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Sep 23, 2014

Abbott’s (and Shorten’s) lies lead Australia to a sinister place

The government has based its extensions of national security powers, and its involvement in Iraq, on lies. And they will damage us like the previous Iraq war damaged us.

It was the most worrying and wrong-headed speech by a national leader since, well, the last time we went to war under false pretences in Iraq. Tony Abbott’s national security statement to Parliament yesterday — strongly backed by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten — takes Australia into a very dark place, and it does so based on what can only be described as lies — unless you accept that the government of Australia is profoundly ignorant.

It can only be a lie, or a reflection of an implausibly vast ignorance, to seriously maintain, as Abbott did yesterday, that Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) represents any sort of “unprecedented” threat to Australia. IS is no more an unprecedented threat than it is an “exisential threat”, as the Attorney-General absurdly labelled it last week. This is a group of terrorists who are, as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in the United States have noted, unable to mount any terrorist operations against  the US. This is a group that, in its febrile statement of yesterday calling for anyone insane or evil enough to heed its demands to attack Westerners, admitted the difficulties in organising such attacks, suggesting that if all else failed they should pick up a rock and hit someone with it, or spit in strangers’ faces. This is the group whose idea of terror in Australia isn’t 9/11 or even public transport bombings but the murder of a random passer-by — although, bizarrely, at least one media outlet on the weekend was trying to claim such attacks would be somehow more damaging than a mass casualty attack.

Then again, that’s one of the iron-clad rules of the War on Terror — each threat is always hyped as somehow worse than the last one.

And it can only be a lie to insist, as Abbott and Shorten both do, that our participation in the attack on Iraq will not make the risk of terrorism in Australia greater. It’s a lie that voters, as today’s Essential Report shows, simply don’t buy. The government is literally using the Bush line that Islamic State simply hates us for our freedom. After Crikey reported yesterday that the Australian Federal Police had been gagged from offering its own assessment of whether the Iraq deployment made terrorism a greater risk, the Attorney-General’s Department eventually sent us its “whole of government” response.

“ISIL and their followers in Australia do not hate us for what we do, they hate us for who we are and how we live,” an AGD bureaucrat said. “They hate that fact that we are free, pluralist, tolerant, and welcoming.” You can read the full response here.

AGD, the Prime Minister and Bill Shorten were, alas, humiliated within hours when Islamic State’s ludicrously over-the-top statement calling for the killing of Westerners emerged, specifically targeting “the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State” and referring to Australia “sending its legions” against IS.

Faced with the inconvenience of IS attributing the need for terrorism in the West to the attacks on itself, the Prime Minister’s office was reported to have issued a bizarrely self-contradictory statement that “Australian agencies regard the statement issued today by ISIL calling for attacks against members of the international coalition, including Australians, as genuine. ISIL will claim that our involvement in this international effort is the reason they are targeting us, but these people do not attack us for what we do, but for who we are and how we live.”

That is, you should believe IS when it says things that fit the government’s War on Terror narrative, but not when it says things that don’t fit it.

The government has built its case for extensions of national security powers and war in Iraq on these two lies — lies that, as we’ll see, are self-reinforcing. This is the same War on Terror cycle that has previously been played out when the 2003 attack on Iraq made Westerners less safe from terrorism and that, in turn, was used to justify further extensions of powers and continued military intervention in Pakistan and Yemen over the course of the last decade. Now, the government’s decision to attack IS has made Australia less safe, and that reduction in safety is being used to justify both the decision to attack IS and further curbs on our freedoms.

And Abbott’s most chilling words yesterday were his blunt demand that liberty be sacrificed for security:

“Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift.  There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protections for others.”

But contrary to what Abbott implies, the balance between freedom and security in Australia has been relentlessly shifting for over a decade, and it has always shifted away from freedom. This is a “delicate balance” that only ever shifts in favour of more government power and less individual freedom — the freedom that Abbott insists is why IS really wants to kill us.

They hate us for our freedom, so we curb our freedoms. Well, there’s some logic there.

As for “more restrictions on some so that there can be more protections for others”, there could be few more worrying threats by a political leader, especially when it is clear that the “some” will be drawn almost exclusively from one community. The Muslim men deemed to have been using their phones in some sort of suspicious manner at a footy match; the baseless detention of a senior Muslim cleric by Customs; the dozens of homes of Muslim Australians raided last week without any charges resulting; the strangely convenient first use of the hitherto “unworkable” preventive detention orders (which were created to deal with the terror threat created by the Iraq invasion) on Muslim citizens — all reflect that this is about the harassment of a single minority.

