Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Bitcoin Uncensored about the global “war on drugs”

I’m currently working on a new, investigative book on the global “war on drugs” covering vast parts of the world consumed by the drug war (from Honduras to West Africa). It’ll be published by Scribe in Australia, the UK and beyond in 2019.

This week I was interviewed by the US podcast, Bitcoin Uncensored, on this book, what my research has taught me so far, what legalisation/decriminalisation looks like etc. And yes, the words are out of sync (technical issues):

no comments – be the first ↪

Introducing John Pilger into the Melbourne Press Club Hall of Fame

The Melbourne Press Club periodically inducts journalists into its Hall of Fame.

I was asked to write the profile and be interviewed about John Pilger, one of Australia’s most famous journalistic exports:

During his acceptance speech for the Sydney Peace Prize in 2009, Australian journalist, author and film-maker John Pilger articulated a worldview that he has vociferously opposed during a career spanning more than 50 years. “Democracy has become a business plan,” he said, “with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies – socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor – and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war.”

Pilger’s decades-long work in print and television has transformed him into one of the most successful and awarded Australian journalists in the modern era, yet this has not brought him universal praise from his media colleagues or a profession that often prefers safe insiders and embedded “realities”. Pilger is too confrontational towards state power and his industry to be widely adored and he embraces being the eternal dissident.

In the introduction to a 2004 collection of fine investigative journalism from around the world, Tell Me No Lies, edited by Pilger, he warned that the proliferation of public relations forced reporters to take an even more adversarial position towards governments and corporate power. Political and historical context is everything and Pilger rightly demanded more discussion about the “hundreds of illegal [American] ‘covert operations’, many of them bloody” that have denied political and economic self-determination to much of the world.

Pilger has spent years visiting the sites of these often silent wars, genocides and occupations from East Timor to Palestine and Australia to Vietnam. He has never been a cheerleader for “our” side and his journalism is stronger because of it.

In his classic 1986 book, Heroes, Pilger wrote that he had “grown up in one of the most fortunate cities on earth”. Born in Sydney in 1939 to socialist parents Elsie and Claude, he was brought up in Bondi and developed a love of swimming that continued his entire life. With a working class background, his journalism career began as a copy boy on the now defunct Sydney Sun newspaper.

As a cadet on Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Pilger soon discovered what he viewed as the dark heart of modern journalism. Writing in Heroes, he explained that “writing one thing and believing another was the way the system worked and to do otherwise was to risk not working at all.” He lamented many young journalists expressing “fake cynicism towards their craft, their readers and themselves.” It wasn’t surprising that he soon left the parochial shores of Sydney and followed the exodus of Australians to London.

Working as a journalist on the Daily Mirror, Pilger often found himself on the frontline of history. He witnessed the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. His critical reporting during the Vietnam War, including his first TV documentary in 1970, The Quiet Mutiny, documented declining morale within the US military for the bloody conflict.

His 1979 film, Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, exclusively revealed the devastation of that nation’s people after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Massive public reaction to the documentary led to millions of aid dollars being raised for the growing famine. Pilger didn’t just blame the genocidal Khmer Rouge for the catastrophe but also Washington for illegally bombing the state and creating the environment for the mass murderers to take power.

In his book, Distant Voices in 1992, Pilger recounted arriving in Phnom Penh in 1979 and “taking no photographs; incredulity saw to that. I had no sense of people, of even the remnants of a population; the first human shapes I glimpsed seemed incoherent shapes, detached from the city itself.” Pilger’s work on Cambodia was inarguably some of his most successful and he made five films about the country.

Pilger has long shone a harsh light on his birth country’s indigenous population. In his 1998 book, Hidden Agendas, he explained that “until we white Australians give back to the first Australians their nationhood, we can never claim our own.” Pilger has made many documentaries about Australia including Utopia, released in 2013. It was a scathing examination of the black population that remains invisible to the vast majority of Australians and the world. He showed desolate living conditions and apartheid-South African level incarceration rates for the nation’s first peoples.

Pilger has been routinely criticised for lacking objectivity, a concept he has dismissed for decades as the position of corporate journalists who routinely forget that they should be reporting on and defending the most marginalised citizens in society rather than siding or socialising with prime ministers, presidents and officials. He has been unapologetic about his defence of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange along with his criticism of liberal heroes such as Barack Obama. Noam Chomsky has called Pilger’s journalism “a beacon of light in often dark times.”

