Empty vessels with nothing to fill them

Thursday, 5 July 2007 

A good question has been asked as to why last month’s arrest of the leader of a terrorist organisation responsible for the death of 92 Australians barely rated a headline, whereas the arrest of a suspect in a terrorist attempt on the other side of the world, which fortunately killed no-one, is receiving blanket coverage.

The different treatment shows that it is not so much the terrorist act itself that determines how they are covered, than what commentators choose to read into them. The British bombers offer a more amenable way of replaying the same old arguments that have been with us since 2001, on Australia’s role in the War on Terror and especially in Iraq.

There is something slightly distasteful about the way that those against the war continually use these acts to try and win an argument that they could not win at the time it mattered, when the troops actually went in. The terrorists themselves may claim it is a response to Iraq but their acts seem to have a striking inability to actually target the institutions that were responsible for it. Rather they prefer to attack nightclubs, entrances to airports, the morning tube train and other random public places.

The right, reasonably enough, remind that the greatest terrorist act happened before the war in Iraq (and even at the time some used 9/11 as a justification for their criticism of US foreign policy). But then the right give their own profundity to terrorist acts by claiming that it is a result of an international Islamic conspiracy, so justifying invasion into the Middle East. Then when they enter the region, terrorists have become a useful vehicle for the US and the UK to blame for their inability to control it. Downer gives the latest example of how Al Qaeda’s ‘surprising’ strength is talked up as a cover for the coalition’s incompetence.

The randomness and amateurism of these suicide acts look more nihilistic than a result of any particular clear political or religious cause. They have no more clear mission than that Adelaide naiveté currently residing in Yatala prison. It is their very emptiness that makes them able to be used by both the left and the right to conduct their own arguments, especially on foreign policy and Iraq.

The terms of that foreign policy debate are now changing. How far the political case behind Iraq and the War on Terror has collapsed is indicated by a report that Howard is now even prepared to hide behind one of the most cynical left arguments – that it was all about oil – to justify staying. Of course, it was not about oil but about the US using the Iraq invasion to retain its political prestige in the global order. It is the failure of that strategy which is why both Republicans and Democrats are prepared to consider leaving Iraq (and presumably its oil) if it will help them restore that prestige.

The collapse of the political case for Iraq has translated domestically with the government unable to even politically use the arrest of a suspected terrorist. Instead the saturation coverage is starting to descend to ranking Mohamed Haneef behind Bundaberg’s Dr Death as yet another example of the lousy recruiting practices of the Queensland health system.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 5 July 2007.

Filed under The Australian state

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