Who can't understand Tim Blair's
outrage at the senseless killing
of people in Bali. The trouble is, he seems to be directing his anger in the wrong direction. I don't make this point to belittle anyone's concerns or even as some lame attempt at fisking. But this event, the bombings in Bali, require something beyond disgust at people who write letters to newspapers.
a couple of letter-writers:
"Instead of using our advantage of isolation from the world's trouble spots to counsel for peace, he has squandered it."
"The Bali blasts could be a consequence of the constant bellicose statements by Mr Howard and Mr Downer on their war against terrorism."
"Their desire to be seen as world statesmen, farewelling the troops, lecturing other leaders on international strategy, has made each one of us a potential target."
"Stop making us a target. Don't involve us in a war which can only create great suffering in the short term and antagonism towards us for decades to come."
His response?: LETTER WRITERS to the Sydney Morning Herald – Indymedia's print edition – have decided that Australian Prime Minister John Howard is to blame for the Bali attacks. Why? Because he opposes terrorism, and supports moves to destroy terrorism.
Their wise counsel: Say nothing. Do nothing. Better to cower than to speak.
Even allowing for his outrage, this is just nonsense. No-one is blaming John Howard for the Bali attacks, as Tim asserts. Even the letter that ostensibly comes closest to such an interpretation merely asks if John Howard's comments "could" have played a part. Why is this such a criminal question?
What's more, Tim even makes a tacit acknowledgement that the letter writers are correct in their assessments. He himself acknowledges Howard's position, and the thrust of his "analysis" is that Howard is right to oppose terrorism and that we just have to stand up to such attacks. So he actually agrees with the letter writers who obviously make the same connection between the bombings and the wider "war on terrorism" of which we are part. The difference is in how each decides to react to this connection. The letter writers seem to want--as far you can tell from such brief pieces--some sort of distancing of Australia from the US "war on terrorism" and its associated concerns. Tim wants to go all the way with the USA and "stand up to" terrorism.
I'd suggest that both are valid positions and Tim should acknowledge the fact and engage in the arguments rather than simply trying to belittle anyone who dares to think differently from him. Sure he can get angry in the process, but this "I'm gonna get you" stuff is just silly. If he's got arguments, let's hear them rather than this confected outrage at a few people who wrote to the SMH (note: I am not saying his outrage at the bombings is confected.)
His ire is aimed
at a SMH editorial as well
STOPPING TERROR breeds terror, according to a typically disgusting editorial in today's Sydney Morning Herald:
The question is whether external actors are manipulating nascent, radical Islam inside Indonesia, or whether international events - in particular US war plans for Iraq – are, themselves, creating a new breed of Indonesian terrorists.
Kind of like the way WWII created wave after wave of German and Japanese militants. Or the way communism thrived after it was confronted in the late '80s.
The historical comparisons are invalid. We are talking about terrorism versus imperial expansion. Still, I'm happy to see him try and offer some sort of historical context. That is all the SMH
is doing too. In fact, The Australian editorial
does it too--it makes the explicit link between the 911 attacks, Australia's support of the US and our involvement in the war on terror.
The fact is, trying to stop terror will
breed more terrorism, at least in the short term. This doesn't mean we should accept it or not respond or not be outraged, but surely if the Bali bombings prove nothing else they prove this? The Bali bombings are awful proof that trying to stop terror breeds terror. Why does Tim think this happened now? Just coincidence? So why is the editorial disgusting? It is just starting a truth than is almost banal in its obviousness.
In fact, compare these two statements, the first from the "disgusting" SMH editorial and the second from the editorial in The Australian
which I'm pretty sure Tim approves of:
The destruction of the Sari Club, and a large part of the adjoining nightclub district, has shattered any illusions Australians may have had of their immunity to the heightened tensions of the post-September 11 international environment. There was also a potent message in the simultaneous explosion at the nearby US consulate. The attacks appear linked to the war on terrorism, albeit in a form which is not easily understood or addressed. As such, they have brought terrorism to Australia's doorstep.
The Bali bombings expose the lie that September 11, 2001, was simply an attack on America AUSTRALIA is in mourning. The sense of sorrow mixed with disbelief, outrage and fear that followed the September 11 attacks last year in New York and Washington consumes us again. Except this time terrorism has come to our doorstep, to the holiday home away from home that is Bali.
The words mirror each other; the sentiments are identical.
Nonetheless, the editorials do ultimately diverge. The SMH is more speculative, considering possible options rather than recommending a definite answer:
But with no group claiming responsibility it is almost impossible to formulate an effective response. Some will argue the bombings strengthen the case for Australian support of Washington's war on terrorism. However, we must also question whether the present, aggressive direction of US foreign policy is, in itself, proving counterproductive. While Australia and other Western governments must intensify pressure on Jakarta to shut down radical Islamic groups, this is easier said than done.
