As frightening as the Howard and state Labor governments’ proposed new
anti-terror laws are, they also offer an unprecedented opportunity for
interested conspiracy theorists. As every terrorist act that has ever
been carried out, or thwarted for that matter, is the result of a
conspiracy, conspiracy theories should no longer be seen as (merely)
the ideas of cranks, crack-pots and paranoids.

To make sense of a society in which secrecy and induced paranoia have
been deemed the best means of combating a ceaseless imminent threat of
a terrorist attack, one must surely speculate. Speculation about
terrorism as well as the intricacies of intelligence and police
services and their actions mean that conspiracy theorising, whether we
choose to label it as such or not, will be the order of the day.

In Italy, where they know a thing or two about terrorism, conspiracy
theorising is a national sport. Having endured the anni di piombo (the lead years) with left and
right terrorism, the doings of murky secret services, the mafia and a
centre-right one party-rule, they now have a word for conspiracy
theorising: dietrologia. That is, the science of what is behind, or
dietro, what is visible, reported or officially claimed.

In Australia, our new pseudo-science will be called Asiology. It will
revolve around trying to understand what is taking place when so much
of the fight against terrorism will be conducted in secrecy and
darkness. It will also counter those who seek to use the term
“conspiracy theorist” to attack any person who mistrusts or will not
take at face value, the claims of the Howard Government or the security
services it has sought to politicise.

Asiologists, and there are many out there, wonder about the timing of
John Howard’s public announcement on Tuesday, 1 November of the
disturbing intelligence his government had received. Thankfully both
Greg Sheridan in The Australian and Paul Daley in The Bulletin
have assured us that taking Mr Howard at anything but his word is to
move into the realm of the conspiracy theorist.

Sheridan himself invoked the spectre of Tricky Dicky when he wrote of
Mr Howard being “transformed into a figure of Nixonian villainy in the
conspiratorial mind.” But the Nixon analogy is one which should be pursued. Where Deep
Throat exorted Woodward and Bernstein to follow the money, Asiologists
should follow the political capital. Who on earth had anything to
gain by the unprecedented announcement? A mystery indeed.

Asiologists also wonder why our national security and intelligence
organisation deemed the American peace activist Scott Parkin a threat
to national security. Asiologists wonder about the claim that just
because our security services are being given greater powers it doesn’t
mean they will abuse them. They also wonder if combining these powers
with a doubling of the size of the security and intelligence
organisation over coming years can protect both the Australian public
and its democracy.

In Australia today, with media black-outs and gag orders poised to
become the new normal, we are entering a new frontier in Western
democracies. Like many societies where secret police and security
services have been given free rein, or close to it, rumour and
speculation will become the order of the day. Asiologists should
welcome the opportunity to speculate.

In the future the mainstream media may be gagged but ordinary
Australians must find ways of knowing and communicating to each other
the (albeit temporary) disappearance of citizens. Aside from the flimsy
proposed judicial oversight, Australians must keep the doings of police
and intelligence services in the light of day. Blogs,
newsletters, town meetings and rallies may be ways of doing so. We must
all be Asiologists. We must not be paranoid, but it is right that we
are both alert and alarmed at what is being proposed.