His Own Private Jihad: Joe Hildebrand Calls For War On Syria


As a general rule, Australians don’t trust our media. This is presumably for the sensible reason that it is mostly untrustworthy.

At the bottom of the heap is the Daily Telegraph, trashy even by the standards of Australian tabloids. It is the least trusted major newspaper in Australia. Whilst its columnists attract readers with inflammatory right-wing sound and fury, it tries to present some variety on its op ed pages.

Tim Blair, Miranda Devine, Piers Akerman are balanced by less ostentatiously reactionary writers. One supposes that some consider Joe Hildebrand to be among those who balance the others out.

Whilst, the reactionaries uses every column to prosecute their favoured right-wing arguments, Hildebrand presents as relatively non-political, using his columns mostly to try to be funny. Readers might notice that his attempts at comedy mostly come in the form of making fun of the left.

Other achievements in Hildebrand’s career include his determined mockery of the “mentally handicapped” and “retarded”, refusing to apologise in the face of criticism. Caroline Overington and Tim Blair also joined in the fun of using the word “retard” as an insult. Finally, someone courageous enough to make fun of people with intellectual disabilities. What a visionary.

Earlier, in 2007, APEC came to Sydney, and everyone who lived here at the time remembers the extraordinary police powers and presence in the heart of the city – known locally as ‘The Great Wall of Sydney’, a barrier that separated APEC delegates from the rest of the city.

Even Miranda Devine wound up strongly condemning the police for arresting her friend. Devine observed that “the security overkill in Sydney was just a big show, designed not to protect anyone from terrorists but to stymie protesters”.

In the lead-up to APEC’s actual arrival, the police assured us that there was a threat of anarchist violence. There was no evidence of this, but the Daily Telegraph is nothing if not obliging, and so a less prominent Hildebrand at the time duly reported on his important discovery:

“MILITANT APEC protesters are secretly plotting an outbreak of violence for US President George W. Bush’s arrival in Sydney tomorrow, distributing a rioter’s training manual on how to wear gas masks, confront police and even evade fares. The FLARE (For Liberation Autonomy Resistance Exodus) manual, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, openly declares an intent to commit violence.”

Needless to say, there was no outbreak of anarchist violence, and there had been no “rioter’s training manual”. There was a reader for anarchists, which I imagine very few anarchists read. I wrote a few essays for it, on issues like West Papua and Palestine, which could probably be reprinted today in New Matilda with minor changes, without anyone realising.

The idea of a training manual rests on the apparent notion that anarchists had a party line and goal which they were working towards: a presumption that wouldn’t be adopted by someone who was familiar with the Australian anarchist scene, or even anarchism in general.

The fact that Hildebrand reported a story billed as “EXCLUSIVE” which turned out to be bullshit didn’t hinder his career in the slightest. Hildebrand went on to what assumes is a lucrative career with multiple appearances on various television shows.

He continues to write brave satire, like claiming that supporters of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel are anti-Semitic.

In recent days, a photo of a dead child fleeing Syria has gone viral across the world. It has put pressure on politicians around the world to take some action, in light of what is probably transient Western sympathy for refugees. Germany in particular has distinguished itself, announcing it will receive 800,000 Syrian refugees.

Various Liberal politicians, including NSW Premier Mike Baird, called on the federal government to accept more Syrian refugees. The ALP was more ambivalent.

MP Mark Butler declined to comment on increasing refugee numbers.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott eventually relented, in a way, by saying that more of the refugees Australia takes will be from Syria and Iraq.

This wouldn’t be an increase – we’d continue accepting 13,750 refugees a year, though in 2018 we’ll take in 18,750. Bill Shorten responded by suggesting we increase our intake of refugees to 27,000 a year.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young noted, “The Greens are calling for an immediate intake of 20,000 Syrian refugees, over and above the current humanitarian quota, and a boost of funding to the UNHCR.”

It was around this point that Hildebrand decided to weigh in with the glib un-wit that has typified his career.



