I sit at my typewriter staring at the mountain looming above my home, silhouetted against a serene blue sky, seemingly permanent and imperturbable, and struggle to reconcile this peaceful scene with the daily news of human irrationality, violence and cruelty which washes at the borders of my consciousness.
Our own country delivers its regular bouquet of murder, assaults, abandoned children, horrific traffic “accidents” and other horrors. But for the moment these are eclipsed by the sight of endless streams of Middle Eastern refugees streaming into an anguished Europe, torn between impulses of pity and the instincts of self-preservation.
The sheer figures are astounding. According to Amnesty International in 2014, now out of date, 45% (10 million plus) of the Syrian population has been displaced and approximately 200 000 have been killed. In the Middle East, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan have carried most of the burden whereas the Gulf States (including such giants as Saudi Arabia) have taken in none at all. Similarly good, liberal Europe is bearing the brunt whereas Russia, Singapore, Japan and South Korea have offered zero places.
And that is only half the story. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the recent deluge is not entirely Syrian; in fact only 44 000 of the of 213 000 refugees from April to June came from Syria. The rest come from the other failed or failing states of the region, including 27 000 from Afghanistan. By common consensus the destination of the vast majority of the refugees are the rich Northern (and more tolerant) European states – which makes sense.
But this is only the latest convulsive death spasm of a process going on for decades. The Muslim population of Europe is now about 21 million and is growing steadily. Over 20 of Europe’s large cities have a Muslim population in excess of 10% and 8 over 20%.
This surely is not news for anyone who hasn’t spent the last decade in a coma. The endless diet of atrocities by the long list of proliferating Jihadist groups – each one more horrific than the next - and the unravelling of large parts of the Middle East into sectarian anarchy and violence is a backdrop to our daily lives. That is, to all except Mohammed Desai and his merry disciples of BDS and their penumbra of organisations and individuals focussed upon the sole stable, democratic and Westernised state in the Middle East populated, coincidentally no doubt, mainly by Jews.
One may be tempted to dismiss Desai’s latest lame justification of his campaign against one of the most innovative and socially conscious businesses in South Africa, Woolworths, as just another example of the idiocy which afflicts publicity-addicted, chronically-outraged activists disconnected from reality. And while that is true as far it goes, it does not go far enough. I want to address what lies beyond the obvious irrationality and its implications for the rest of us, and this requires a brief diversion
Basically humans are prone to mind viruses. Crudely expressed, mind virus (called “memes” by Richard Dawkins after genes) are ideas of various kinds which lodge in our brains and influence the way we see the world and the way we behave. They make use of our brain’s inherent cognitive and emotional “biases” to invade. Many of these are good for us; think of healthy eating or justice and mercy or the value of a good education. Many are innocuous or neutral; eg. infatuation with Justin Bieber. Some are bad and some are truly horrendous. It is the latter two categories which concern us.
Our brains have defences against the bad and horrendous viruses. By and large healthily functioning people and societies are able to see that some ideas are not exactly conducive to happiness or social harmony, which most of us prize. And some cultures reinforce such defences. Democratic cultures tend to reject ideas which promote excessive domination of one group over another or totalitarian values which glorify a leader or diminish human freedom or interfere with the freedom of information and opinion. It is a rough and abrasive process, but it works – most of the time.
But people, circumstances and cultures vary and some people are simply extremely receptive to horrendous or just bad ideas. Only when such ideas take root in a population and by their prevalence and through the actions of those infected, they spread and become dominant within the political collective, we see the creation of dysfunctional or dangerous political movements.
We are all familiar with the rise of totalitarian ideas within Europe and Asia in the last century and the havoc they wreaked. We are now seeing the same phenomenon in an even more insidious form taking place within Islam mainly located in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. The name of the family of viruses driving the implosion of the region is called Islamism and is characterised by a fanatical adherence to a fundamentalist and politicised interpretation of Islamic sources which promote totalitarian values and condones limitless brutality in the spread of their doctrine to the rest of the world.
It is for historians and political analysts to clarify the reasons for the dissemination of these ideas within the MENA region. But the consequences are revealed in the horrific events of the past 50 years culminating in the human flood pouring into Europe.
What does it mean for South Africa? I suspect that the matrix which facilitated totalitarian Islamism is largely absent here. We have many bad ideas of our own but a tendency to a totalitarian fundamentalism is likely confined to a small segment of our population.
The BDS campaign is a relatively benign (at least relative to what is happening to our North) offshoot of the MENA phenomenon but shares in some of its toxic features. The technique of the BDS propagandists is to tap into envy and opposition to supposed Western imperialism and power in order to equate Israel with a mythologised version of Western exploitation and, of course, Apartheid.
It is adept at camouflaging its goal, the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, under a professed concern for universal humanitarian values and moral outrage. The increasingly bizarre disconnect between reality and these professed concerns would seem to be overwhelming, and accounts for some of the BDS hysteria, but that does not exclude the possibility of such ideas diverting South Africans from its own issues and problems.
These are topics for another time. In the meantime, GO SHOP AT WOOLLIES.