And that harassment, to borrow Abbott’s phrasing, isn’t because of anything Muslim Australians have done, but because of who they are.

It is also becoming painfully clear that the strategy the government has embarked on with the Americans in Iraq is likely to fail. That’s the view of Tony Blair, who knows a thing or two about launching attacks in Iraq based on lies: echoing the CIA’s view that the enterprise is “doomed to failure“, he says airstrikes won’t be enough and Western ground forces will be needed. And confirming the FBI’s claim that support for IS has been strengthened by airstrikes, there is evidence airstrikes have prompted a massive surge in IS recruitment. Almost as if that was exactly what IS had in mind when it started trying to goad the West into attacking it.

And while the Abbott government is helping make IS stronger, regional powers appear reticent.* Saudi Arabia won’t commit any military forces to the fight against IS, the country’s richest man Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Al Saud says. “This does not really affect our country explicitly,” he said. IS “doesn’t really affect” Saudia Arabia: the Prince sounds … what’s Tony Abbott’s word? … almost “insouciant”.

We’ve been here before, obviously — the quagmire of Iraq, Western intervention that strengthens terrorists, the curtailment of the freedoms, the systematic harassment of Muslims. As John Howard popped up on the weekend to remind us, some still insist the 2003 Iraq War wasn’t based on lies, but simply poor intelligence. Well, there’s no doubt this time around: lies are at the heart of this new Iraq venture, and it will take us back to the same dark place as before.

* Update: it’s been reported that Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates played a role in today’s US air strikes within Syria against IS, although what role each played will be revealed later today Australian time.

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65 comments

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65 thoughts on “Abbott’s (and Shorten’s) lies lead Australia to a sinister place

  1. klewso

    “It’s an ill wind etc….”?

  2. klewso

    Dog-whistles at ten paces – they throw a few words our way and “we” retaliate by clipping our freedom a little bit more?

  3. Nick Seidenman

    Tony Abbott and his gang are little more than George W. Bush 2.0. Abbott makes fewer verbal gaffs (or, at least, the press doesn’t make as much hay with them here), but the selling off and/or tearing down of public institutions and services, the use of fear to get the ovine masses to give up their freedoms for the illusion of security — security against a threat Abbott & Co have created and hyped themselves — is the same agenda Americans suffered through for eight years under GWB.

    Your comment “They hate us for our freedom, so we curb our freedoms. Well, there’s some logic there.” is spot-on. In the US we kept saying this to ourselves — and anyone who’d listen, but to no avail. Americans didn’t get it then, and I don’t see much indication that Australians are getting it now.

    If terrorism is the use of fear to achieve political ends, how is the Abbott government’s use of fear to achieve THEIR ends any different from that of (other) terrorists?

  4. Vincent O'Donnell

    May I respectfully suggest to the Attorney-General that the anti-terror legislation, presently before parliament, need one further amendment.

    In the event of an incident, judged by the National Security Committee to be a terrorist attack, the government should have the power ‘to restrict the rights of personal freedom (habeas corpus), freedom of opinion, including the freedom of the press, the freedom to organise and assemble, and the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications. Warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property and travel, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.’

    Such an edict has, Mr Abbott and Senator Brandis may be assured, impeccable credentials. Such a curtailment of freedom should get IS off our back and we can all live in peace.

  5. Daly

    Spot on, Bernard. An excellent piece of logical analysis.
    Just one year into the term of government and the legacy is distruction of the social fabric and back at war. Both these experiments got a fail in the US but Tony re does them.
    Agreed Nick S. I despair and worry for those boys in body bags and all of our freedoms.

  6. mark hipgrave

    I’m scared Tony. Scared shitless. If what you say is true I want an armed guard out the front of my place 24/7 to look after me. Make that two. And a Blackhawks overhead. And a hug from Julie B and David J. Bring the troops and planes home. We need them here.

  7. Bob's Uncle

    We’ve come a long way baby.

    In 2001 it took unprecedented and shocking mass casualties to goad us into an unwinnable war in the middle east.

