The Rutgers prof who declares Islam off-limits for humorists

“I’ve just about had it,” she wrote in February 2006. Across Europe and the Islamic world, Muslims were rioting, committing acts of vandalism, and murdering innocent people in supposed outrage over the publication by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, of a set of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed.

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Deepa Kumar

What was it that Deepa Kumar, an Assistant Professor of Journalism, Media Studies, and Middle East Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, had just about had enough of? No, not the utterly irrational violence on the part of all those Muslims. She was, she explained, “sick and tired” of people on the left and in the U.S. antiwar movement who failed, in her view, “to defend Muslims against all the attacks they have faced both domestically and internationally.” She was incensed by what she described as “the steady rightward drift among sections of the left since 9/11 on the question of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism.” While antiwar Europeans were rallying “in solidarity with Muslims outraged over the cartoons,” she complained, their American counterparts had “done little.”

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Sasha Abramsky

She cited some specifics. In October 2005, Sasha Abramsky, writing in The Progressive, had argued “that Al Qaeda, a ‘classically imperialist’ force, must be vanquished by the West because it hates the best points of the West, in particular ‘the pluralism, the rationalism, individual liberty, the emancipation of women, the openness and social dynamism that represent the strongest legacy of the Enlightenment.’” Kumar wasn’t buying it: “Never mind that the emancipation of women is far from a done deal, or that even small gains like universal suffrage had to be fought for by workers, women, and minorities, hardly the ‘legacy’ of Enlightenment.”

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Christopher Fons

Equally appalling to her was Christopher Fons’s February 2006 article in Counterpunch, in which he dared to suggest that when Scandinavian social democracies open their borders to millions of immigrants with “backward ideas, like sexism, religious superstition, belief in inequality, etc.,” it could mean the end of equality and social democracy.

And then there was a Sydney Morning Herald piece (republished in Counterpunch in February 2005) in which Richard Neville defended the Danish cartoons and wondered aloud why the “rampaging Muslims are so angry.” After all, Christians don’t riot over cartoons mocking their religion. A very irate Kumar had an answer to that: “making fun of Islam is not the same as making fun of Christianity.” Why? Because “Islam and Christianity do not occupy an equal position in a world dominated by US imperialism.” You can’t talk about “equal-opportunity” humor, she maintained, “when you are talking about oppressed and disempowered people, who do not have equal access to the mass media.” Bottom line: “Jokes are political. The jokes of the dominant poking fun at the marginalized, unlike those of the powerless satirizing the powerful, are a way of communicating to the world, first of all to the marginalized themselves: their oppression is acceptable…even funny.”

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Richard Neville

All this may sound ridiculous in the real world, but in much of the American academy it’s sheer common sense, the product of a postmodern academic ideology which sees all interactions in human society as boiling down to the relationship between groups – power vs. powerless, oppressor vs. oppressed. In today’s world, moreover, oppression only works one way. Europeans, people of European descent, Christians, the West, Israel: no matter what the facts on the ground may be, these folks are always the oppressors, the imperialists, the powerful. People of color, Muslims, Arabs, blacks, and so on: these are always the oppressed, the victims, the powerless. Even if the President of the U.S. is black, in some sense he remains an oppressed individual, while an unemployed white coal miner in West Virginia is his oppressor. Similarly, Muslims in the Islamic world who, in reality, viciously oppress the Christians and Jews in their midst are viewed by Kumar and her ilk as being oppressed by those whom they beat, abuse, torture, and murder.

But Kumar had only just started down this road. More tomorrow.

Cheering Mao down under

In recent years, thanks to steady increases in immigration, tourism, and trade, Communist Chinese political influence in Australia has risen dramatically. As Philip Wen noted on August 22 in the Sydney Morning Herald, Oz-based supporters of the regime in Beijing have organized rallies in Sydney and Melbourne, mobilized crowds “to drown out Free Tibet and Falun Gong demonstrators during President Xi Jinping’s visit in 2014,” and staged various “cultural events” down under to promote Red Chinese interests and ideology.

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An ad promoting the Mao tribute concerts

But the newest chapter in this history may be a bridge too far. September 9 will be the fortieth anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong. On September 6, a concert of “Maoist songs and dances” will be held at Sydney’s town hall with the goal of “glorifying the life” of Mao; three days later, an identical concert will take place at Melbourne’s town hall.

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Peter Zhu

These two events, which are entitled “Glory and Dream: In Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of the Death of Chairman Mao,” have a long and formidable list of sponsors, including the International Cultural Exchange Association (headed by Chinese-Australian musician Yuan Ye), a major construction firm called LB Homes Group (owned by Chinese-Australian developer Peter Zhu), two outfits called Australia Oriental Media Group and Australia China Media Group (both of which are paid handsomely by the Chinese government to churn out pro-Red Chinese propaganda), the fiercely pro-Beijing Federation of Australian Chinese Associations, and an assortment of other businesses, including Sankofa Funds Management, Shanghai Tiantong Group, and the Native Place Association of North-East China.

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“Charming personality”?

The promotional materials for these two concerts include the most eye-popping kind of pro-Mao rhetoric. Praising his “humanitarian personality,” they boast that Mao “led China’s democratic revolution which ended the 109 years of chaos in China from 1840 to 1949, and brought 76 years of peace and development to China, until it recovered its international status as a great country.” According to the concert sponsors, Mao is “a national leader forever in the hearts of Chinese people and a hero in the eyes of people all over the world,” and the concert “will interpret the charming personality and heroism of Mao Zedong from a variety of angles.”

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Chongyi Feng

Gratifyingly, there has been blowback – largely from Chinese-Australians, “many of whose families,” according to Wen, “suffered under the leader’s brutal legacy, the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward contributing directly to the deaths of tens of millions of people.” Chongyi Feng, who teaches China Studies at a university in Sydney, told Wen that for many Chinese-Australians, Mao “is just like Stalin to Russians or Hitler to Germans – he’s a mass murderer in their judgment so they’re very angry.”

“In their judgment”?

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Shangxiao Han

Not long ago, explained Wen, the Chinese community in Australia consisted mainly of people who’d fled – and despised – Communism. Now, the newer members of that community tend to be people who’ve profited from Red Chinese prosperity and who are, to various degrees, outright fans (and, in many cases, employees or contractors) of the Beijing regime. One member of the older, anti-Maoist faction, Shangxiao Han, is a businessman who’d “kept a low profile for more than 20 years” but felt moved to speak out against the Mao concerts and other such events. He and fellow Chinese-Australian anti-Maoists, who feel that they’ve become a minority in their community, have formed something called the Embrace Australian Values Alliance, which is petitioning to have the concerts canceled.

In a petition addressed to the local authorities in Sydney, the group expressed its “deeply concerned” about the September 6 concert and asked that they not allow it to be held at the town hall. Calling Mao “the biggest mass murderer in history,” they added that he

was personally responsible for massive tortures and persecutions resulting in the unnatural deaths of over 70 million Chinese people. He destroyed Chinese people’s traditional culture; he persecuted all religious believers; he torn down temples and monasteries; he banned all forms of democracy and social freedom. Maoism instigates violence and hate against Western laws and society. Mao and his crimes against humanity contravenes [sic] everything that Australian Values stand for.

So far, the petition has borne no results. Both cities – which aren’t involved in organizing the concerts – say they’ve rented out their town halls to the sponsors and can’t go back on those deals. But stay tuned. This could get interesting.