Enemies of civilisation
Who is ‘Melanie Phillips’?
October 5, 2006
I have belatedly discovered a site, I presume satirical, that purports to be the blog of a certain “Melanie Phillips”, apparently an invented personage who writes for the Daily Mail. Bravely for that newspaper, “her” writing enacts a shattering reductio ad absurdum of certain prejudices. Take this entry comparing Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, to Churchill, after Howard made a speech attacking the Australian “left”:
Howard is the only western leader who has grasped that the greatest danger to the west lies in the way it has been attacked and undermined from within, a process that is continuing and which threatens to hand liberal democracy over to its Islamic enemies who are laying siege to it from without. He is the only one who puts these two things together, and is using his office as a bully pulpit from which to fight for the values of western civilisation in the culture war. Can you imagine President Bush, or Tony Blair or David Cameron, denouncing the universities as breeding grounds for left-wing enemies of civilisation? Of course not. Howard is Australia’s Churchill, and is the true leader of the west at this perilous time.
Maybe the satire is slightly too broad-brush to be really convincing as the considered thoughts of a journalist who, according to the biography on the site, is supposed to have won the George Orwell Prize in 1996. But it does bring out one irony of such arguments. Those who sell themselves as the stoutest defenders of “liberal democracy” are also the happiest to adopt a Stalinist vocabulary of denunciation. The idea that academics of some stripe are the true “enemies of civilisation” has of course been a favoured theme of totalitarian dictators since at least the early Soviet “purges”, through Mao, Pol Pot (who creatively extended the paranoia to anyone who wore spectacles), and so on. Recently, too, an attack on “liberal professors” was made by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, thus implying that those who really talk like “Melanie Phillips” have more in common with theocratic Iran, though it be one of our “Islamic enemies”, than they do with educated members of their own society. Which raises an alternative possibility. Maybe “Melanie Phillips” is not, as I first assumed, a satire, but the creation of a brilliant Islamist psyops initiative.