Upon winning the Order of Timor-Leste in 2017, in recognition of his work advocating for the East Timorese people during the Indonesian military occupation backed by Washington, London and Canberra, Pilger showed why he’s one of the best advocates for the forgotten. “Australia owes Timor Leste a huge debt, some would say, billions of dollars in reparations”, he said. “Australia should hand over, unconditionally, all royalties collected since [former Australian Foreign Minister] Gareth Evans toasted Suharto’s dictatorship while flying over the graves of its victims.”

Still engaged and angry in his seventh decade, Pilger is a rare journalist who has never sold out and never curbed his views to accommodate corporate donors. It’s no wonder officialdom has loathed him for decades yet readers and viewers across the world have often embraced his message.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist who has written for the Guardian, New York Times and many other publications. He is author of My Israel Question and Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and writer and co-producer of the documentary, Disaster Capitalism.

one comment ↪

Imagining a sporting/tourist boycott of Australia

After 25 years of increasingly extreme Australian policies against asylum seekers both onshore and offshore, perhaps it’s time to think about more active measures to change course.

I was interviewed by the Guardian about my suggestions:

The author and journalist Antony Loewenstein is attempting to open up another front in the campaign against offshore detention. He has argued for some time that an international boycott of Australia over Manus is a key way to pressure the government. He wants to see a sporting and tourism boycott, and a boycott of companies “profiting from onshore and offshore detention”.

“Protest is vital but the old methods have failed to change decades of bipartisan support for mandatory detention of asylum seekers and other human rights violations,” Loewenstein told the Guardian.

no comments – be the first ↪

Is it time to boycott Australia over its refugee policies?

My following article appears in Australian news outlet, Crikey:

Let’s talk about boycotting Australia.

Australia’s war on asylum seekers at Manus Island, Nauru and other privatised detention facilities on the Australian mainland is seemingly unstoppable by traditional means. While condemned by every human rights organisation in the world, Canberra is unmoved. The demonisation of (mostly) brown and Muslim individuals is an effective tool for politicians as well as many in the Murdoch and tabloid press to whip up fear and aggression against outsiders. And it’s been working for 25 years with Australia now inspiring hardline European policies.

When politics and international law fail to intervene if abuses occur, alternative tactics are required. Supporting a tourist and sporting boycott is one way to draw local and international attention to Australia’s mistreatment of refugees. It would inevitably lead to a hardening of views among some Australians, and vicious opposition by many in the media who would label it unrealistic or extreme — but that’s exactly the point. Business-as-usual ideas have failed for more than two decades. It’s time to try something new.

Back in 2014, I wrote in The Guardian that the United Nations should impose sanctions on Australia over its asylum seeker policies. Then and now it was a highly contentious view, and the UN is a deeply flawed and corrupt body itself, but my aim was to make Australians realise that turning a blind eye to what was happening on Manus Island and elsewhere should come with a tangible, economic price. In other words, let’s turn capitalism against a rich, capitalist country.

In 2015, I wrote in The Guardian again about boycotting companies, and divesting from them through shareholder activism, that financially benefited from Australia’s refugee policies. This included Serco, G4S and International Health and Medical Services. Earlier this year, when I raised the idea on ABC TV of a sports boycott against Australia, the online response was often vitriolic (though far from entirely).

“Sports and politics don’t mix” was the most tiresome response, as if people had conveniently forgotten the long and noble tradition of fighting oppression and racism during apartheid South Africa and in the US today with sports and its icons. There’s also a growing global divestment campaign against the coal industry.

The growing success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, to pressure the Jewish state to abide by international law in its war against the Palestinians, is because it has massive Palestinian support within Palestine, granting the movement legitimacy in the eyes of global activists.

There are examples of Australians pushing for similar legitimacy here with current and former asylum seekers. The only Australian organisation that I know that’s pushing to sanction Australia is Rise: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees. They state: “Australia should be excluded from participation in all international humanitarian and human rights decision making processes until mandatory detention and refoulement of asylum seekers and refugees is abolished in Australia.”

What would a boycott against Australia look like? Because it’s unlikely that any countries would refuse to play Australia in cricket, football, hockey, netball or rugby (as these nations are themselves involved in abuses against minorities), it’s up to engaged citizens to put pressure on teams and their corporate sponsors to take a public stand against Australia’s refugee posture. Generate public protests in Australia and globally when Australia’s national team plays. Brief activists in foreign cities to write letters and op-eds whenever Australia appears. Australians crave global acceptance and will loathe being forced to consider why their teams are being shunned.

