Thursday, 28 August 2014
So I imagine that from time to time they would want a different captain but nevertheless, that’s what he said, that we’re all part of Team Australia and you’re our captain.
Captain Australia, 20 August 2014
A curious obliviousness has descended over the political scene and its commentary to the escalation of tensions over Iraq. Partly it comes from the desperation of a government thinking that it will solve its significant political problems. Partly it comes from the opposition’s fear it will as well, on top of the normal shutdown it has over anything to do with national security, especially under its current leader.
But it’s also to do with the complications behind the current escalation that neither side wants to see.
For a start, any military action in the Iraq will inevitably remind everyone of the failure of previous interventions in Iraq. The US and UK spent almost a decade in trying to build a viable state in Iraq, which is collapsing in the space of months from the onslaught of an army from nowhere.
Actually, the record could look even worse than that, as ISIS only seems to have came from nowhere because where it did come from raises even more awkward questions. Clinton is telling anyone who listens that Syria’s problems come from the US not intervening enough, as she not-so-subtly distances herself from the disappointments of the Obama administration in preparation for 2016. Yet, the reality seems to be that the US has been involved as much as you would expect it to be in such a key strategic area. It’s just that it appears to have badly backfired, again, and so now must go back in and try to mop up the mess it helped to create – but with even less clarity on its goals than before.
But there is an even bigger complication than just being forced to go back over the ground of past failures. It was something that was also present, if side-lined, during the War on Terror but unavoidable now.
It was summed up by one of the most important counter-terrorism measures announced by the government so far: the decision to suspend benefit payments to those found going abroad on a jihad.
As a counter-terrorism measure it’s a joke. For a start, it only applies to one of the Australians abroad fighting for ISIS, Khaled Sharrouf – he who captioned a photo of his seven-year old son holding a decapitated head in Syria with “that’s my boy”. But using him as an example also shows the ludicrousness of the thinking that believes someone who goes abroad on a jihad to kill, and willing to brutalise his son in the process, will somehow think twice if he loses his lavish disability pension.
This chasm between the banality of the measure and what it is supposed to be aimed at comes from this not being about an international terrorist threat that bombs can be thrown at with no questions asked – but something homegrown, which is a whole different ball game.
Let’s be blunt. Australia has become a major exporter of terrorism. In fact, per capita it has the largest contingent fighting for ISIS of any foreign country. Nor is it especially new. Just as uncovering the US’s involvement reveals the murky past of stuff ups with its operations in Syria, Australia was seeing an outflow of nationals to fight in the Syrian civil war years before they emerged with ISIS on the other side of the Iraqi border.
This makes things awkward for both sides of politics. For a right that is more comfortable with a foreign bogeyman, it is torn between slyly implying Muslims living in Australia might not be part of “Team Australia”, or presenting the threat as foreign all along. This gets them into knots, such as the Daily Telegraph’s fear that terrorists will bring their “twisted beliefs” home, when obviously to go off and fight for something as barbaric as ISIS means they surely already had them when they left Australia.
There were similar contortions by the out-going head of ASIO, David Irvine, in his speech to the National Press Club this week, who talked of concern of “enhanced religious commitment” from those returning, as though going off to kill didn’t require a rather lot of religious fervour, or whatever, in the first place.
But Irvine also raised the other contortion that is more widespread to include the left, in his call for Muslim community leaders to redouble the efforts to control the “few misguided people in their midst”.
“Community” is a word that is much loved on the left of politics and is a bedrock of the view that sees segregated and isolated sections of society under the rose-tinted glasses of multiculturalism. In Australia, there was a long history of this type of thinking even before the advent of multiculturalism in the 1970s with the celebration of cultural difference of indigenous peoples. It not only flattered what has been a persistent and vast social disparity in living conditions relative to non-indigenous people, but never had anything to say to the unemployed indigenous youth in Redfern whose cultural activities, like many men his age, may not go beyond watching TV footy on the sofa on a Saturday afternoon.
In this case, the word “community” implies an assumption of a cohesiveness that may not be there. Such a rose-colored view on the cohesiveness of immigrant groups is in danger of back-firing as the leaders are now assumed to have an influence they simply don’t have.
It certainly prevents questions being raised that should be when Muslim “community leaders” are paraded to explain their reaction to the jihadists as we saw on the 7.30 Report last night, namely, who are these “leaders”? Who appointed them? Why should they be as responsible as anyone else for these jihadists and why would they be able to do anything about it? Certainly when whites of European descent run amok, we don’t see community leaders being dredged up as responsible. Which “community leader” or cultural values were responsible for David Hicks running off to make a fool of himself in Afghanistan?
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 28 August 2014.Filed under International relations, The Australian state