, like Tim Blair, is in no doubt
We must resist the pressure that is already building for Australia to withdraw from its alliance with the US against terrorism, to "protect" ourselves from future attacks. This would be both disloyal and against our national interests. We are involved in a war against terrorism not because we are the US's allies but because we are a Western democratic country.
For what it's worth, I think there is good sense in The Australian's
(and therefore Tim's) conclusions. We are
involved and a response is
warranted. But doubt is not a crime. Considering alternatives is not reprehensible. God forbid that we ever live in a culture that blindly adheres to one line of thought and disparages all dissent. The SMH editorial and letter's writers are not handing Australia over to al Qaeda. They are just not convinced by the certainty of the editorialists at The Australian
or of Tim Blair.
And if Tim was outraged by a few letters to the SMH and an editorial, then I think he's going to be really angry about what Crikey
has had to say about the matter. There's no link, so I'll reproduce the whole piece from their free email newsletter:
Our war correspondent, Hugo Kelly, assesses the PM's response:
John Howard underlined yesterday just how fundamentally weak is
Australia's plight in the war on terror. With the nation reeling from
the Bali attack and looking for leadership, Howard could offer no real
hope that justice would be done. "We're going to find out who did it, if
we can," he told Richard Carleton on 60 Minutes, looking upset and
powerless. Howard knows who did this - religious fundamentalists linked
to al-Qaeda from the country with the world's largest Muslim population,
and our immediate neighbours to the north, Indonesia.
But he is in no position to do anything about it. Compare Howard's
wimpish words to the pugnacious pronouncements of George Bush Jnr after
September 11 that the US would get Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive" and
that in the war on terror, the rest of the world was "either with us or
against us". The difference, of course, is that the US can back up its
rhetoric with force. Howard and Downer, in ignoring Lyndon Johnson's
maxim to "talk softly and carry a big stick", have set Australia up for
this terrible retribution.
Howard is the PM whose campaign platform at last November's election was
how secure we would be under his leadership during turbulent times. Now
the terror has hit the fan, just how safe do we feel? Howard has no pull
in Indonesia - President Megawati barely talks to him, and has been
effectively harbouring the chief suspect in the Bali attack, Abu Bakar
Bashir, spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group. It's
ironic that the man who would have been PM, Kim Beazley, had developed
much closer relationships with key Indonesians in the security
apparatus, especially during his term as defence Minister, and would
have been far better placed than Howard and Downer to get results with
Indonesia in the fight against terror.
Howard yesterday refused to acknowledge the obvious fact - that his
government's bellicose war talk has led to the deaths of scores of young
Australians. Take his bizarre rationalisation that this could happen to
any country - and that citizens of anti-war Germany had been killed in
terrorism attacks, therefore the terrorists were undiscriminating in
their targets. All the windy talk by Downer of leading the fight against
terrorism has now been exposed as empty, dangerous and self-defeating
Yesterday, Howard at least had the chance to acknowledge that the Bali
disaster was a price we paid for taking the lead in a war that must be
won. His weak attempt to deflect responsibility underscored Howard's
tragic lack of moral and intellectual leadership.
This, it seems to me, is all perfectly valid speculation. I want to to know why it is considered by the pro-war-on-terror people like Tim Blair as out of bounds, worthy only of contempt.
Tim will probably ignore this post. It's not his usual style to engage in cross-blog discussion: it's generally a quick, sharp put-down. That's fine. But I've actually got more respect for Tim than people might suspect, so here's a challenge. If you do respond--in fact, if any of the usual rightwing head-kickers respond--instead of trying to fisk me into the middle of next week, calling me an appeaser and anti-American and unAustralian and all the rest of the lame arsenal of personal insults, try and respond to the substance of the points made, which is: without giving an inch in terms of our outrage against terrorist attacks like this, isn't it incumbent upon all of us to also examine the circumstances under which such things happen? What is wrong with saying that it is our involvement on the American side of the "war on terror" that makes us vulnerable to such attacks? Isn't that actually what you yourself said?
What is wrong with questioning that involvement and wondering if we can insulate ourselves against such attacks? What is wrong with pointing out the inadequacies and hypocrisies of Howard and his minister's responses?
Keep the discussion fierce and committed, but let's not turn this latest act of terrorism into another excuse to unpack the usual ideological baggage. It's more important than that. Australian blogging had a good week last week. Let it continue in the face of this latest atrocity.
BTW: Crikey has an excellent piece
up on the media coverage of the tragedy.