Toeing the Line on Terror


Amidst all the chaos in Iraq, a recent story in the UK Independent brought a smile to my face. Not, mind you, for its insights into Iraq’s quagmire but rather the country’s ability to completely avoid reality.

As Kim Sengupta in Baghdad explained:

A £48m, five-star, 23-storey hotel rising in the city centre; an opulent palace complex being turned into a theme park; cheap flights to the picturesque ‘Venice of the east’ all the trappings of a country gearing up for a tourist boom. Except the country in question is Iraq. With a new constitution and elections in the offing, officials insist there is a new beginning. The tourist board has 2,400 staff and 14 offices.

Thair Feeley, of the Iraqi Commission for Investment, insisted the hotel would not be a five-star hotel, ‘but a seven and a half stars one.’

Such unreality was a welcome respite from the brutality in Iraq. In the West, we have entered the age of regular terror alerts, media hysteria, Muslim extremists under every bed and political leaders playing with fire. Robert Fisk reporting in the Independent on 29 October, argued that reality and myth had never been further apart than at the moment, when discussing the Global War Against Something:

…  as someone who has to look at the eviscerated corpses of Palestine and Israel, the murdered bodies in the garbage heaps of Iraq, the young women shot through the head in the Baghdad morgue, I can only shake my head in disbelief at the sheer, unadulterated, lazy bullshit let’s call a spade a spade which is currently emerging from our great leaders.

And Australia is far from immune from this ‘sheer, unadulterated, lazy bullshit.’

Prime Minister John Howard and his media cheerleaders (the vast majority of the corporate media elite) tell us that a terrorist threat exists in Australia. This is hardly news, but is reported as a shock announcement. Why are we under threat? ‘They’ hate our way of life. ‘They’ want to impose sharia law on us all. ‘They’ hate Aussie women wearing bikinis on Bondi Beach. ‘They’ hate us because that’s what extremists do. ‘They’ hate irrationally and passionately and uncontrollably.

All nonsense, of course.

Islamic fundamentalism feeds on discontent and grievances. Foreign policy decisions, such as the invasion of Iraq or the use of torture by Western governments, all contribute to unrest. But these issues are barely discussed in Australia. We live in an age when our leaders speak about sacrifice, freedom and democracy, but in fact behave with a growing childishness and a studious avoidance of root causes. Our media is happy to comply.

Thanks to Scratch

In the wake of the July 7 London bombings, Tony Blair’s Government hand-picked a working group of Muslim advisers to report on proposed anti-terror laws. The advisers concluded that the measures risked alienating law-abiding Muslims and driving extremists underground. British foreign policy was a ‘key contributory factor’ in spurring UK Muslims to terrorism. Inherent injustices in Western foreign policy were causing widespread anger and frustration and the proposed banning of certain Islamic organisations could make them more secretive and ‘more problematic in the future.’

Furthermore, the Muslim community working group expressed concern over a proposal to make ‘inciting, justifying or glorifying terrorism’ a criminal offence, saying that it ‘could lead to a significant chill in the Muslim community in expressing legitimate support for self-determination struggles around the world,’ including Palestine.

Reading the News Ltd, Fairfax and Packer publications all in varying stages of cosiness with police and intelligence agencies you could get the impression that Australia’s Muslim community itself is under attack by terrorists. The Australian, for example, regularly talks about ‘good’ Muslims and in the days after the recent massive anti-terror raids, the Sydney Morning Herald even told its readers that we must now ‘trust’ the Government. Critical faculties, and journalistic integrity, went out the window.

Brian Walters, a lawyer representing one of the accused who was arrested in the Melbourne raids, told the online version of The Age on November 9 that, despite government and police authorities saying otherwise, ‘the suggestion of an imminent terrorist attack, at least in Victoria, has no basis.’ Such words of caution were largely ignored.

Readers of the Sydney Morning Herald on November 12 were treated to an artist’s impression of Mirsad Mulahalilovic, the first suspect to appear in Sydney. ‘He appeared in a Guantánamo Bay-style jumpsuit,’ wrote journalist Natasha Wallace, ‘shackled at the arms and legs with chains attached to his waist, and heavy security at his side.’ Authorities were either culturally insensitive or just ignorant. As letter writer Patrick Sayers expressed in the SMH:

Don’t they realise that here and around the world, this Guantánamo Bay image represents, for a huge number of people, a breach of the norms of international justice and of respect for the Geneva Conventions, and is a catalyst for terrorist activity?

God forbid that anybody should dare say that Australia is bringing the risk of terrorism upon itself.

So what does this all say about Australia in 2005?

We follow in the footsteps of an American administration that tortures detainees around the world and wants to maintain the right to do so. The CIA hides and interrogates terror suspects in secret prisons across the globe, including Poland, Romania and Thailand. US, British and Australian troops are largely immune from prosecution in Iraq thanks to occupation laws. The US Senate recently passed legislation removing almost all legal rights from detainees at Guantánamo Bay, as well as other US bases on foreign or American soil. British forces in southern Iraq have ceded power to radical Islamic militias and the police recruits they have trained and armed are now their enemies. The Los Angeles Times reported in late September that Iraq’s oil production might have been permanently damaged after the failure of American efforts to rebuild key components of Iraq’s petroleum industry.

These are the acts of a dictatorship, and yet Australia meekly copies the worst of US excesses.

Meanwhile, Britain’s former Ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, recently slammed Blair over Iraq and challenged the assertion that the war hadn’t made Britain a greater terrorist target:

There is plenty of evidence around at the moment that home-grown terrorism was partly radicalised and fuelled by what is going on in Iraq. There is no way we can credibly get up and say it has nothing to do with it. Don’t tell me that being in Iraq has got nothing to do with it. Of course it does.

In Australia, though, speaking such truths would be shunned and labelled seditious. Until such honesty returns to our shores, the word ‘democracy’ should only be used in whispers.  

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.