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The Politics of Fear#4 « Previous | |Next »
December 11, 2005

I've gone back to Carmen Lawrence's lectures on Lectures on Fear and Public Policy. Lawrence was only one of two Labor MPs who gave a critical speech about the anti-terrorism legislation that went through federal Parliament last sitting fortnight. She rightfully concluded that her party should not have countenanced support for Control Orders or Preventative Detention. The other speech was by Daryl Melham, who, with his barrister background, deployed his knowledge of fundamental legal concepts to oppose the central tenets of the anti-terrorist legislation.

What this minimal reponse indicated is that the Howard Government's reliance on a "politics of fear" has stymied a mature national conversation about counterterrorism or evaluating the difficult tradeoffs between national security and civil liberties. Wha the other speeches indicated is that the poltiicans saw religion driving both Islamic culture and politics, and that the motivation for Islamist violence is religious fundamentalism. Islam as "the issue" and so we extensive quotations from the Koran, especially from the Government's side of the House of Representatives. Islam was a discrete entity--a coherent and closed set of beliefs--- that turns Islam an explanatory concept for almost everything involving Muslims.

I presume that is the effect of the texts of Samuel Huntington, Daniel Pipes and Bernard Lewis with the conservative politicians interpreting this by associating reason with "the West" and religion (unreason or fanatical faith ) with the Islamic homelands. The subtext of the conservative discourse around the legislation was that the best way to fight Iraqi terrorists overseas was to persecute the Muslim minority in Australia. You could catch the reonances of a (Christian) theology of hate in some of the more extreme speeches.

If you recall I'm reading the third lecture entitled Fear and Annihilation. In a section entitled Foreign Policy and the "War on Terror" she links fear to terrorism and to the neo-conservative conception of foreign policy.

Lawrence says that:

Another more general consequence of framing the response to terrorism as "war" is that U.S. foreign policy (and ours, in embarrassing imitation) has been upended. It would appear that all the complexity of global affairs and relationships must be redefined as subsidiary to terrorism. Instead of invoking international law and co-operation, we now support the policy of unilateral strikes on those perceived as a threat and the military defeat of brutal dictators so democracy can be implanted. A moment’s thought produces an impossibly long list of potential battlefields and adversaries.

Apparently, much as during the "cold war", the U.S. and Australia are prepared to adopt an "anything goes" mentality in the so-called "war against terrorism". Our governments are prepared to embrace as allies, governments with a sordid record of grotesque violations of human rights.

Gareth Evans...reminds us that to wrap everything up in the language of a "war on terrorism" does not contribute to clear operational thinking because it ignores problems which are not readily subsumed under this mantle and misrepresents others which are not at all related – Iraq, Iran, North Korea.

The rise of neoconservatism happened in a conjuncture of US global hegemony and American exceptionalism. It responded to the terrroist attacks on the US with the position thst terrorism was not a state-sponsored activity directed at U.S. interests abroad. The reponse was that whatever the US willed was possible. What was willed in Iraq was the remaking of the world in the image of the US. Al Qaeda was seen as a novel organization.

The subtext in Australia is that it is better to fight the terrorists in Baghdad than in Brisbane with pre-emption and regime change being seen as the magic bullets. Baghdad is now a city in ruins. The TV news has daily reports another suicide bombing in which more innocent civiilain lives are lost.

What is not openly acknowledged in Australia, given its alliance with the Washington neo-conservatives, is that the current war in Iraq will generate a ferocious blowback when the war ends. Australia is vulnerable. American success is looking increasingly unlikely--what is more likely is an American retreat and a symbolic victory for the jihadists. The war is producing a new generation of terrorists.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 04:09 PM | | Comments (1)


I agree that domestically far too many rights are being trampled on in the name of security. I also sympathize with the problems inherent in considering the struggle against terrorism as a "war".

But on what basis do you conclude that "American success is looking increasingly unlikely"?

Elections continue to proceed as new governmental institutions are created in Iraq, now with former abstaining minorities getting in on the process. Iraqi police and military continue to build, grow, and train (even if not at the rate we'd prefer). Attacks, while often more skilled, are becoming fewer in number. And several economic and social indicators are continuing to improve.

Given that insurgencies usually last several years before giving out (those after WWII lasted about 11 years), it would seem unrealistic to assume that a new government and full reform could be in place in only 3 years, even without the various setbacks that have occurred.

I simply cannot imagine by what reckoning one could possibly conclude that success is "unlikely", unless one considers the possibility that misleading representation of the situation might result in a panic and untimely withdrawal.