Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Take a bow, Dr Wafa Sultan

Prominent on page 3 of today’s hardcopy Oz, but strangely not appearing on the Oz website is this magnificent story about a person who manages to be both “an influential Muslim thinker” and a former Muslim, who has explicitly “renounced her religion”. Go figure.

But I’ve taken a shine to her, nonetheless, because of the year of her conversion on the road to, ahem, Damascus. The Oz recounts that Dr Sultan began to question Islam after she witnessed her university teacher get gunned down by Muslim hardliners in Syria in 1979. While I don’t blame her for drawing a line in the sand at such an act, as a former Catholic it has to be said that I have seen worse (than murder), and not in my case by some nutbar fringe element (as I’m assuming her lecturer’s assassins were).

In fairness to Dr Sultan, though, her lecturer’s murder was hardly an isolated act at the time. The Islamic parts of the mid-East were in turmoil in 1979-80 – ironically, or maybe not, as the biggest oil shock of the last five decades was shovelling hard currency into (some of) their pockets faster than they could count it. There was Iran, of course, with the Ayatollah and the US embassy hostages (the latter featuring a cameo by the current Iranian President). But there was also the mosque takeover in Mecca, and the countdown to the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

But the real reason I quite like the doctor is, as I’ve said, simply the fact that she has nominated the year 1979 as her turning point. I do believe that, by so doing, she is the First Baby Boomer in History to Admit That Their Generation Screwed Up the World, Starting in 1979.

I admit that Dr Sultan, by the Oz’s account, doesn’t seem to be grinding the axe I think she is grinding all that loudly. But it’s a start.

Next step, maybe the weaselly Iranian President – another boomer, of course – could ‘fess up to his student activism in 1979-80. If he’s not proud of it, and his evasion of the matter since becoming President suggests he’s not, then why not a mea culpa? Hell, he was young at the time, and I believe, or at least hope, that youthful indiscretions are relatively forgivable.

But once the ball starts rolling, there’s no reason why Muslim (or ex-) boomers should occupy the main spotlight. In the West, Reagan, Thatcher and Hawke/Keating should be denounced with the same venom as Dr Sultan reserves for her lecturer’s assassins – although none of the economic fundamentalist trio were boomers personally, they had boomer self-interest, and nothing more, behind them from their beginnings in 1979-80.

And in the music field, we will be able to settle once and for all the great Joy Division vs New Order controversy. New Order was born out of Joy Division’s death in 1980 - the year really says it all, and nothing more need be added. In fairness (again) however, I admit that New Order gave great dance music for a while in the mid-80s - if you were a yuppie robot, that is. But in the mid-80s, who wasn’t? (ahem, talking of youthful indiscretions)

Like New Order, the Reagan, Thatcher and Hawke/Keating fundamentalist revolutions may have seemed, at least for a period in the 1980s, just a logical next step, or the iron-law temper of the times. But more than two decades later, history has recorded its objective verdict.

New Order has recently imploded – I am surprised it took so long for the trio to realise that the 1980s have ended. But I am also surprised the economic fundamentalist counter-revolution of 1979-80, begat in (inevitable and predictable) response to the boomers’ cultural revolution of a decade earlier, has had such traction. But it too will pass – and when it does, I like to think that Dr Sultan will be mighty proud of herself, as the very first baby boomer to desert their generation’s sinking ship.

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