    Now it takes a threat to murder a single person while filming on a mobile phone.

    Maybe the next war will be prompted by a vaguely Arab-looking guy talking loudly on his phone in a train carriage.

  8. Tom Jones

    Last night’s Q&A showed how much terror is perpetrated by those who are supposedly protecting us. What is it that allows an organisation like ADL to continue to make threats against Moslems with impunity? Why aren’t the police protecting young women who wear a hijab and why doesn’t the PM as Minister for Women call out those responsible for race hate threats and violence?

  9. GideonPolya

    In addition to helping the US kill scores of thousands of Sunni rebels and collateral civilians, the Australian involvement in the Obama Iraq War (a) clearly increases the threat of terrorism to Australia and (b) seriously increases the vastly greater threat to 600,000 peaceful Muslim Australians from red-neck xenophobes and Islamophobes.

    However the Australian and US involvement in the Obama Iraq war also violates International Law about war crimes in 12 areas:
    (1) they do not have UN Security Council sanction;
    (2) they have not been attacked or threatened by Iraq , IS or Syria ;
    (3) no permission was given by the attacked countries (there are 3 governments in Syria and 3 governments in Iraq , each variously involved in the Syrian Civil War and the Iraqi Civil War, respectively);
    (4) they will use illegitimate weapons e.g. white phosphorus, weapons involving use of depleted uranium, and Australian-targetted drone attacks that cannot distinguish military combatants from civilians ;
    (5) they will no doubt (as in the previous 1990-2011 Iraq War) target civilian populations through economic disruption, economic blockade, attacks on infrastructure and urban areas ;
    (6) there has already been mass torture and killing of Iraqi Sunni prisoners by the US puppet Iraqi Government and mass murder of Iraqi Sunni civilians by Shia militias;
    (7) there is certain to be gross violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War as in other US war zones from Somali to NW Pakistan where since 1990 avoidable deaths from war-imposed deprivation have totalled about 9 million;
    (8) the stepped up Obama Iraq War and Syrian War will add to the carnage in those countries amounting to 0.2 million violent deaths in Syria since 2011 and 1.7 million violent deaths in Iraq since 1990 (with comparable numbers of non-violent deaths from war-imposed deprivation, this constituting a Syrian Holocaust and an Iraqi Holocaust;
    (9) the Obama Iraq War and Syrian War addition to the carnage in those countries and Obama’s intention to destroy all Islamic rebels “wherever they are” all constitute genocide as defined by the UN Genocide Convention i.e. “ acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group;
    (10) just as the US Alliance has failed to take reasonable steps to avoid the endless war against Indigenous rebels from Mali to NW Pakistan, so the US and the US Alliance determination to exterminate such people “wherever they are” means decades more of war and massive avoidable mortality from war-imposed deprivation;
    (11) the Obama Iraq War and Syrian War will involve the active and passive mass murder of children in these impoverished countries in which about half the population are children;
    (12) the Obama Iraq War, the Obama Syrian War and indeed the explicitly adumbrated Obama War on Indigenous Muslim rebels “wherever they are” is an obscene continuing “endless” US war for hegemony and fossil fuels imposed not just on Iraqis and Syrians but on Muslims from Africa to South Asia (see Gideon Polya, “Obama Iraq War And Obama Syrian War Will Both Involve US Alliance In 12 Types Of War Crimes” , Countercurrents, 13 September 2014: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya130914.htm ).

    Decent pro-peace Australians will reject the mendacious Coalition war criminals, vote 1 Green and put the Coalition last.

  10. David Hand

    OK Bernard,
    You’ve got your big statement on the record so that in future you can say you told them so.

    I’d like to get some understanding of your alternative though.

    Don’t intervene militarily in Iraq, though I do not share your trust in ISIL that Abbott’s warmongering is the only reason they want to chop an Aussie’s head off.

    Don’t curb our freedoms? You mean let people come and go freely to Syria? Let Sharrouf and his kids back in? Let the chatter about terror in Australia go on? Don’t even listen to the chatter?

    “..the balance between freedom and security in Australia has been relentlessly shifting for over a decade, and it has always shifted away from freedom.” Well of course it has. The western public will not tolerate another 911 or Bali bombing. The erosion of freedom is a demonstration of how spectacularly successful Bin Laden was.

    Do you recall 911 Bernard? The rest of us do.

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