John Lilburne's journal about Angela Shanahan's article in The Australian.



About John Lilburne







0932 K Tue 23 Oct 2001

I remember my physics teacher telling us in class that we were "children of the Sputnik". His theory was that the Russian's launch of the satellite in 1957 had caused concern, resulting in a shift of educational resources into science.

Following this logic, for the "children of September 11" there would be a shift of educational resources into religion.

There is an interesting article by Angela Shanahan in The Australian today:

Secular West struggles to include God

Whether we like it or not, Islamic zealots are engaged on a crusade

Why did they do it?...

What if, despite the Western secular liberal consensus, we can't keep God out of it? This is where I essentially disagree with the belated lamentation of novelist John Le Carre, writing exclusively in The Weekend Australian. ...

I am not so sure that there is an essential disagreement between her and Le Carre. He wrote:

And please, Bush -- on my knees, Blair -- keep God out of this. To imagine God fights wars is to credit him with the worst follies of mankind. God, if we know anything about him, which I don't profess to, prefers effective food drops, dedicated medical teams, comfort and good tents for the homeless and bereaved and, without strings, a decent acceptance of our past sins and a readiness to put them right. He prefers us less greedy, less arrogant, less evangelical and less dismissive of life's losers.

His message is not really "keep God out of it" but "have a better understanding of God". This is also reflected by his reference to "our miserable duty to seek out and punish a bunch of modern-medieval religious zealots". I think Le Carre has done a good job in expressing the religous dimension of the conflict.

Angela Shanahan seems to be saying, in a cautious way, that September 11: "... might be an inevitable part of keeping a faith ... that does indeed see itself engaged in a holy war." She says "we dare not acknowledge this" for two reasons, which I will summarise as (1) "we are afraid of our own Muslim populations" and (2) we are "religiously illiterate".

There is fine line being treaded here. In Tony Blair's speech I remember him saying something like: "Let no one say that September 11 was an attack by Islam, because hundred of Muslims were also murdered in the twin towers". If the "War on Terrorism" becomes a "War on Muslims" then it will escalate, I think with the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Are we bending over backwards to avoid this? Angela Shanahan writes:

We do not dare to use the term "crusade". The Islamic world, including supposedly moderate Indonesia, is seething with calls for jihad, yet the US President is not permitted to call the campagin "Infinite Justice".

Perhaps we have gone too far, but I think these reflect legitimate concerns to avoid widening the conflict.

The emphasis of Angela Shanahan's article which most impresses me is the need to improve the tendency we have towards religious illiteracy:

we have confused the worthy liberal ideal of tolerance with adopting an aggressively secular libertarianism that has demanded we ditch the Judeo-Christian basis of our laws, ethics and education, leaving us not simply pluralistic but rootless and religiously illiterate. Permissive, tepid secularism doesn't win us any respect in the Muslim world.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 23 October 2001.


Links to other sites:

Secular West struggles to include God by Angela Shanahan