A tourist boycott is equally appealing (and a German journalist recently advocated for it). Tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry and many people would undoubtedly suffer if fewer foreigners visited. But there are ways to try and avoid this result. After the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009, some activists asked tourists not to come because the government was attempting to white-wash its crimes (or at least be careful not to stay at hotels or fly on airlines backed by the regime).

Australians could encourage potential tourists, with the aid of a helpful website, to back local communities and economies with no connection to corporations complicit in some way to Australia’s refugee policies. Activists could use culture jamming techniques to challenge Australian tourist ads running around the world, showing the reality away from the pretty beaches. Social media is an effective weapon here, producing alternative tourist messages with images from Manus Island and Nauru.

There’s no one way to end Australia’s cruelty towards asylum seekers but most of the current tactics have failed. If Australians start paying a real price for their acquiesce in punishing refugees, the politics may start to slowly change.

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, film-maker, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and is currently writing a book on the global “war on drugs”.

no comments – be the first ↪

Defending the right to protest Pine Gap

I signed the following public statement to support peaceful protest of the secretive US spy base at Pine Gap in Australia. It’s directed at Attorney General George Brandis:

We seek your urgent intervention to protect the right to freedom of speech, expression, political communication and of religion for six Australian citizens who face up to seven years in jail for a peaceful protest in which they were praying and playing musical instruments.

In September 2016, several hundred Australians of diverse ages, professions and creeds gathered in Alice Springs to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Pine Gap Agreement.

As part of the peaceful protests near the facility, five Christians prayed and played a musical lament, regarding the role of Pine Gap in war-fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria. They were arrested.

The peaceful and symbolic ceremonies conducted by Margaret Pestorius, Tim Webb, Franz Dowling, Andrew Paine, Jim Dowling, as well as Paul Christie (arrested in a separate incident), were intended to bear witness to the death and suffering of civilians as a result of United States military operations, including drone assassinations, facilitated by surveillance conducted at Pine Gap.

Since their peaceful protests, more evidence has emerged detailing the role of Pine Gap in the activities that concerned the Peace Pilgrims. It implicates Australia in extrajudicial drone assassinations in countries with which we are not at war, in nuclear weapons targeting and in illegal mass surveillance.

Three months after the protest, you authorised the prosecution of these concerned citizens for ‘unlawful entry’ under the Defence Special Undertakings Act 1952 (Cth).

That legislation was drafted at the height of the Cold War to secure areas for British nuclear testing, and it permits prosecutions to be held in secret, and for records of hearings to be destroyed, imposing penalties of up to $42,000 and 7 years in jail.

This prosecution occurs as Australia prepares to serve on the UN Human Rights Council and when UN Rapporteurs have criticised policies, laws and actions of your government that undermine freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to protest. These are fundamental civil rights, and they are profoundly important when governments are engaged in the sort of conduct which Pine Gap facilitates.

Five of the defendants are devout Christians. Their faith impelled them to give voice to the teachings of peace and love for humanity and creation found in the Bible.

In this case, where Australian citizens were doing no more than praying and peacefully expressing dissent, prosecuting them is not only grossly inappropriate but a shocking waste of court resources.

We, the undersigned, urge you to exercise your discretion to direct this punitive, disproportionate and expensive prosecution be discontinued before the matter comes to court in Alice Springs on 13 November 2017.

