The Finer Points of Western Humour


Some months back, I made an awful mistake. In New Matilda, I wrote that Rupert Murdoch had allowed conspiracy theories and glorified Nazism to be printed on the pages of his newspaper, the Washington Times.


I was wrong. Sheik Rupert bin Murdoch doesn’t own the Washington Times. Some chap from Korea does. Sorry.

But one thing that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and Sheik Rupert do have in common is that they both allow space for the conspiracy theories of Canadian humorist and theatre critic Mark Steyn on their Op-ed pages.

I like a good laugh as much as any Aussie, and Islamic cultures are, generally, not humourless either. Turkish and Persian speakers love telling stories about Mullah Nasruddin, and the world’s largest Islamic organisation, Indonesia’s Nahdatul Ulama (NU), was once led by Sheik Abdurrahman Wahid, a man known to tell jokes about sex during sermons.

But I certainly wouldn’t be splitting my sides if I met Mullah Omar, Mr Ahmadinejad, or Abu Bakar Basyir in a dark alley. If anything, these guys would probably get their goons to split my sides for me.

Mark Steyn is sometimes genuinely funny he may not swear as much as Eddie Murphy and he lacks the wit of PJ O’Rourke, but behind the Barbra Streisand jokes, Steyn has some pretty frightening views. However, get him talking about the grand conspiracy of ‘Islamists’ to destroy the West and the humour vanishes.

On Monday, 14 August, Steyn presented a taste of his routines at the annual Big Ideas Forum sponsored by the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) in Sydney. You can hear it next week on ABC Radio National, but here are some summary points:

Islam cannot exist in a pluralist society.

We need to fight the process of Westerners converting to Islam by convincing them it is better to be Australian or Canadian or even French than it is to be Muslim.

Islam is an apocalyptic faith engulfing Europe.

Muslims have been getting away with honour killings in the UK.

At this stage, there is no need to nuke Mecca.

Second and third generation Muslims represent a security threat to the West.

Steyn spoke at length about the need to overturn multiculturalism. He agreed with the chair of the Forum Dr Janet Albrechtsen that Western civilisation’s greatest strength was its ability to self-critique, but that this very strength maybe its greatest weakness thanks to a non-judgemental multiculturalism which is fundamentally flawed. And what is its flaw? That it regards Western cultural values as essentially equal to other values.

And what are these Western values? Steyn made passing reference to private property, the rule of law and freedom of contract.

What is so inherently Western about these values? Perhaps Steyn should log onto the CIS website, go to the search feature and type in the word ‘Islam.’ The first item he’ll find provides the same three values enshrined in Islamic sacred law (or Sharia).

Mark Steyn

But facts aren’t what Mark Steyn is known for. Critics, including‘s Brendan Nyhan, complain of ‘Steyn’s aggressive, inflammatory rhetoric and loose regard for logic and factual accuracy.’

During question time, one of Steyn’s biggest fans nervously stood up and delivered a diatribe against all things multicultural. (Steyn castigates the political correctness of the Left and of supporters of multiculturalism. Ironically, he wants to replace it with his own form of politically incorrect correctness.) At first, I couldn’t see who this fan was I was sitting up the back. All I saw was the red hair. A few seconds into her speech, I overheard people whispering and giggling. One said: ‘It’s OK, Pauline, the Jews and Masons are to blame.’ It was then I recognised the shrill monotone of the former Member for Oxley.

I also got to ask a question, which went something like this:

Mark, you’ve clearly stated the threat which second and third generation Muslims pose to Australia. If they become too dangerous for Australia and need to be deported, how could this happen when the Immigration Department bureaucrat in charge of this will probably be a second generation Muslim himself, and the bank financing the process will probably be the one whose CEO is a second generation Muslim?

Sadly, I then spoilt it all with a bit of polemical overkill. I said: ‘I ask this in light of the fact that your views on Muslims could be collected into a book entitled The Protocols of the Learned Mullahs of Tehran.’

Steyn wasn’t pleased at my humour. He said words to the following effect: ‘I suppose you expect me to have a cardiac arrest and die right here.’ To which I replied (with the microphone still on): ‘Yeah, you might as well.’

I can’t quite remember exactly what happened next. I do remember watching Steyn losing it completely, demanding that I speak for the UK bombing suspects: ‘When are you and your fellow Muslims going to answer us on behalf of the terrorists arrested preparing to kill people in the name of Islam and in the name of Mohammed?’

(Yeah, right. As if my dad is a Conservative Party official or my sibling married a French tennis star!)

Despite loud applause for him from a crowd consisting largely of people eligible for Grey Power membership (apologies to mum who turns 70 this November), Steyn wasn’t exactly enthused by my question. He knew he’d lost his cool.

Some CIS people weren’t pleased with me either. After lecturing me on the importance of not going over-the-top, they led their guests to a reception at the Swiss bank, USB.

I’m glad it was USB and not NAB. Imagine how the NAB’s CEO would react if Steyn accused him of being a threat to Western civilisation!

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.