I spent Christmas Eve sitting with my Jewish friend singing carols and enjoying world-class church music at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. We were surrounded by Catholics of all nationalities. Could this spectacle happen only in Australia? Who knows.
Around the same time, halfway across the world (and a virtual universe away from where most people sit in cyberspace), editors of the far-right blog FrontPageMagazine.com were busy uploading the latest polemic from American cultural jihadist Daniel Pipes. And what was the topic of Pipes' pre-Christmas message? Peace on earth and goodwill to all men and women? Something to bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together?
Nope. It was a partisan and sectarian rant answering the question: "Was Barack Obama a Muslim?"
Article VI, Clause 3 of the US Constitution clearly states the intention of the Founding Fathers that:
... no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
But Pipes and others from America's lunar-right have been suggesting that Obama's nominally Muslim heritage will make him unelectable. Pipes spends his entire article exploring whether Obama was a Muslim who apostatised, even claiming that mainstream American Muslims would be angry at Obama for his alleged apostasy.
I'd love to have the luxury of sitting back and scoffing: only in America. The sad reality is that this kind of nonsensical analysis is being used more frequently and to greater effect.
But do cultural warriors and war-mongers only exist in that allegedly uniform sector of humanity we call the West? This question has been authoritatively answered by British journalist and author Jason Burke. Few people have travelled through as many trouble spots in the nominally Islamic world over the past 15 years as this senior reporter for The Observer.
In his most recent book On The Road To Kandahar: Travels Through Conflict In The Islamic World, Burke sees a lot in common between the likes of al-Qaida and America's allegedly conservative cultural jihadists:
In the West, newspaper columnists talk about the Islamic world as a monolith. Muslim conservatives make similar statements about the American-led West. There is talk of the Arab or the Islamic mindset on one side, Western, Christian or Jewish mind on the other. American senators talk of bombing Mecca as a reprisal for attacks on the United States, while in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere radicals talk of bombing America as a reprisal for attacks in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Burke further remarks that the Pipes and bin Ladens on both sides believe they belong to:
... a discrete religiously defined group and that they are engaged in a last-ditch, no- holds-barred battle against a fanatical and irrational enemy that is aggressive, belligerent and intent on expansion until all alternative cultures, societies and belief systems are eradicated.
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