  • Jennifer Robinson, human rights lawyer, Doughty Chambers
  • Ben Oquist, Executive Director, The Australia Institute
  • Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist and author
  • Alex Kelly, documentary filmmaker
  • Melinda Taylor, international criminal lawyer
  • Rebecca Peters AO
  • Julian Burnside AO QC
  • Scott Ludlam​, writer, graphic designer, activist​
  • Asher Wolf, journalist, Cryptoparty founder
  • Dr Giordano Nanni, ​founder ​Juice Media
  • Kellie Tranter, lawyer and human rights activist
  • Benedict Coyne, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Anthony Kelly, Executive Officer, Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre Inc.
  • Dr Helen Caldicott, President, Beyond Nuclear
  • Professor Brian Martin, University of Wollongong
  • John Pilger, journalist and filmmaker ​
  • Mark Zirnsak, Director, Justice & International Mission, Uniting Church​
  • Elizabeth O’Shea, lawyer
  • Professor Tilman Ruff AM
  • Father Peter Maher OAM
  • Archie Law, Chair, Sydney Peace Foundation
  • Tim Lo Surdo, founding director, Democracy in Colour
  • Richard Tanter, Honorary Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne
  • Emeritus Professor Joseph A. Camilleri OAM
  • Paddy Manning, journalist
  • Dr Sue Wareham OAM
  • Professor Emeritus Stuart Rees AM, University of Sydney
  • Annette Brownlie, Chairperson IPAN
  • Romina Beistseen, Secretary CICD
  • Helen Razer, writer and broadcaster
  • Professor Robert Moody, Melbourne University
  • Shirley Winton, Spirit of Eureka (Victoria)
  • Jeff Sparrow, writer, editor and broadcaster
  • Dr Margaret Beavis, ​Immediate Past President, ​Medical Association for Prevention of War
  • Andrew Farran, international lawyer
  • Dr. Alison Broinowski, writer and former Australian diplomat
  • Father John Pettit OCSO
  • Chas Licciardello, writer, comedian, broadcaster
  • John Menadue AO, businessperson and former Australian diplomat
  • Cam Walker, National Liaison Officer, Friends of the Earth
  • Rob Stary, criminal defence lawyer, Adjunct Professor of Law Victoria University
  • Bernard Keane, Politics Editor, Crikey
  • Brett Dean, Composer, Viola player
  • Professor Peter Norden AO, Fellow, Australian & New Zealand Society of Criminology
  • Dr Tim Sherratt, University of Canberra
  • Chris Drummond, Theatre Director
  • Paul Barratt, Former Secretary, Dep’t of Defence, President, Australians for War Powers Reform
  • Donna Mulhearn, writer and activist
  • Harold Wilkinson, Quaker Peace and Legislation Committee
  • Anne Sgro OAM, President of Union of Australian Women Victoria
  • Professor Mary Heath, Flinders University
  • Dr. Peter Burdon, Associate Professor, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide
  • Dr Sal Humphreys, Media Studies, University of Adelaide
  • Tim Singleton Norton, Chair, Digital Rights Watch
  • Greg Barns , Barrister, Former National President Australian Lawyers Alliance
  • Richard Broinowski, President, AIIA NSW
  • Associate Professor Debra King, Sociology, Flinders University
  • Denis Doherty, national co-ordinator, Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition
  • Dr Hannah Middleton, peace and justice activist
  • Mary Kostakidis, journalist
  • Frank Moorehouse AM, writer
  • Roger Clarke, UNSW, ANU, Australian Privacy Foundation
  • Amanda Tattersall, Host, ChangeMakers
  • Tim Hollo, Executive Director, the Green Institute
  • Senator Richard Di Natale, Leader of the Australian Greens and Senator for Victoria
  • Adam Bandt MP, Acting Co-Deputy Leader, Australian Greens and Federal Member for Melbourne
  • Senator Janet Rice, Senator for Victoria
  • Senator Lee Rhiannon, Senator for NSW
  • Senator Rachel Siewert, Acting Co-deputy Leader Australian Greens, Senator for Western Australia
  • Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, Senator for Tasmania
  • Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Senator for South Australia
  • David Pledger, artist, curator
  • Jo Vallentine, People for Nuclear Disarmament, W.A.
  • Rob Pyne MP, Independent Member for Cairns
no comments – be the first ↪

Australia’s ambition to become global arms dealer

My major investigation in the Melbourne Age/Sydney Morning Herald on Australia’s surging defence industry:

This year’s Avalon Air Show in Geelong was the first chance for the public to see the long-delayed Joint Strike Fighter in action. At a cost of at least $100 million per aircraft, Canberra is slated to spend $17 billion on 72 F-35s in the coming years.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest defence contractor, has faced countless problems with the plane including cost blowouts (spending more than $US1 trillion and counting), a Pentagon report in January finding 276 deficiencies (with 20 new issues discovered per month) and consistent troubles with overheating and cybersecurity. An Australian contractor on the aircraft was recently hacked, with sensitive material stolen.

None of this dampened the mood at Avalon. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, along with Defence Minister Marise Payne, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne and Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson, praised the plane and Australia’s growing defence sector.

“It is an example of how our defence industry plan is not simply securing our Air Force and our Army and our Navy with the capabilities they need to keep us safe in the 21st century,” Turnbull said. “It is driving the advanced manufacturing, the jobs, the advanced technology that Australians need to make sure our children and grandchildren have the opportunities in the years ahead.”

Billed as Australia’s premiere showcase of defence, civilian and aerospace equipment, sponsored by the world’s major defence companies such as BAE Systems, Raytheon, Thales, L3, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, along with Australia’s Department of Defence and the Victorian Labor government, this year was the largest in Avalon’s history, with over 210,000 people in attendance.

