War on Terror


There is now no doubt whatsoever that government in Australia – both State and Federal – is obsessed by the possibility (or probability) of a terrorist attack, and that the public at large is prepared to forego civil liberties in return for ‘security’. The media is milking this ‘crisis’ for all it is worth. Scary news sells papers and is good for advertising agencies and the manufacturers of fridge magnets.

What does the future hold?

We are well on the way to a one-party state (Beazley is a de facto member of the Liberal Party, and the Labor opposition is now quite irrelevant); and ASIO is becoming the Australian equivalent of the KGB. (In all the kerfuffle over the accidental posting of the Victorian police files, no one is asking why this information on individuals is kept in the first place. And what are the links between the Victorian police and the Federal police?)

Thanks to Scratch

Thanks to Scratch

More importantly, our society – like the American and the British – is being rapidly polarised. It is simplistic and dangerous morality: good vs evil, the white hats and the black hats. Despite the soothing utterances of Howard and Ruddock, the ‘extremist’ Muslims will be the first to go into camps for ‘undesirables’, or deported regardless of national status; then will follow ‘strange’ people with dark complexions; and after that, liberals who dare to criticise government policy, who will be seen as ‘unreliable’ and ‘traitorous’. The bureaucrats of DIMIA and the spooks of ASIO will have a field day. But, of course, they will only be ‘doing their job’.

The case against American foreign/military policy in Iraq, support of that policy by Blair and Howard, and the measures espoused by Ruddock and his colleagues – and Beazley and his apparatchiks – is familiar, and need not be repeated. The questions to be asked are: why are we obsessed with the ‘war on terror’, why are we being polarised and why are we prepared to give up our liberties?

The basic assumption seems to be that there is a worldwide, extremist Muslim conspiracy, headed by Osama bin Laden, which threatens our Way of Life and all that we stand for. Terrorism is something entirely new and no longer can we tell peacetime from wartime. As President George W Bush has said: ‘This is a new brand of war, unlike any other we have known, of covert operations, secret even in success.’ This fits in exactly with what Philip Ruddock has told the Australian public.

Inciting the fear of the nameless enemy within is, of course, one of the oldest political tricks in the book. It was used with great effect by the Nazis in Germany. Scaring people, convincing them they should give up their liberties, encouraging them to betray their fellow men/women if they see something ‘suspicious’, is about the exercise of power over human beings; and the exercise of power gives pleasure. I’ve got no doubt, for example, that power gives John Howard and Philip Ruddock great pleasure.

The successful exercise of power – solitary confinement in the detention camp, the interrogation of ‘suspects’, deportation of ‘illegals’, the carrying of a machinegun, the torture of prisoners – also buttresses belief. As Kim Beazley said after the London bombings: ‘they [the terrorists]are subhuman filth and should be eliminated.’ Beazley was, no doubt, trying to get votes and to outdo Blair and Howard, but there is every chance he believed what he said. He does, after all, come from a Christian family. I suppose from a Muslim point of view, Beazley could be regarded as an ‘extremist’. Like the terrorists, he, too, believes in ‘eliminating’ people. He has not earned the sobriquet, ‘bomber’, for nothing.

Belief – whether it be Christian, Muslim, or any other kind – can be a very dangerous thing and can lead to catastrophe. Read, for example, a history of the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, or the Great War 1914 “18. In that last case, ‘saving Christian civilisation’ ultimately meant thousands of mutilated young men, grieving mothers, vast military cemeteries and war memorials in every township in Australia.

The polarisation of society is by no means new, either. It is another way of exercising power. An example: as early as 1903, England was being prepared for a war with Germany by popular novels, plays and Germanophobic newspapers. The Germans thought war was inevitable, too. On both sides, there were references to coming cataclysms, conflagrations and so on. This was a deterministic view of history.

It is the same today. For example, Amazon.com has over 3000 books on terror in stock; many universities run courses in ‘terror studies’; ‘experts’ on terror have emerged from under every stone; and our politicians warn us daily. We are being softened up and polarised.

In America, the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration predict the coming of World War IV (I suppose World War III was the struggle against the Soviet Union and Communism) and the need to defend the Democratic Ideal against the Muslim Conspiracy. (The neo-cons also postulate that America stands for all that is good in the world.)

There is, however, a contrary view – from which we are shielded by the government and the media – that Al Qaeda and the Muslim conspiracy may be no more than a nightmare, concocted and given terrifying substance by governmental witchdoctors and the press. The bombings are real enough (in both London and Baghdad), but the conspiracy is not. This unfashionable – even traitorous – view has been expressed in a three-part TV documentary, The Power of Nightmares. I understand that Part I has been shown on SBS in Australia, but that the second and third parts are still to be shown. (Will they ever be broadcast?) The documentary has not, of course, been shown in America. (It has crossed my mind: does Osama bin Laden really exist?)

There is sometimes a black humour in all this. In Williamstown, Victoria, where I live, there is a naval shipyard. It is possible that it might be attacked. But not to worry, the local Boy Scouts are ever alert. Recently the leader of the Boy Scouts was asked what he would do if there were a terrorist attack. ‘Attack?’ he said, ‘Not on my watch!’

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.