In this issue:
1. John Campbell, David Davis, Alan Powys, Wendy Fowler, Andreas Perdana and Peter Dyce on Yank-bashing
2. Cathy Bannister, Richard Hoenig, Anthony Cole and Scott Newman on the middle-east mess.
3. Denise Parkinson and Dawn Allan-Hamer on imagining another way.
4. A poem by Hugh Wilson
5. Chris Cudmore, Mark Worthington and Michael Walton on the politics
6. Polly Bush’s regular column ‘Junk mail’.
1. THE YANKS
John Campbell, an Australian in New London, Connecticut, USA
My brains are breaking! Everybody and his/her dog is getting in for their two bob’s worth following the WTC slaughter. And everybody and his/her dog, as always, dig their heels in and stand tall and pious in the light of their own nurtured and cherished world view. In the end, as always, all we get is the triumph of dogma over humanity.
What disturbs me is that all of the talk from all of the experts and spin-meisters ultimately diminishes the suffering of the victims and, worse, legitimises the carnage. I have been a leftie/hippy critic of the US all my life, but I despise the annihilation of free thought and personal liberty that theocracies such as the Taliban represent.
For all of its corruption, greed, waste and inequality, I would rather live in the Western world of the twentieth century than eighth century Arabia. It alarmed me when I realised it, but I agreed when I heard President Chirac say ‘today we are all Americans.’ It is, of course, scary to have shit-for-brai=ns in the White House, but wiser heads seem to be prevailing at the moment.
Over here, as an Australian, I have been calmed by Powell, but nobody has been more impressive than Mayor Giuliani. America is not full of ratbags, but it is a country that is understandably outraged. I cannot offer any solution. I am just like everyone else. Hoping against hope that the darkness will lift. ‘What the world needs now…’
David Davis in Switzerland
Tim Dunlop in More on war fever says that John Wojdylo in Terror unlike movies has a “visceral and irrational hate of Australia”. Hatred manifests itself in different ways. John does end up weakening a lot of the interesting points he has to make by consistently saying things which make it at least appear that he hates Australia, but it must be more complicated than that.
Australians aren’t at all used to visceral and irrational hatred directed at them. American’s are. When abroad, Australians proudly announce their nationality, expecting almost to be awarded some kind of medal that they thoroughly DON’T deserve. When Americans announce their nationality, they have to tolerate a flood of incomprehensible abuse which again they DON’T deserve.
Tim says that people like John and I can’t hold two separate thoughts in our heads. The separate thoughts apparently being recognition of the tragedy AND recognition that America needs to take stock of why it is a target for such an outrage.
What utter nonsense. Stocktaking? Rubbish.
The mistake Tim is making is trying to link the various forms of anti-Americanism and the specific act of barbarism which took place in New York City. It was a specific act, committed by specific individuals for a specific reason. Quit this ridiculous umbrella approach. Don’t create links and connections that aren’t there or are not particularly relevant for the required response. I am most interested in how this global crisis is to be dealt with.
There are historical links for everything and they are well known. Everyone knows the Taliban were originally assisted by the CIA and we all know why. We all know about the Soviets in Afghanistan. That is hardly a revelation. How far do you want to take it back? That situation existed because of the Cold War. Then who do we blame for the Cold War? Hitler, I suppose. He certainly created the preconditions for it. Then should we blame the German people for supporting him? Should we go back even further and blame the Allies for how they dealt with the end of World War 1 and created the preconditions for the emergence of Hitler? Come off it.
This afternoon I visited a friend in Zurich. On the way back I was in a tram going along Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse and to my utter horror saw police with automatic weapons drawn and trained on the door of a Citibank branch. I can only assume it was a false alarm as I have not heard more of it in the last couple of hours. For a brief moment though I assumed a terrorist incident was about to take place and was literally terrified. I didn’t know if a bomb was about to go off, gas released or shots would ring out. The tram continued and as far as I know nothing happened. I boarded my train back to Basel somewhat shaken and certainly with a feeling of even greater unease. To see people running and guns drawn on the main street of Zurich, for whatever the reason is extraordinary.
I didn’t need it, but it showed me in stark terms that this fear can impact people everywhere. Beyond that the threat is very real and needs to be confronted. Confronted, not appeased. This is HARDLY a time for intellectual wanking.