But away from Avalon’s glitzy surface, and its promotion of a family-friendly event to watch the world’s most sophisticated aircraft, is a darker reality. Australia’s defence sector has hugely expanded in  recent years with barely any public discussion, let alone debate in federal parliament.

It’s a nearly impossible task to discover exactly what Australia is selling and to whom because the federal government refuses to say, but nuggets of information make it clear that Canberra is aggressively selling weapons and defence equipment to countries involved in conflicts where human rights abuses are being perpetrated.

Australian Defence Magazine released figures in December 2016 that revealed the scope of the industry. The top 40 defence contractors, including top players BAE Systems Australia and Raytheon Australia, had an annual turnover of $10.384 billion, 11 per cent higher than 2015 and the biggest in the magazine’s 21-year history.

According to Amnesty International, in 2016 the world spent $US1.69 trillion on the military, with the US Pentagon issuing  $US304 billion in contracts to corporations including Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

But how transparent is Australia’s defence spending internationally? In December 2016, Christopher Pyne visited Saudi Arabia and met with senior members of the regime, including the head of the National Guard. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request, filed in April by the Australian group, The Medical Association for Prevention of War, found that Canberra was looking to expand the reach of its domestic defence sector and had no issue selling equipment with dual use (for either military or civilian purposes). The government refused to give a full list of companies accompanying Pyne.

Saudi Arabia is already the world’s second biggest purchaser of weapons. The Trump administration recently signed a $US350 billion arms deal with Riyadh for the next 10 years.

Saudi Arabia launched military action against Yemen’s Houthi rebels in 2015 and the humanitarian situation in what was already the poorest country in the Middle East has rapidly deteriorated. At least 10,000 civilians have been killed, cholera ravages millions of citizens and Saudi Arabia has been accused of committing war crimes by human rights groups. In October the UN included the kingdom on a blacklist for killing and injuring children (though the UN has previously backed down on similar steps under Saudi pressure).

Britain has refused to support a United Nations investigation into atrocities because it could affect trade and weapons sales and in July Britain’s High Court backed London’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia as legal. Charity War Child UK has claimed that British arms companies have earned more than £6 billion ($10.3 billion) from trade with Saudi Arabia since the Yemen conflict began (Holland banned such sales in 2016).

Australia has refused to condemn Saudi actions in Yemen. The heavily redacted FOI revealed that there was discussion during Pyne’s December trip of the Royal Saudi Naval Force eastern fleet expansion with a budget of $26 billion (Australian shipbuilder Austal accompanied Pyne on his visit), talk of the Tasmanian, Incat-designed and built aluminium catamaran damaged by a Houthi attack off the coast of Yemen in October 2016 and consultation about a future submarine program (though whose was not clear).

I asked the Australian Department of Defence for further information on any dealings with Saudi Arabia and was told that “Defence does not release the details of export approvals due to commercial-in-confidence restrictions. Exports of military equipment and technology to Saudi Arabia were assessed in line with Australian export control provisions.”

Then Greens senator Scott Ludlam was one of the only parliamentarians who questioned Australia’s dealings with Saudi Arabia. He told Fairfax Media that he could find nobody in the Labor Party to support his enquiries into Pyne’s trip.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale told me that he condemned Australia’s “military-industrial complex”: “Why promote Australia as a global arms dealer when we could be revitalising our manufacturing industry around new energy technology?”

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is one of the world’s leading researchers on conflict and armaments. Its latest figures, for the period 2010-2016, showed ships as the biggest Australian export, along with aircraft, missiles and armoured vehicles. The list of customers included Papua New Guinea, Oman, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Singapore and the United States.

I asked the Department of Defence to whom they were selling defence equipment. They said that no export licences were granted between January 2015 and the present day to Myanmar (currently engaged in ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, according to the UN), but during the same period dual-use equipment and technology was sold to the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

The UAE stands accused of committing abuses in Libya and Yemen while Israel has been condemned by the UN and human rights groups for war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank. An Australian intelligence company, iOmniscient, is selling surveillance equipment to the brutal Bahrain dictatorship. Canberra is already one of the world’s biggestimporters and exporters of small arms.

The federal government’s 2016 Defence White Paper outlined a $200 billion investment over the next 10 years. Canberra promotes its wares at events such as this year’s Defence and Security Equipment International conference in London, though protesters greeted the tens of thousands of participants.

