Randa Abdel-Fattah Schools Minister On History On Powerful QandA


There hasn’t been a lot of room for dissent in the last week, and precious less for history.

With mass, live-broadcast police raids, an obedient press have dutifully scribed the dire warnings of the Prime Minister. We may feel awkward about sending troops to the same nation for seemingly the same reason twice in little over a decade, but images of choppers flying over the Sydney suburbs help smooth any historical hindsight we might try to apply.

Those who raise so much as the slightest objection are shouted down as nothing less than “simple-minded”.

It was in this context that Randa Abdel-Fattah sat herself down between Justice Minister Michael Keenan and Tony Jones last night and took one for Team Australia.

In a series of enthralling monologues, Abdel-Fattah cut through the fear and hype that have blown all sense of déjà vu and perspective away. The author said what few others have been able to: there is a link between the actions of the West in the Middle East and the anger that comes back to our shores. And re-involvement in the region will only stoke that fire.

“There is a connection there, and it’s about time the West acknowledges the mess it makes. The fact is we are at risk now on our soil,” she said.

In front of a silenced audience, Abdel-Fattah reminded the nation that groups like Islamic State do not simply grow in an historical vacuum and that their anti-Western sentiment is fuelled by another history of atrocities. In Iraq, in Palestine, in the homes of civilians killed by US drone strikes.

“That doesn’t mean that everybody that is aggrieved by the way the West intervenes is going to be radicalized, but why is it that we choose to ignore that elephant in the room: the role of Western foreign policy in creating such an unjust world and particularly its role in creating the mess in the Middle East that we see.

“We go round in the West trying to cut down the trees, even as we plant the seeds of terrorism.”

Abdel-Fattah was backed by Curtin University research fellow Anne-Azza Aly, an expert in radicalisation and counter-terrorism.

“Yes, the fact is that our invasion of Iraq has played a large role in what’s happening now,” she said in response to a question from the audience.

The contributions made by the parliament were a poignant reminder that Q and A does its best work when it brings in expert voices from outside of the Canberra bubble, and pushes slightly fresher lines of argument in front of a mass audience.

In the face of Abdel-Fattah’s eloquence and Aly’s cool analysis, Keenan squirmed.

Pushed on whether Australia’s involvement in Iraq in 2003 had helped ferment the current crisis, he gave a telling response.

“I think it is a very misplaced thing for us to be going back and revisiting that history now,” he said.

The problem for Keenan is that we are not revisiting that history, it has returned to revisit us.

“We’re not going to be seduced by this circular logic that we have to go back to Iraq because the threat has increased when renewing our involvement increases the threat,” Abdel-Fattah fired.

“We’re not fools.”

Only at one point did Keenan manage to shoot back with any level of success, asking Abdel-Fattah whether she was comfortable leaving Islamic State to conquer Iraq, and whether she really believed this would not hurt Australia’s national interest.

“I shouldn’t have to support a war to say that I’m against ISIS,” she said. “There should be other solutions.”

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