I am not particularly interested in some inappropriate retrospective on how America asked for it. It is surprising how people without links to the States can become so detached. It is beyond surprising, it is disgusting.
To anyone interested, there was a good article in the London Sunday Times this weekend on hatred directed toward America (see recommendations above). If you hate America don’t read it. It is particularly good at dissecting the hatred amongst chattering class Europeans and I could relate it to similar types in Australia.
What is all this rhetoric about war against Afghanistan going to achieve? As usual the US and the media aren’t terribly interested in thinking about the long-term outcome of their reaction to this criminal act. Will America ever realise that its culture is not the centre of the universe for a large percentage of the world’s population?
You don’t have to think too hard to know that hundreds more “innocent” lives will be lost in whatever action America and its allies take. The only winners will be politicians who see the opportunity to make promises to people who are still very vulnerable emotionally, and arms manufacturers (mostly US based). Surely history has shown that nobody really wins a war. No doubt the US feels that it has lost face in the world’s eyes. Supposedly the most powerful Goliath on this planet has discovered that it can be badly hurt by a cunning David. George Bush knows that he must appear to be taking quick and destructive action against a faceless enemy. But does the US government have any clear plan of action? I don’t think so.
Wendy Fowler in New Zealand
“Infinite Justiceand”. Was ever a title more calculated to stir antagonism than that? It’s deeply religious connotations annoyed me anyway.
Maybe the air is a little clearer down here, but all the vengeful thundering from G W Bush smells sulphurous and ultimately empty to me. Hand over bin Laden and make a martyr out of him? Flick a match onto all the willing suicide terrorists, why don’t they? Then the whole world will be able to appreciate the results of justice of the infinite kind, American style.
Look – why doesn’t George Bush hop on a plane to somewhere and talk to Afghanistan, Iraq and co. How about he says something like – How can we help you, or, If we stop OUR war talk/actions, what will you do on your side?
It seems to me that its an unwinnable situation, so the best thing would be to get everyone on side. If the USA would make an humane effort, we might get somewhere.
But what do I know?
I would like to respond to Rick Pass in The boatpeople and the war, replying to my comments in Hot words, cool heads and poetry. I admit that because of age and the widespread Western affliction of short attention span the war I remember is the Gulf War, where the term ‘collateral damage’ entered the vocabulary. If the US intended to maximise civilian deaths in that conflict I am sure they had the means to murder millions more. On the other hand, this is the very intention of the terrorists.
If these people had access to weapons of mass destruction, do you think they will refrain from using them? The US has not exploded any nuclear weapons in any conflicts since WWII. This is the difference I was trying to highlight. Does it really not make perfect sense that there is a very important difference? Surely not acknowledging the difference is downright dishonest.
I lived in the US many years ago as a student, but far from being a big fan of USA, I have turned down several opportunities to live there and make a lot of money because of my distaste for the country, its crassness and ignorance, and its scary evangelical undercurrent; let alone their foreign policies. Funnily enough, the bombing did however make me feel strongly American, at least for that week.
One interpretation of Rick’s note is it’s perhaps of a subconscious reflection of white superiority sympathies that says racism committed by whites against brown/black/yellow is more pernicious than vice-versa or than those committed amongst other races – white people do things (even bad things) better and on a bigger scale. If a white person kills a brown it is significant, if a brown kills a yellow it really doesn’t matter?
There really was not much reaction from us when genocide was committed in Rwanda, or even to the ongoing racial (disguised as religious) conflicts on outlying islands of Indonesia. Hardly anyone in the West cares about how many Chinese were massacred in Indonesia in 65-66. What about the East Timorese in 76, again a greater percentage of the population than Rick quoted? What about the racism from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Why is it inferior if it is not committed by white people in the West? Why don’t we commit ourselves not to tolerate racism in all manners and with all races? Being selective in our application is in itself a manifestation of inherent racism.
For more than half of my life I endured overt virulent violent constant intense racism, the practice of which I doubt many fellow Australians can imagine. Just because the perpetrators were not white does not make it any less traumatic from the recipient’s point of view. Whiteness is not a defining factor, although it may seem like it if you’re stuck in your environment. Significantly, Australia has shown that we have the capacity to project the protection of lives outside our borders (in East Timor), as has France in Rwanda. It is no excuse to turn a blind eye to racism because it is not being committed by whites. This is not about moral salvation for the white race.
