The manic squeak of fundamentalists

MY shoe squeaks.

It’s driving me nuts. I hope the rest of the world, which is subjected to only fleeting moments of squeakiness as I pass it by, is more tolerant than I am. If not I may be lynched by the end of the week.

My wife is already talking about having my foot amputated.

“But it’s my shoe!” I protested. “I could just buy a new pair.”

“Yes, but I’m learning to hate you because of your bloody shoe!”

No wonder we’re hard on fundamentalists. It’s not because they’re religious nutters. You can’t dislike someone because life has sent their head funny.

You dislike them because they’re so… squeaky. They go on about it, and they expect the rest of the world to see it your way.

It’s so… unAustralian. Like my shoe.

My shoe bothers me. It makes me uncomfortable and self-conscious. I limp in public, not because it hurts but because I’m trying to place my foot in such a way I reduce the sound to a muffled groan.

If my shoe were a fundamentalist it would rush up to people, squeaking noisily. And there would probably be a couple of kilograms of gelignite hidden in the heel.

Look, I have a set of philosophical values that, in moments of wild misdefinition, you might call religious belief. But I keep them to myself. I certainly don’t browbeat other people with them. And I don’t blow them up.

Now, I am making some wild assumptions here… but maybe Bali 2 is not about religious fundamentalism. That would mean there were maniacs out there whose thought processes work like this: “I want to control people’s lives in the name of some deity I have been told about. They will have to see everything my way. And if they don’t I’ll kill them all and then there won’t be any lives for me to control.”

It doesn’t make sense.

Maybe it’s got less to do with religious fundamentalism and more to do with blowing people up.

Samuel Johnson said patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel, which, in his quaint 300-year-old language meant that thuggery hides behind noble ideas.

It happened in Stalinist Russia, Maoist Chine; in Pol Plot’s Cambodia, the IRA’s Ireland, and now it’s happening in Iraq.

It happens in America, too, all the time, but to give them their due (they don’t get much opportunity for praise so we should give it where we can) they call it The Mafia and they make no bones about what they’re after, which is only your money. Not your country or your soul. And actually, they do make bones about it – usually their victims’.

The problem with all this in 2005 is that thuggery is so easy. When I was a lad I had this desperate urge to smash windows (which, I should add, I managed to control mostly because I would have been found out so easily).

Now most of the windows are already smashed so people make bombs instead. The instructions are everywhere. They could probably make kidney dialysis machines off the internet instructions, too, but I suppose it wouldn’t be so much fun.

But don’t blame it all on the internet. It’s in books too. I look over people’s shoulder on the bus (when my shoe’s not squeaking). They’re reading about war-time atrocities, about homicidal maniacs, about the 10 most vicious murders. Whatever happened to… Pride and Prejudice? That was a good book and no one died, not even of natural causes. Or Tess of the Durbervilles?

Okay, Tess ended up being hanged, but not dismembered, for heaven’s sake!

Maybe that’s where it all began – with a story (by Thomas Hardy) about a young girl being hanged. Or Captain Von Trapp slapping the postman in Sound of Music. Then you blink and its Arnie Schwarznegger and Armageddon. Blood and entrails sliding down the movie screen.

It’ll stop eventually, of course. It always has. The Puritans purged the world of that kind of nonsense 400 years ago when they got rid of the debauchery and excess of the previous 300 years. They had to burn a few people as witches to do it, naturally. If you can’t persuade people by force of argument that you have the right to be in charge, there’s nothing like fear if you’re looking for an effective marketing campaign.

Come to think of it, they were the religious fundamentalists of their day, too. At least they had the good manners, eventually, to sail to America where no one would disagree with them. How’s that for karma?

Fear is wonderful thing. You can turn your neighbours into enemies with fear, like the Nazis did in France. Suddenly the couple next door are spies. Never mind that you’ve been drinking down the pub with him for 20 years; or that she’s washed their smalls in your washing machine when theirs was on the blink.

Suddenly You Can’t Be Too Careful.

And when that happens you’ve turned into America, and it’s all downhill from there.

I think I’m on to something. While I’m working out exactly what it is, I’ll just put up with the squeaky shoe.

When it starts ticking I’ll know they’re on to me.