It turns out, there is a public commentator in Australia who has managed to speak on the Syrian conflict even more simplistically than Tony Abbott.

Let us review. In 2013, Tony Abbott explained that the Syrian conflict was a “civil war… between two pretty unsavoury sides… It is not goodies versus baddies, it is baddies versus baddies and that is why it is very important that we don’t make a very difficult situation worse.”

Julie Bishop defended him, arguing that UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, and US President Barack Obama have both referred to Syrian rebels as including “bad guys”. She concluded that, “On both sides of this conflict there are the bad guys, which is why it’s difficult for the US and its allies to take sides.” And she observed that the rebels included al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra.

Right now, Abbott appears to be planning to bomb Daesh in Syria. However, not all refugees from Syria are fleeing Daesh. There are presently some 4 million Syrian refugees who have fled Syria, overwhelmingly to nearby countries in the Middle East. There are also some 6.5 million internally displaced within Syria.

Some might be fleeing the theocratic oppression and terrorism of Daesh. Others might be fleeing the theocratic oppression and terrorism of other jihadi groups, like Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report on 3 September on human rights violations in Syria. The media release observed:

A proliferating number of warring parties continues to display a complete disregard for their international legal obligations by targeting civilians, residential areas, and locations protected under international law. Combat tactics employed by all sides to the armed conflict, such as the use of siege warfare, indiscriminate shelling and use of air power have resulted in mass civilian casualties, destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage and displacement of Syrian civilians on a massive scale.

That is, war crimes in Syria, Mr Hildebrand, are not just committed by Daesh. The UN experts condemn Daesh barbarism, including sexual violence and forced marriage, and also note the following:

Government authorities continued to conduct wide-ranging attacks, including the use of intensive, indiscriminate aerial bombardment and barrel-bombs, in several parts of the country. Such assaults have frequently been directed at civilian gathering places, market places, public transportation sites, and locations with no military significance. Civilians, particularly fighting-age men, continue to be arrested, detained and, in some cases, disappeared based on their association, activism or perceived opposition to the Government.

Anti-Government armed groups have attacked areas of Aleppo, Damascus, Idlib and Latakia, in some cases bombarding residential neighbourhoods and targeting civilians believed to be supporting the Government. Some armed groups have detained or taken hostage men and women in order to effectuate prisoner exchanges or to collect ransom.

Two terrorists groups, Jabhat Al-Nusra and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, continues to inflict brutal methods on civilians, particularly on religious and ethnic minorities.

Soon to be included in this toxic brew is Turkey’s new war on Kurds in Syria. Patrick Cockburn observes that they have been “betrayed” by the US. Cockburn argued that the Syrian-Kurdish Party (PYD) is Daesh’s “most effective enemy in Syria”. Yet they will now have to face another enemy, making it hard to understand precisely how concerned the West actually is in fighting, let alone containing Daesh.

Which is yet another reflection of the incoherent nature of our war on Daesh. But let us return to Hildebrand.

Suppose that the Greens should support “bombing the bastards” trying to kill Syrian refugees. Which bastards should they support bombing? Turkey? Daesh? Jabhat al Nusra? Assad? Ahrar al-Sham? Hezbollah?

Hildebrand isn’t the first person to think that the problems of the Middle East can be solved with Western freedom bombs.

After the Taliban was overthrown but Osama Bin Laden couldn’t be found, we were told that the war was actually about liberating the people of Afghanistan all along.

A similar transformation occurred with the Iraq war: we were going to establish a democracy that would inspire the entire region. And then in 2011 Western states dropped liberty bombs on Libya.

By some strange coincidence, all three of them are currently disasters.

Yet this hasn’t caused reflection on precisely how much good can be generated by dropping bombs on foreign countries.

Hildebrand looks at the war in Syria, and concludes that what is needed is more bombs, more foreign intervention, and escalation of the conflict. And Australia then accepting 0.5 per cent of the refugees generated by the war we’re in.

Because we’re just so goddamn compassionate.

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).