Excuse me, but what country am I in? I no longer recognise this place.
What government is this that is repelling desperate souls and turning atolls into prison camps? Who are these people that I once called countrymen? Where did this nasty mean streak appear from. Has did always been within us? Am I only just noticing it because it has turned to foreigners rather than this country’s ‘real’ Australians.
I am sickened by the behaviour of these politicians exploiting the fears of an electorate who have been trained to think of nothing but themselves. Why does this place bother having a government? The least thing they appear interested in doing is governing.
Let the Market decide. Wall Street, Greenspan and the Bundesbank controls our money supply. The Greenback is God. Washington controls our foreign policy. Why is it that the failure of American foreign policy always seems to to result in a war?
I am horrified by this head long rush to make war. Where is the evidence Osama Bin Laden is the man responsible to the WTC attack? Why only attack Afghanistan, there are so many enemies to chose from? Maybe Randy Newman had the right idea….
No one likes us – I don’t know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let’s drop the big one and see what happens
We give them money-but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
They don’t respect us – so let’s surprise them
We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them
Asia’s crowded and Europe’s too old
Africa is far too hot
And Canada’s too cold
And South America stole our name
Let’s drop the big one
There’ll be no one left to blame us
We’ll save Australia
Don’t wanna hurt no kangaroo
We’ll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin’, too
Boom goes London and boom Paree
More room for you and more room for me
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town
Oh, how peaceful it will be
We’ll set everybody free
You’ll wear a Japanese kimono
And there’ll be Italian shoes for me
They all hate us anyhow
So let’s drop the big one now
Let’s drop the big one now
2. THE MIDDLE EAST
I feel obliged to answer H Fraser in Warmongering. I think I speak for many Australians here when I say we were devastated by the attack. Many of us literally cried for days. Naturally it’s infinitely worse for people caught up in the bedlam. For you, I can understand the desire for revenge. But it’s not going to work.
There are many commentators who don’t believe a large military revenge is the best option. The problem of terrorism must be addressed, but vengeance is precisely what bin Laden wants. This act was designed to provoke the Americans to a brutal retaliation and eventually to precipitate a holy war. The more brutality the Middle East sees from America, the more converts will swarm to bin Laden. My fear is that this will only end when the Middle East is rubble, and many more of us around the world are dead.
It is ridiculous to compare body counts. Any death is a catastrophe, wherever you are and whatever your colour, creed and religion. America has directly, and indirectly, caused many, many horrible deaths in the Arab world.
Noam Chomsky makes the point that the strength of the world reaction to this tragedy is not the scale or character, but the target. The US has not seen its national territory under attack since 1812. Australia hasn’t since the shelling of Darwin in WWII. This has popped our little safe bubble. We in Australia, and America are no longer insulated from the violence in the rest of the world. In no way do I wish to detract from a horrific tragedy, but the Middle East has been living with violence and corruption for a long time.
The reason for Middle-Eastern hatred of America is not that America is “the strongest nation in the free world”. It has come from the consistent meddling with the Middle East over the last 100 or so years. There are two major themes: oil and Israel.
Since the discovery of the Arab oil fields in the 1920s, the US has tried to maintain control of it, and the region. The US has funded US-friendly dictatorships to control the oil industry, including the corrupt Saudi Arabian monarchy and Saddam Hussein himself (during the Iran-Iraq conflict).
By far the greatest grievance the Arab world has in recent times would have to be the Gulf War, with its massive civilian casualties, and moreover the sanctions that followed. The policy has been responsible for the deaths of 500,000 children, according to a petition put to Alexander Downer early this year signed by 43 distinguished Australians including Malcolm Fraser. This is not to excuse Saddam Hussein, who everyone will agree is an “evil dictator” par excellence. However, the US funded him.
Some people in the Arab world sees these children dying and naturally blame America. What should America do? In this case, they should drop the sanctions. It’s ten years now, Saddam is still there and all the sanctions have done is strengthen him.
Then there is the great festering sore of the Israel conflict. Israel has been indiscriminately fed funding from America since its inception. America effectively funds all of Israel’s defence budget. In 1996, Congress granted Israel $USD 1.8 billion military aid and 1.3 billion economic aid. In the time it has existed, Israel has been continually in conflict with its neighbours, and actively repressing the Palestinian population. The creation of the state of Israel involved ethnically cleansing, though Israeli revisionists claim that the Arab population “ran away”.