Pyne said in July that his ambition was for Australia to “enormously increase that capacity and send a lot more weapons overseas to appropriate countries and appropriate places of course. We simply wouldn’t do so willy-nilly. We have a particular process for that.”

He says that current contracts are worth $200 billion in the coming years. That’s a massive expansion of defence exports from 2003/2004, when they amounted to just under $600 million.

The move was slammed by World Vision Australia chief Tim Costello, who questioned whether Australia should be “exporting death and profiting from bloodshed … Do we really want that to be what people think of when they see the brand ‘made in Australia’?”

The federal government states that export applications are granted against the following criteria: international obligations, human rights, regional security, national security and foreign policy. The government’s Global Supply Chain program gives exclusive access to Australian companies to enter into close commercial relationships with, and provide vital parts to, Lockheed Martin, Rheinmetall, Northrop Grumman, Thales, Boeing, BAE and Raytheon.

Some of these corporations have unprecedented access to decision making in the Trump administration, with the US President filling key roles in Homeland Security and the Pentagon with defence contractors. However, Barack Obama sold more weapons globally than any US commander-in-chief before him.

Australia’s ambition to expand its defence sector is intimately tied to the growth of the world’s biggest weapons companies on Australian soil, despite them being connected to some of the world’s major conflicts and controversies.

Thales is one of the biggest beneficiaries  of the European Union’s increasingly militarised border policies and Lockheed Martin is supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia. Lockheed Martin refused to answer my questions about its role in Australia despite its presence growing by the year (including the establishment of a research facility at the University of Melbourne, praised by Pyne).

But Australia’s goal of becoming a global weapons dealer may be futile. SIPRI’s senior researcher Siemon Wezeman has closely studied Australia’s defence policies and questions their stated aims.

“To be honest, I don’t see Australia becoming a major arms exporter in any near future,” he told me. “The list of exports in the last decade gives not the greatest reasons to be optimistic about exports of major weapons from Australia, the more so since the new-produced weapons listed are not very advanced and are not niche weapons. Australia has no comparative advantage and many other countries produce or can produce them cheaper.”

Wezeman stresses that Australia has made decisions to largely “cater for its own needs, largely now as subsidiaries of foreign companies, which works nicely if the government wants to spend its money in Australia (even if that may be not 100 per cent cost-effective).” He sees China, South Korea, Turkey, Japan and Singapore elbowing out Australia on the world stage because of their industrial, political and military connections.

In his seminal 2011 book on the global arms trade The Shadow World, journalist Andrew Feinstein exposes the fallacies of a nation’s expanding defence sector. “The arms industry’s economic contribution is undermined by the frequency with which its main players around the world, Lockheed Martin, BAE, Boeing, Northrop Grumman … are implicated in grand corruption, inefficiency and wastage of public resources,” he wrote.

Feinstein concludes that the arms trade “often makes us poorer, not richer, less not more safe, and governed not in our own interests but for the benefit of a small, self-serving elite, seemingly above the law, protected by the secrecy of national security and accountable to no one”.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, filmmaker, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastropheand is currently working on a book about the global war on drugs.

no comments – be the first ↪

The last remaining Jew in Afghanistan

During my 2012 visit to Afghanistan, researching the book and film, Disaster Capitalism, I spent time with the country’s reportedly last remaining Jew, Zablon Simintov, and filmed an interview with him. Living in the centre of Kabul, his house was a tiny apartment with a Christmas tree in the corner. Remarkably, he had remained safe during the civil war, Taliban years and post-US invasion period. He was a grumpy man. He managed a synagogue near his home, attended by Jewish, Western diplomats and aid workers based in the country. He said that these people brought him Jewish food such as matzoh on Passover. He lived a simple and poor life. This video shows Simintov praying in his small, one room apartment:

no comments – be the first ↪

Disaster Capitalism book interview published by Verso US

My latest book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, tackles issues related to privatisation, the war in Afghanistan, crisis in Haiti and the private prison industry. Here’s my interview, via my UK/US publisher Verso, conducted a few months ago in Brooklyn, New York and just posted now:

no comments – be the first ↪

ABC TV The Drum on refugees, boycotting Australia and Israel/Palestine

This week I appeared on ABC TV’s The Drum talking about Australia’s awful refugee policies, Israel/Palestine and the Israel lobby’s pernicious attacks on anybody who dares challenge the Jewish state:

The show has gone viral. One clip, of fellow journalist John Lyons and I talking about the Zionist lobby’s pressuring of critical voices, has been watched nearly 100,000 times (and growing fast). It’s received international attention.

