There's no better way to warm up on a wet and wintery Wednesday night in Melbourne than to watch the fireworks (of the metaphoric rather than literal variety, unfortunately) at Melbourne Uni. Tonight the speaker was an excellent American academic Daniel Pipes, whose area of expertise is the Middle East, and provides a particularly refreshing sentimentalism-free perspective on the current dismal state of affairs in that part of the world.
His speech tonight was entitled "Militant Islam and the War on Terror", and enrage the left wing activists on campus it did. The antics started when the audience was forced to endure a throng of 15 placard-bearing activists informing them that there should be a free Palestine, war and racism were bad things and that there should be "No free speech for racists" (of course, it is not entirely clear how it could be determined who was a racist until the coutesy of free speech was extended to them, hence undermining the initial proposition, but I digress). Once inside, there were regular interuptions by the small but vocal group of protesters, although they were just as regularly hissed at by the vast majority of attendees.
Dr Pipes is an ardent conservative, and an interesting and challenging one at that. His proposition - that extremist Islam is a threat to the western world and that this needs to be acknowledged in order for the threat to be averted - is a sensible one, although he reverts to antagnostic language somewhat unnecessarily to stir up the audience. Referring to militant Islam as 'Islamism' is an unfortunate insult to the 85% of the world's Muslims (his figures) who opt for a peaceful, tolerant version of their religion, and who therefore by Dr Pipes definition are not believers in 'Islamism'.
One of the more telling points was his interesting insight into the ardent anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli attitudes that permeate many discussions of International Relations. To Dr Pipes, these should be considered in the realm of psychologists, and studied as a psychological obsession, rather than a political stance. Well said, and the throng of anti-American anti-Zionist anti-West anti-Imperialist anti-capitalist were on hand to demonstrate the point.
All was peaceful and much was learnt by those who were there to listen rather than satisfy their fetish for righteous indignation.