Australian Notes

Australian Notes

2 March 2013

A pack of protesters, most of them young, waved Socialist Alliance banners and chanted ‘The people will not tolerate/Wilders and his racist hate.’ They were noisy but there was no sign of violence. In any case police with tasers outnumbered the protesters. There were also a couple of mounted police and a few who, if not plain clothes police, were dead ringers. There was a fleet of police vans nearby. The long queue of Geert Wilders fans, mainly elderly, passed patiently through three checkpoints. Two of them checked tickets ($66) and IDs. (No ID and you were turned away.) The third was a metal detector. Finally a cheerful Q Society official stuck a band with your number on it around your wrist. For some this was one precaution too many: ‘This is not the country we grew up in.’ But they had come from far and wide to the hush-hush venue in Liverpool to hear Wilders speak and most took it calmly. Inside Australian, Dutch, British and American flags decorated the podium.

When Wilders arrived, the capacity crowd of 500 cheered and whistled — and half a dozen formidable-looking blokes in suits took up positions around the walls. Wilders is a good speaker but not an orator. (A warm-up speaker, a Christian convert from Islam, had already delivered the oratory.) He told the audience what they had come to hear, which no Australian politician (apart from Senator Cory Bernardi) seems willing to tell them: that liberal democracy and Islam are incompatible, that Islam treats women badly, that it oppresses Christians, Jews and humanists whenever it can, that Sharia law is often uncivilised. Wilders advised Australians to be more selective in the admission of immigrants. Moderate (that is, generally non-observing) Muslims may be saved for the open society but Islamists will always despise Australian liberal values. The audience applauded thunderously when he spoke up for Israel. It is, he says, the frontline of Western civilisation. That is why Islamists view its destruction as a religious imperative. (‘If Israel falls, we will all suffer the consequences.’)

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So far no great problems. But Wilders lost me when he began his demonisation of Mohammed. If you want to win over the moderate Muslims, it is absurdly provocative to defame Mohammed as a terrorist, thief and paedophile. Apart from any scholarly uncertainties about Mohammed’s biography, it cannot advance the liberal cause to insult the moderates and their families, the very people we hope to convert. This is no doubt why the Liberal party has kept its distance from Wilders. Premier Barnett said he was not welcome in Perth. Premier Baillieu urged Melbourne people to ignore him. Neither gave good reasons for their advice but Tony Abbott put a case. He told Neil Mitchell on 3AW: ‘Let Wilders say his piece but there are very few lessons that Holland has to teach us when it comes to the integration of newcomers.’ None of these Liberal leaders can be dismissed as mere vote-grubbers (although all politicians keep an eye on ‘the Muslim vote’ and Abbott may have been gilding the lily when he described Muslims as ‘fair dinkum, dinky-di Aussies’). They are appealing to the fact that, even allowing for a couple of ugly incidents (Hyde Park, Cronulla), Australia has experienced none of the Islamicist murders and bombings that have characterised European countries. Is this luck or good management? Wilders warns Australians not to be self-satisfied. There are already 60 mosques in Sydney, he says ominously. ‘You need more brave politicians,’ he told his cheering audience. ‘I might even immigrate myself,’ he joked. Someone yelled: ‘Be our Prime Minister!’

We were in the State Library of New South Wales recalling the extraordinary life and adventures of the revolutionary feminist Teresa Brennan as chronicled in Fiona Harari’s A Tragedy in Two Acts: Marcus Einfeld & Teresa Brennan. Here she is in the 1970s, a student at Sydney University, squatting in Kings Cross terraces to save them from demolition, or swimming across White Bay to stop uranium yellowcake being loaded, or delivering ponderous papers on Lenin and ‘the women’s movement’. Then almost 30 years later, in December 2002, at 2 a.m. on a quiet rain-soaked suburban street in coastal Florida, a hit-and-run truck driver smashed the life out of her. Some asked if it was suicide. In those intervening 30 years after she left (or ‘fled’) Sydney she moved, sometimes spectacularly, to academic posts, including chairs, in Cambridge, Amsterdam, New York, Boston and Florida, and a Congressional position in Washington DC. She wrote several treatises, usually on psychoanalytic feminism. They were learned and dense, if not impenetrable. (Try reading History after Lacan.) They were always well reviewed. Throughout it all, her friends found her a passionate, fearless, prickly, visionary and charismatic life-changer. She was part Baron Munchhausen and part con but always unforgettable. She was also sometimes ‘scary’ and ‘a little bit loony’. The devil stalked her, she explained.

You may think her story has the makings of a tragic or perhaps tragi-comic novel. Fiona Harari has done the next best thing in her clear-eyed but sympathetic dual biography of Brennan and Marcus Einfeld. (Einfeld had told the court that Brennan had been the driver of his speeding car.) In the discussion in the State Library Harari agreed with me that Brennan’s books are incomprehensible. But she added: ‘I am not part of her target audience nor, I suspect, are you.’ She is right. Yet those unreadable books are Brennan’s legacy. They still capture something of the triumphs and disasters of revolutionary feminism — and of the sad, exemplary life of Teresa Brennan.

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