Back in 2014, I argued in The Guardian that Australia should suffer a sports boycott due to its illegal asylum seeker policies. I made the same point on this TV show and many people, with a few notable exceptions, welcomed the idea. Australian legal academic Dr Amy McGuire wrote a story in The Conversation around the issue.

no comments – be the first ↪

How do we escape our filter bubbles?

We live in an age of filter bubbles. I’ve been commissioned by Germany’s Goethe Institute to discuss these issues online for the next month alongside Austrian journalist Robert Misik. Here’s the first entry that is distributed in 160 nations around the world (here’s the German version):

Once upon a time there were hopes that the Internet would democratize social discourse – but today the talk is mainly about fake news and filter bubbles whenever the subject turns to the question of how digitization influences politics. What can journalists do to regain the trust that has been lost? And what can ordinary people do to engage to a greater extent in discussions with one another again? Over the next few weeks, this will be debated here by the journalists Robert Misik from Austria and Antony Loewenstein from Australia. Their digital correspondence is postage-free – and open to all, so join in the discussion and give your opinion! Contradict! Ask questions! You can take part using the comments field on this page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #freepost. Geraldine de Bastion, who is chairing the debate, will contribute your comments to the exchange.

Geraldine de BastionPhoto: Roger von Heereman / Konnektiv

Geraldine de Bastion: 4 December 2009 marked a paradigm shift on the Internet, as it was on this day that Google began creating personal profiles for every user and individually filtering search results. Internet activist Eli Pariser described this as the start of an “era of personalization”, coining the term “filter bubble” for it in his book Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You.

This growing individualization is evident when we are presented with personalized advertising – and indeed when we use supposedly neutral tools such as search engines to navigate our way through the information medium number one; tools we have to use because otherwise the Internet would be simply impenetrable.

“Customized services” are omnipresent. Rather than being an encyclopaedia of world events, the Internet is more reminiscent of a special interest paper. In our social media profiles too, which should really be connecting rather than isolating us, we find ourselves faced initially with a kind of “one-way mirror”, as Eli Pariser describes it in his book. By watching what we click, algorithms learn more and more about us, and we get increasingly entangled in our own personal bias online: when surfing the web, users only see stuff that matches their profile, their worldviews and their convictions.

Some critics of this theory claim that the filter bubble is not a purely digital phenomenon, and that it is intrinsic in all of us from the start. We view the world through our own particular glasses, surround ourselves with like-minded people and read only things that confirm our own opinions.

So how do you perceive your filter bubble, online and offline? And do filter bubbles in fact exist at all?

 

Robert MisikPhoto: Helena Wimmer

Robert Misik: Of course filter bubbles exist. That is not something that requires any discussion – it is rather a question of interpretation: do the filter bubbles in digital communication enclose and confine us to a greater extent than would otherwise be the case? If this is the question to be addressed, the situation is already more complicated. Modern societies are comprised of a large number of subgroups that differ from one another in terms of their ways of life, political persuasions, personal styles and so on. We have inner city dwellers, working class urban districts, middle classes in the suburbs, the super-rich in their favoured areas, big cities, small towns, villages … The people who live in these various sub-communities also have little contact with those in other sub-communities in real life – and when they do have contact, it tends rather to be on a superficial level.

Digital communication, be it in social networks, forums or other online media, reinforces this logic on the one hand while breaking with it on the other. Reinforced in the sense that, assuming we fit into the patchwork of a community with a particular set of opinions, we will find ourselves inundated with ever more messages that reinforce this community’s prevailing opinions. This entrenches our views and gives us tunnel vision. Yet that is of course only one side of the truth. We can see the opinions of others on a daily basis in the social media and forums – where we are confronted with attitudes that we might otherwise not even notice. That is something that is often overlooked when we talk about filter bubbles.

 

Antony LoewensteinPhoto: Reuben Brand

Antony Loewenstein: A key deficiency of modern society is lack of empathy for the underprivileged, a disease caused by experiencing our daily lives in a bubble. Too often what we read and don’t see online and what we hear and experience in our real lives reduces our ability to relate to others who look or sound different to us. It’s tempting to hate refugees coming from the Middle East or Africa if you feel economic and racial insecurity and are told by your trusted newspaper, TV host or friend that you should fear the “other” because they’re worsening your personal situation. Resisting this impulse requires widening what you consume and consider on a daily basis. This tendency existed before the rise of the internet and social media but it’s now easier to find your own tribe online.

