobe University details how the cultural-left uses “neo-Marxist categories of exploitation and oppression to find ‘victims’ of their own country’s mendacity – so Australia becomes racist, cruel to refugees, misogynist, homophobic and increasingly riven by inequality. The tropes endure, with Islam the current exploited and oppressed repository of virtue”.
The school curriculum has also been captured and is being used to promote identity politics and cultural relativism. Students are told they must embrace diversity and difference and that all cultures must be equally acknowledged and celebrated. Except when it comes to Asian and Indigenous cultures that are given priority at the expense of Western civilisation — especially Judeo-Christianity, where in subjects like history, literature, art and music its treatment is scanty and superficial. As noted by the literary expert Barry Spurr the result is that while students get to study the contribution of Indigenous Australians there is little, if any, recognition of the central importance of the Western literary canon. Greg Melleuish, from the University of Wollongong, is also critical when he argues that the history curriculum does not give enough “importance to the place of Western civilisation in world history, especially over the past two hundred years”.
At the very time Western, liberal democracies are being undermined from within they are also being threatened by Islamic fundamentalism, currently best represented by Islamic State. Extreme interpretations of the Koran, as detailed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in The Heretic, are committed to destroying Western nations by establishing an Islamic caliphate and sponsoring acts of terrorism. Incidents like 9/11, the Bali bombings, the attack on the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the subsequent 2015 attacks in Paris and the genocide against Coptic Christians in Egypt represent a concerted campaign to destroy what the Koran describes as “the unbelievers”.
While the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful and law abiding it is also true that there are elements of the Koran that are hostile to our way of life. Fundamentalist Islam denies women the freedoms and liberties we take for granted and there is no division between church and state.
Unlike Western civilisation, where Christianity and historical movements such as the Reformation and the Enlightenment have led to the freedoms and liberties we now take for granted, Islam is not as accommodating.
Proven by Islamic terrorism and the cultural-left’s political correctness movement there is much to be done to strengthen and defend Western civilisation against enemies foreign and domestic and the establishment of the Ramsay Foundation provides a beacon of hope.
Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of The Culture of Freedom, available from the Institute of Public Affairs