Over half the Palestinian population of the world now live outside Palestine. The first Israeli-Arab war in 1948 saw over 600,00 people displaced mainly to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with the stipulation that they never return home. Then in 1967, Israel moved again to swallow up Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Syria’s Golan Heights and the Sinai, which was later returned to Syria. This displaced about 400,000 palestinians, many of whom had had to flee again. Since then, there have been other conflicts driving Palestinians out, including the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Over 5 million Palestinians have been permanently exiled since 1948.
Israel’s violations of human rights have been documented for decades by human rights organisations, as well as by the State Department itself in its annual human rights review. The violations include arrest and long periods of detention without trial or judicial review, routine physical and psychological torture during interrogations, demolition of houses of families of suspects, and the expulsion of both individuals and communities of Palestinians from their homeland. Then there’s the little matter of the consistent and unyielding crushing of the Palestinian people with checkpoints, shells and bullets.
Palestinian moderate Hanan Ashrawi describes the situation thus: “A state of siege has been imposed not only on the West Bank and Gaza, but also within these territories, to transform each village, town, and city into an isolated prison thereby destroying every aspect of human life, including economic, educational, health, and social cohesiveness in an attempt to sever every fibre of the fabric of normal life. Israeli occupation troops using tanks, helicopter gunships, F-16s, military barges, and checkpoints not only render a whole Palestinian population captive in 64 isolated bantustans, they also use the full force of their military power against a vulnerable and defenceless people. Daily, they shell Palestinian homes, assassinate Palestinian activists and leaders, destroy crops and fields, indulge in cold-blooded murder of children and other innocents while implementing a policy of deliberate humiliation and suffocation at every checkpoint.”
None of the above would have been possible without monetary aid from US. The Arab population know this. Many, many, many people have died in the conflict, with the violence increasing under Netanyahu and again now under the hardline Sharon.
I realise that it’s hard to hear this right now when people are grieving, angry and in shock. But it is true: there is no way that a military solution is going to do anything other than kill a lot of civilians, make the Arab world angrier and more at risk of signing up to terrorist organisations.
My message to America is this. By all means, get as many as you can as were involved in the attack and extract as much vengeance from them as possible. They deserve it. But please, be aware of the humanitarian disaster that American policy, funding and attack has caused in the last century will cause more anger and more attacks. The only way to deflate the ranks of the terrorists is to rethink your Middle East policy.
And don’t fund locals to do military dirty work. It leads to lunatics with military training and time on their hands and a chip on their shoulders at being used.
Unless you do something constructive about it now, expect more horror.
Reply to Robert Fisk’s piece in Saturday’s Herald, Bush is marching straight into bin Laden’s trap
The attempt by Osama bin Laden to draw the Arab world together in a Holy War is not a new theme. It is obvious to anyone who has followed the recent history of the Middle East region that this has been the method of choice used to achieve the Pan Arab idea. The methods used to pull these forces together are an ” us against them” theme. Just as President Bush talks about ” us and them” so the Pan Arab idealists attempt to turn moderate conservative forces against Jews, Christians and any other race, creed or persuasions considered not to be “with them”.
Robert Fisk’s piece demonstrates the worst kind of gutter journalism. Firstly, if you are going to write a story about bin Ladens trap, please stick to the topic. The article begins by correctly outlining the regimes in the Middle East and the problems faced by the populace when they are ruled by cruel dictatorships, autocracies or monarchies. It then slides into a complete anti Israel, anti Semitic diatribe, using such dramatic language we have become so familiar with.
Instead of describing to a educated audience how bin Laden may be thinking on a higher plane here and how the attacks on America are part of a bigger plan, he effectively sinks into a blame game. He attempts to show how the whole issue is actually Israel’s fault, and Americans own doing because of their support for Israel.
The point this journalist and other commentators fail to see every time they try to tie this back to a Jew versus Muslim crusade, is this. Israel is strategically placed in the region. Israel is the only true democracy in the region. Its leaders are even more accountable than any of our leaders, simply due to the fact that the make up of the populations and the factions within constantly demand a voice. Israel has turned a barren piece of desert into a prosperous, fertile, thriving capitalist democracy.
