With Enemies Like These, Who Needs Friends?


US President George W Bush has said that our civilisation is threatened by ‘Islamo-fascist’ terrorists and Australian politicians have also expressed concerns about threats to our values.

The only threat to our values and our civilisation comes from ourselves.



Contrary to forests of media hype, September 11 did not change the world nor did it threaten our civilisation. Tragic as it was for those involved, a few thousand deaths do not destroy a civilisation. What does threaten our values and our way of life is the panic-stricken reaction of Western politicians and mainstream media. Both have lashed out at targets that have nothing to do with the perpetrators of the attack on the World Trade Centre and have created a climate of fear among the populace.

It seems clear that Western politicians really don’t know what to do about this threat but they must be seen to be doing something. Thus, the invasion of Iraq and the demonising of Muslims is a substitute for a solution to the problem.

Politicians use the threat of terrorism for their own narrow political purposes. They know that if anything happens the media will blame them, so we get pious platitudes from all sides of politics. Complex issues must be reduced to 30-second sound bites; and slogans replace solutions. Kim Beazley’s demand for tourists to sign a declaration that they will adhere to Australian values is perhaps one of the more ludicrous examples of this nonsense.

But what is the problem? Leaving aside the problem created by the Coalition of the Panic Stricken in Iraq, the problem is a small number of extremists who are capable of terrorist acts which may kill hundreds or even thousands of people. A tragedy? Yes. A threat? Yes. But is this really a threat to Western civilisation? The UK survived decades of similar attacks by the IRA, and Spain has survived the activities of ETA. Are our values so lightly held?

When a religious nut in Sudan calls on Muslims to kill the Pope, this is news. When Christian fundamentalists in some equally obscure place demand that we nuke Muslims, this is not news. We must compare like with like. Compare small town bigots with small town bigots and major religious leaders with major religious leaders. One of the problems Islam faces is that it does not have the same kind of structure that most Christian churches have, so that nobody can speak for Islam. I am not suggesting that we condone Muslims who promote violence but that we should treat them with the contempt they deserve by ignoring their ranting.

Thanks to Scratch

The real threat to our values and our civilisation comes from the use of fear to justify restrictions on our liberty. We are told that we are at war and must therefore make sacrifices even though nobody has yet been killed in Australia by a terrorist. What is really needed is an atmosphere of calm combined with proper attention to intelligence and police activity against potential threats. We will not beat the terrorists by joining them and attacking the very values they seek to destroy.

Certainly the death of loved ones is not something to be demeaned in any way but would you grieve less for a child killed in a road accident than for one killed in a terrorist incident? Yet, more Australians have been killed on the roads than by terrorists.

If the aim of the terrorists is to destroy the values of the European Enlightenment which are the basis for our views on human rights, then a few bombs and a few thousand casualties will not achieve this. But draconian measures to counter this threat end up destroying the civilisation they are supposed to be protecting.

If the guardians of our values and our security are restricting our liberties to protect our liberty, then we must ask: Quis custodiet custodiens? Who will guard the guardians?

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.