Tag Archives: Iraq invasion

Abbott’s ‘War on Everything’

13 Jan

Before the September 2013 election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch Catholic who once embarked on training for the priesthood, revealed that he prayed to God every day that he would win the contest, and form the next Australian government.

It would be interesting to ask the PM how much of his victory he attributes to God hearkening to, and answering his prayers. I assume Abbott gives no small measure of thanks for achieving his deepest desire.

I also assume that as well as a believing in his mandate from the people, Abbott believes he’s mandated by God. At least, it feels safer to assume that is the case, than to pretend it couldn’t be thus. Know thine enemy.

This aspect of Abbott occurs to me every time I hear he has declared war on yet one more issue. His ‘wars’ seem to be based on moral assumptions infused with traditional Catholic morality, argued like the crafty theologian he almost became. As an example his statement on November 15 2013, on torture: ‘My government deplores the use of torture but we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen.’ This sentence seems to me to encapsulate the trickiness of being simultaneously moral and amoral,  a talent I have long associated with some theologians, most recently those who’ve argued for the Catholic church in the matter of child abuse.

Perhaps it’s being too generous to assume any morality in the statement at all, rather it gives merely a token nod in morality’s direction.

So far we’ve had the war on scientists and the entire body of climate change science, the war on education, the war on drunken louts ‘king-hitting’ innocent bystanders, the war on Holden, the war on NDIS, the war on the NBN, the war on same-sex marriage, the war on everything the previous ALP government introduced for apparently no reason other than that it was introduced by them, and then we have the war on people smugglers. This latter war is perhaps the only ALP policy Abbott has chosen to retain and build upon.

I imagine Abbott envisioning himself as a war-time PM, chosen to implement the policies his deity wants to see enacted, some of which include a good deal more attention to said deity’s alleged preferences than we are used, as a secular state, to allowing. What little we are allowed to hear the PM say is invariably infused with moral references, even the ‘liberation’ of those sacked by Holden has moral overtones in its implication that an opportunity for self-improvement has been offered to the newly unemployed, and it is their moral duty to avail themselves of it to the utmost.

There is much in Abbott’s sanctimony and righteousness that reminds me of Tony Blair at the height of his zealous and wickedly dishonest prosecution of the invasion of Iraq. The notion of a ‘just war’ got all Blair’s boyish juices flowing, and I imagine the same can be said of Abbott, even if he has not, as yet, had any war of global significance that he can use, as did Blair, to thoroughly establish his faux gravitas at home and on the world stage. We have as yet seen only glimpses of Abbott the unctuous moral crusader, disguised in the garments of a benevolent guardian, solemnly assuring us that it, whatever it happens to be, is for our collective own good. I suspect we are in for a good deal more.

The two Tonys even look a bit alike:TonyBlair

Abbott also appears to hold a traditional conservative Christian perspective on the natural world, that is, it is here for man’s [sic] use, not as a source of wonder, pleasure and enrichment, but rather as a resource for exploitation. So there’s a war on the natural world and all its sentient beings as well.

The war paradigm would seem to be Abbott’s central organising principle. His natural state perhaps, a mentality born of the confluence of ignorance, fear, prejudice and profit, a mentality shared by enough of the voting public to get him into office. This paradigm is closely related to the law and order paradigm so enthusiastically embraced by that other Liberal head of state, Campbell Newman. Deterrence and incarceration are its hallmarks, supported by the Christian virtues of teaching, reproving, correcting, cracking down with the full force of the law, and training in righteousness for those who are conspicuously lacking in these qualities.

Whether or not Abbott will wage a war on women remains to be seen. His views on abortion are well known, as evidenced in this piece authored by him and titled ‘Abortion rate highlights our moral failing.’ Personally, I doubt anything dramatic will be done by this government to offend women, rather, there will be a slow erosion in the form of the reduction of services with a timely dollop of theatrical distraction so we hardly notice what’s happening until it’s too late and they’ve changed the legislation enough to cause us inconvenience and distress. With Cory Bernardi and DLP Senator John Madigan doing all the dirty work, Abbott doesn’t have to say much. There’s also a strong group of anti-choicers in the ALP and we’ve learned, to our amazement, how certain moral panics can bring about the allegiance of very strange bedfellows, such as the Christian right and radical feminists in the matter of pornography.

By far the most cruel war currently being waged by Abbott is his sustained and increasingly vicious attacks on asylum seekers. Abbott and his Minister Scott Morrison, another Christian, though of different variety, unashamedly use the full-blown rhetoric of war when justifying the government’s position on refugees arriving here by boat. The efforts of these two publicly religious men to beat hapless asylum seekers into submission, as detailed in the above link, beggar belief, from a secular point of view at least.

When asked what is the best piece of advice he could ever give anyone, Abbott replied ‘Avoid the occasion of sin.’ So if he is committed to his war mentality, one can only assume that for him every war he’s fighting is a just one. This, for mine, makes him a dangerous man.

