By the time the newspaper was taken over by Alibaba, the South China Morning Post’s op-ed page was so devoid of stimulating opinion that it the vacuousness had become almost interesting: it must have taken real effort to gather so many bland and insipid columns. The page could only get better.
Perhaps that’s not saying much. Today’s has the obligatory think-tank type predicting the decline of the silly old US and the glorious rise of Mighty Superpower China. But even the daily all-purpose hand-wringing statement of the obvious (today about gender equality) has some spicy meanderings on William Golding. And there’s a couple of articles that are, in their own way, provocative.
Holden Chow, of the pro-Beijing DAB, rails against Hong Kong’s ‘bogus refugees’. Chow avoids blatant racism, arguing that the bogus refugees might stir up sentiment against local ethnic-minority residents. He can credibly claim to be concerned, as the DAB has a support base among South Asian voters, notably in Kowloon.
Of course, as a leader of the Chinese Communist Party’s main local front organization, he probably couldn’t care less about Nepali and Pakistani Hongkongers. He quite possibly believes that, as non-Han, they are genetically inferior. But this is a relatively slick bit of positioning (an official Party Line, also pushed by the gruesome legislator Priscilla Leung). Pro-Beijing groups can embrace a ‘nativist’ cause and, they fancifully hope, counter the young pro-independence localist groups in September’s Legislative Council election. They are doing it by exploiting an unfashionable idea, resisted by the pro-refugee lobby – that economic migrants do pose as torture victims.
This is not the only column provoking readers with a controversial, ‘edgy’ proposition. Former civil servant Mike Rowse daringly writes that Europe is facing a serious challenge because Muslims’ values are incompatible with the West’s. He cites pre-Islamic practices like female genital mutilation and honour killings (he could add veiling of woman), and support for killing of apostates. Far-right politicians in Western countries make this point far more crudely and vividly to stir up hatred, which is why decent liberal folk are usually petrified of conceding that there might be a problem.
We could refine this argument by saying that most Muslims are actually harmless and don’t threaten the rest of us physically or culturally. The threat lies in the Wahhabi/Salafi BS that comes out of Saudi and the Gulf. This is where Europe’s straggly-bearded young men muttering about ‘kafir’ and demanding Sharia law come from. It’s why some Indonesian maids in Hong Kong wear ludicrous-looking Saudi-style niqab on their days off. It’s a toxic, totalitarian Muslim-supremacist movement that the public can’t differentiate from ‘Muslims’ and Western policymakers can’t handle because their precious allies in Riyadh are the ones funding it.
Journalists sometimes describe this strain of Islam as ‘austere’, ‘strict’ or ‘fundamentalist’. We could also say ‘literalist’. The problem is that the Wahhabi/Salafi interpretation of scripture and doctrine is not necessarily incorrect. It may be the ‘true’ Islam, and the ‘tolerant’, ‘moderate’, friendly Sufis, Malaysians and day-to-day Muslims-next-door may in fact have strayed.
But this doesn’t just apply to Muslims. There are fundamentalist Christians who sincerely believe that women should serve men and produce children, that evolution is wrong and belief in it is evil, that homosexuals should be suppressed, that birth control should be banned, that Israel must conquer its enemies for Jesus to return to the world, and that the faithful have a mission to take political control. Most Christians aren’t like this – but most Christians are openly selective or halfhearted about the faith, which, however you read it, requires followers to proselytize endlessly, to share wealth with the poor, and do all sorts of things that they clearly don’t.
Although found in only a few neighbourhoods of Israel and Western cities, Jews also have a fundamentalist fringe rejecting modernity, freedom and equality.
This is why it’s unfair to pick on Muslims. Yes, Islam’s a stupid religion, but so are Christianity and Judaism – they’re all basically the same faith. The real problem is the whole monotheistic tradition. However much most followers are happy and inoffensive in their relationship with the Invisible One Up There, the faith originates in primitive tribal customs and belief in the supernatural. It can’t help but be at odds with the modern, rational freedom-loving world – a threat.
That said, miracles do happen: the SCMP op-ed page has become just a bit thought-provoking.