What could a trendy, tattooed, godless leftie in the hippest bit of Melbourne possibly have in common with an Isis-admiring Muslim who thinks it wouldn’t be all that bad if Melbourne went up in flames? Humourlessness. An urge to burn anything irreverent that irritates him.
These two constituencies might look and sound different — one says women should wear what they want, the other wants women in black sacks; one gets stoned with gays, the other wants to stone gays — but they share a deep distaste for offensive ideas. They’re united by an instinct to kill, whether by the sword or the online petition, things they consider sacrilegious.
Just ask Bill Leak. Last year Leak found himself targeted by finger-wagging, threat-making Islamists, who were offended by his cartoon of Muhammad. Now he’s on the receiving end of the humour-hoovering moans and barbs of the Twitterati, offended by his cartoon showing an indigenous dad who’s forgotten the name of his kid who’s had a run-in with the law. ‘Sack him’, these pretend progressives cry, which I suppose is better than ‘Kill him’, but not much better: it still amounts to demanding the punishment of a cartoonist for drawing something risqué, as if we were still in the 1500s.
The puffed-up fury over Leak’s indigenous cartoon captures everything foul about PC. First there’s the illiberalism. People are demanding he apologise, by which they mean recant. They’re putting pressure on the Australian to rap his knuckles and warn him to stop riling the right-on. Which is hilarious considering these are the kind of people who usually wail about the Murdoch press forcing its scribes to toe a particular line. Now they want it to do that.
We’ve had the deeply unappetising sight of the misery guts behind New Matilda calling on their readers to put pressure on banks and corporations to pull ads from the Oz to show their distaste for Leak’s ‘breathtakingly racist’ cartoon. This is a mag that views big business as a Gaia-despoiling menace, yet such is its Stalinist desire to stop Leak from thinking and drawing what he wants that it’s willing to flush its principles down the crapper and marshall millionaires to its cause. It’s forging an unholy alliance of ban-happy leftists and spineless corporations to put financial pressure on a newspaper to change its editorial behaviour: a mob against press freedom.
The aim of all this Leakphobia is to shrink the parameters of acceptable thought. And comedy. The instant target might be Leak, but it’s really public discourse that these neo-wowsers have in their crosshairs. Every Twitter-frenzy over a misspeaking hip-hop star or stinging newspaper column chips away at the realm of the sayable. It sends a message to us all, warning us that if we hold edgy or eccentric views then we’d better keep them to ourselves or we too might find ourselves publicly mauled. They might not be able to put Leak’s head on a spike, but in putting his job on the line they hope to achieve the same thing: to chill the throng, let us know what happens to those who veer too far from their kingdom of decent thinking.
All this Bill-bashing exposes the neocolonialism of PC. When, a few months back, Leak did a cartoon of poor Indians trying to eat solar panels, it was clearly a stab at the idiocy of eco-worriers who, misanthropes that they are, are more concerned with making the world green than feeding the poor. Yet the Leakphobes said it was racist and bigged themselves up as the whiter-than-white moral defenders of upset Indian folk. Now these pained latte-sippers presume indigenous people across Oz will be propelled into mental disarray by Leak’s pic and so they must apparently speak up for them, do their bidding against the evil media. With its urge to save women from saucy mags, Muslims from images of Muhammad, and indigenous people from confronting cartoons, the well-educated, white PC elite rehashes Victorian attitudes to blacks and ladies and posits itself as mender of their shaken self-esteem. You wanna see racism? Don’t look at a Leak cartoon — look at the paternalism of those who want to scrub out Leak cartoons.
The truth is, Leak’s indigenous cartoon was great. It’s profound; moving, even. It is an indictment, not of indigenous people, but of a system that demands responsible behaviour of indigenous people while refusing to give them the freedom or opportunities through which one develops real, meaningful moral responsibility. The authority figure saying to the indigenous dad ‘You’ll have to sit down and talk to your son about personal responsibility’ is the real joke. He’s demanding responsibility of people who have been infantilised, left to rot on welfare, to stew in Third World conditions. Leak isn’t attacking indigenous dads; he’s attacking the cult of relativism that celebrates the depravities of indigenous community life as cultural diversity and then sometimes wonders, ‘Why won’t they behave in a more civilised way?’.
That’s why his cartoon has so incensed the PC lobby: because it’s a swipe at them, and they know it. It shines a light on the tyranny of low expectations that many white, guilt-ridden progressives have of indigenous communities.
That’s another nasty aspect of PC: it is designed precisely to suppress debate, to obscure reality itself. It’s a creed more offended by an image of the difficult lives some people lead than by the lives themselves. It’s profoundly uncaring, crushing depictions of the tensions in society, and in the process leaving such tensions untouched, undiscussed, and unresolved.
Standing up for Leak is the duty of every Aussie who believes in freedom. He’s falling victim to a pincer movement, dogmatic Islamists attacking him from one side, PC ponces from the other. His persecution speaks to a new mood of militant intolerance in the West, where pseudo-progressives and medieval-minded Islamists are effectively in cahoots to crush any questioning of their articles of faith. Screw that.
Bill, I’ve got your back.
Brendan O’Neill is speaking about PC, freedom and other issues across Australia from 15 to 26 August. For more information, see brendanoneill.co.uk.