The dream of every Jew around the world is to see Israel in the light of the Biblical ” milk and honey”. It has the potential and Israelis pride themselves on achieving this goal. The Americans support this because this is the world they themselves want to live in. Their support is a tick for democracy.
Israel’s resources are drained by the unfortunate necessity to maintain a large, strong military force, disproportionate in history for a country of its size. Israel maintains this force not because it wants to but because it has to. History has placed Israel against every nation within the region at one time or another.
If Osama bin Laden had his way – and this is the true reason for his campaign – those Arab states which currently house moderate leaderships would be overthrown by fanatical regimes. They would seek to destroy the Jewish Zionist State because the very existence of Israel is as abomination to them. Perhaps the dream is to have the whole world follow their form of Islam. Perhaps if the goal of wiping out Israel were achieved they would be satisfied. I doubt it.
America supports democracy. They are guilty of bumbling along over the last century, perhaps without too much of a game plan, into areas they really don’t understand. Many have written about their support for the Mujahhadeen against the Soviets, the support for Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war. I am quite sure that all these “international” campaigns had one overlying goal, to see democracy and moderate multi-culturalism flourish throughout the world.
Moderate Jews, Muslims, Christians and all other persuasions deserve this. Fanatics, with their own warped versions of their religion, their world, need to go back to the ” good book” on which they so conveniently and irresponsibly refer. They will see that what they are doing is what man has done since time began. It is easy to put a “spin” on anything to justify actions.
The voice of Moderation needs to rear up and take control of this debate, this world. Islam, Judaism, Christianity are not religions of War, they are supposed to be a guide to a peaceful way of life. I do believe it is not too late to get back the focus that these religions ultimately call for. That focus is for peace, harmony, balance and moderation to rule our lives.
Anthony Cole in Perth, Western Australia
Most people I’ve met, including Arabs, are inclined to moderation. Most of them just want a safe and comfortable life. Consequently, it’s my belief that the majority of people (including Muslims) shy away from any extremist groups. All people I’ve met, though, have a very sharp sense of what’s fair. Even toddlers.
Khomeni took power in Iran not because the Persians were craving the fascist strictures of fundamentalist Islam. He did so because he managed to merge the idea of fundamentalist Islam with the idea of freedom from repression and exploitation.
The fact is exploitation was going on in Iran and the US was sponsoring and orchestrating it. The people were feeling justifiably aggrieved, and fundamentalist Islam gave them an interpretation of their circumstances that was somewhat coherent. Sadly, at the same time, Iran was a hotbed of secularist, pluralist, democratic ideas too, but these ideas were most viciously repressed, far more so than fundamentalist nationalism. Democratic ideas were not allowed to crystallise into clubs or parties. But there was a vast religious network.
Western countries – the US in particular with Israel as its vanguard – are perceived by the fanatics as keeping Islamic states under their thumb and purposely hindering social progress and improvement of living standards. They see themselves as the victims of a great injustice.
Actually, in many instances they are. Take Saudi Arabia today. I don’t see how Saudi is, in any important way, different from Iran under the Shah. More oil I guess. And they do have a big American garrison in the north. They have a corrupt and profligate dictatorship that has stolen and squandered virtually all of the country’s wealth. I heard on the radio the other day they have even mortgaged their reserves. Their regime does deserve to topple, to be replaced by one that governs for the benefit of the people. No dispassionate observer could look and disagree. It’s long, long overdue.
When I was living in a Qatar in 1972 the oil revenue cut went like this: half went to the emir, a quarter was divided amongst his relatives and the remaining quarter went to government expenses.
Take a look at Brunai, Kuwait, Oman. All under tin-pot dictatorships grossly ripping off the countries’ wealth. Some of the small states have token parliaments. Window-dressing. Genuine dissent or criticism is forbidden. Again, the only societal network is Islam.
Finally I come to my point. These people have genuine grievances. Stamp out pluralist discourse, weave their grievances into an apocalyptic fundamentalist world view and, in the absence of a big imperialist garrison, you get another Iran.
My hope is that the Americans can see this and (as Tariq Ali suggested on Late Night Live) will take what steps are necessary to transform Saudi into a pluralist democracy. This would cause the west some economic pain with oil prices finding their true market level, but nothing like the pain from fundamentalist mullahs setting the oil price.