Abbott should have known better—the Brasillach affair

Published in Crikey on Thursday 17 February

It is slightly more – by just 10 days – than 66 years from the day Robert Brasillach was executed by the French Government for ‘urging collaborationism’.

Brasillach was an intellectual, journalist, novelist and undeniably a collaborator during the Nazi occupation of France. When he was condemned to death intellectuals from the right and left appealed to Charles de Gaulle to be clement. There were two arguments – he was an intellectual and ‘mere words did not constitute treason’ and he was an important French intellectual. The mere words, by the way, included calls to assassinate left wing politicians.

De Gaulle rejected all the appeals because (paraphrasing him) Brasillach should have known better. That he was an intellectual was no defence, but instead further reason for condemnation.

Tony Abbott is in no way a Robert Brasillach. He is not a collaborationist, he is not anti-Semitic, he has not called for the killing of people he is opposed to. He is a democrat and not a fascist like Brasillach. People who know him tell me he is even personable.

But he is an intellectual – although for political reasons he hides it as carefully as Harold Macmillan did – and that is the standard by which he should be judged.

The last few days of Islamophobia are a good example of someone who should have known better and who should be judged accordingly.

They represent the worst of US Republican dog whistle politics. First members of your party set the hare running by inciting community concern about Muslims and wasting government money on flying family members to a funeral. You, of course, are totally ignorant of this amazing development. Then you jump in and say you wouldn’t have said that (echoes of House of Cards) but that someone else may have, and then throw in the proviso that the Government needs to explain itself about flying “rellies to funerals”. Like Macmillan you throw in the colloquialism just to show that you are neither intellectual nor distant from the common people.

Then there is uproar – not on talkback radio which is totally on your side – but among the commentariat (outside News Limited, of course, even though they would love to talk about anything other than tax avoidance, related party transactions and phone tapping) and you retreat a bit by saying that “perhaps it has gone too far.”

By then the damage has been done. The political end had been achieved. A grudging concession was enough to justify a call for people “to move on”.

Abbott is very definitely no Robert Brasillach – but de Gaulle’s judgement seems apposite, he not only ought to have known better but probably did.

Thank heavens he has Cardinal Pell to give him absolution.