Or as Yeats observed in The Second Coming: The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ are full of passionate intensity.

Abbott intensity

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Between the symbol and the reality…

17 May
A still of 2004 Osama bin Laden video

Image via Wikipedia

For my money the assertion by many US commentators that the world is a better place without bin Laden is triumphalist bull dust. It will take a great deal more than the death of a terrorist to make the world and America, a better and safer place.

The killing of bin Laden was symbolically significant for the US. Had he been captured and tried, the result would have been a running sore, unresponsive to any known treatment. His assassination and burial at sea serve to draw a line under the events of 9/11 in a way in which bin Laden captured alive could not. The US government was aware of this. The US government knows the political value of closure, and the political risks of taking him alive.

The symbolic value for the US is that they got the alleged mastermind behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and in getting him, restored symbolic supremacy in a way  the Iraq invasion has been unable to accomplish. What this means for the reality of the daily life of many in the US is obscure. When you lose your job and your home, and you can’t pay for your medical care, is there comfort to be found in recalling that your government got bin Laden?

Whether his death was morally right is another question, and a fraught one at that. Killing an unarmed man who apparently poses no threat in that moment – dubious. Denying him natural justice – dubious. Eichmann got a trial, and he was responsible for enabling the murder of many more human beings than bin Laden, though they were not Americans. Mossad agents hunted him down in South America and brought him back to Israel where justice publicly prevailed.The world has changed since Eichmann, and assassination is apparently favoured over the rule of law

We’ve lost our taste for lengthy, painful trials: just taking them out is so much more efficient.

Whether or not bin Laden’s assassination demeans us as human beings is debatable, and probably depends on your individual moral sensitivities. In my opinion it’s no more demeaning than our invasion of Iraq, based as it was on lies about weapons of mass destruction, Western capitalist self-interest, and the linking of that country’s regime with the events of 9/11, a link that has never been established. We are collectively demeaned by our governments’ complicities, no matter what form they take. We are also helpless to prevent them.

I understand the American need for expediency in the bin Laden situation, though it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Politically there’s far more to be gained by killing him than bringing him in alive.  On the other hand, the West continues to demonstrate that we operate by a set of rules that when turned against us we decry as illegal and terroristic, such as the US invasion of Pakistan’s sovereign territory, resulting in acts of murder. The West is at war and the enemy is terrorism, is the justification. The new rules of engagement require the forfeit of sovereignty by certain countries in the interests of entitled Western states prosecuting that war as they see fit.

Since the 2003 invasion, some 110,183 Iraqi civilians have died violent deaths, with Coalition forces responsible for higher casualty rates than anti-Coalition forces for all weapons combined, as well as for small arms gunfire. That figure is regarded as an underestimate since the release of Wikileaks cables apparently adding another 15,000 lost civilian lives. But these lives are not Western lives and they were lost in what Western leaders considered a “just” war. No matter that bin Laden and his followers no doubt consider their war “just” and the lives lost in 9/11 similarly collateral damage. Is state sanctioned terrorism morally superior to the terrorism perpetrated by a band of cave-dwelling religious fanatics? Is the determination to impose Western liberal democracy on every country in the world itself a form of fanaticism?

Nothing will change in America as a result of bin Laden’s death. The gap between the haves and have nots will continue to widen. This distance never had anything to do with terrorists, or the events of 9/11. School teachers will continue to face up to 20% reduction in their salaries as part of budget cuts. Citizens will continue to arm themselves in record numbers, in spite of the 2010 FBI statistics that reveal the crime rate has dropped. Fear will continue to govern the hearts and minds of Americans, fear of each other, fear of their government, and fear of terrorism.

Those who were affected by the events of 9/11 I hope will feel some relief, and some closure. But the death of bin Laden is not going to make anybody more compassionate, generous, accepting and caring about one another. It’s not going to make the small number of Americans who hold the greatest wealth consider paying fair taxes so that others can have a shot at a decent life. It isn’t going to halt the unemployment rate. It isn’t going to house the homeless.

Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Indigenous people of Australia was a powerful symbolic act surrounded by great emotion, but in reality little has changed since the apology was made. In the same way the assassination of bin Laden will bring no change to the lives of the American people who most need it. Both acts generated a great deal of emotion, but emotion is ephemeral and without the will to enact real change, emotion is nothing more than indulgence. Symbolic acts are vital in any society but they are supposed to be representative of a reality:  they have no life in and of themselves. We seem to have forgotten that. We seem to have settled for the belief that the symbol, and the momentary emotional thrill it brings, is all we need.

Of course it was right that Rudd should say sorry, but saying sorry was a beginning, as well as an ending. Of course bin Laden had to be hunted down, but that too is a beginning as well as an ending. Symbols mark the possibility of and hope for change. When that hope is not realized the symbol is rendered ineffective and hollow.

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