I’ve experienced this in my own work. When I visit Gaza as a journalist and tell people that I don’t feel threatened as a Jew by locals or the Islamist government, the instant reaction is often suspicion because the media has fed a line for decades that Palestinians are inherently violent and Muslims want to kill all Jews. This lie can only be challenged by constantly explaining the truth and showing the fallacy of the position.

The rise of Donald Trump, Brexit and rampant nationalism in Europe, the US and Australia has made me spend even more time reading, listening and reporting on the movements that caused these political earthquakes. Contemptuously dismissing Trump won’t make his supporters disappear. I don’t personally know any Trump or Brexit voters, and nor do I associate with white nationalists who loathe Islam, but I’m drawn to exploring why many people are.

UPDATE: Week two’s question: What has been your experience: how can we seek and conduct constructive discourse outside the filter bubble?

My answer:

Living and working outside our own filter bubbles requires us to first acknowledge that our own positions are inherently biased and should be challenged. I proudly call myself a liberal and yet I constantly feel disillusioned with the superiority expressed by ‘my side’ in political debates.

Take the 2003 Iraq war, arguably the most consequential conflict of the 21st century. Countless journalists, commentators and supposedly serious politicians around the world backed the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, including many progressively-minded people. They were catastrophically wrong and yet virtually none of these individuals have paid any political or career price for their hubris. Many of the same faces are now advocating the bombing of Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. What this seminal experience taught me was that we need to question our own ‘side’ first, online and in person, while also disputing the mistruths and bigotry of our opponents.

Truth-telling can be powerful. If Wikileaks had existed in 2003, and it published the conversations of George W. Bush and Tony Blair conspiring and lying about the Iraq war, would the war have been stopped before it even begin?

The election of Donald Trump fills me with dread but I’m not suddenly more concerned about ‘fake news’ today than 15 years ago. Social media has undeniably fuelled our ability to feel connected and insulated from views we don’t want to hear but I’m far more worried about group think when it comes to questions of war and peace and the millions of lives that have been lost in the name of national security and fighting terrorism since 9/11.

We should aim to conduct constructive and insightful conversations with everybody online, personal abuse should be avoided, but it’s the height of arrogance to believe that only we have facts on our side and others, like Trump, Brexit or Marine Le Pen supporters, are all delusional.

UPDATE: Week three question: Do we need new tools to secure a digital agora?

UPDATE: Week four question: What would your demands be [for greater media education and diversity]?

We are drowning in public relations. Journalism is suffering. According to a recent study in the US, 15 years ago there were two PR people for every reporter in the nation. Today there are 4.8 PR people for every reporter. The result is that the general public is too often bombarded with press releases as “news” because there are too few journalists to analyse and investigate current events.

One way to address this worrying shift is for greater public funding into a wide range of journalistic endeavours but government-sponsored press isn’t the only solution. Escaping our filter bubbles must begin at a young age.

Universities and schools, starting at kindergarten, should emphasize media literacy and stress the importance of accountable and adversarial journalism. A healthy mantra to be repeated time and again is the famous expression by journalist Claud Cockburn: “Never believe anything until it’s officially denied.”

Scepticism of all government and business claims is a healthy way to assess the news of the day. Don’t simply trust journalists because they’re in positions of privilege; they should earn it by producing work that enhances our understanding of society and brings empathy to the silenced or forgotten.

Despite the proliferation of social media in the last decade, personal contact with people is arguably still far more powerful in changing minds than re-tweeting a thought or sharing a Facebook post. Talk to people with differing views, attend talks with writers and politicians with whom you vehemently disagree and spend less time online.

Finally, some tips for healthy living: enjoy the sun, read a book, have a meal with a friend and don’t always Instagram what food you’re eating.

no comments – be the first ↪

Arundhati Roy returns with force to fiction

My book review in The National newspaper:

Twenty years is a long time to wait for new writing but in the case of Indian writer Arundhati Roy she’s remained deeply engaged with her country over the last two decades. After the huge success of her first novel, The God of Small Things won the Man Booker Prize in 1997, Roy has transformed herself into one of the world’s most incisive observers of India’s supposed economic boom. Roy calls it a “lie”.

For her outspokenness on human rights, including abuses in Kashmir, Roy has faced criminal charges of contempt and sedition. She fled to London last year after fearing for her life. She has written in support of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden and remains deeply opposed to injustice around the world.

In her new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Roy tells the story of a transgender woman, Anjum, who lives in a crumbling Delhi neighbourhood. After a massacre in Gujarat – India’s current prime minister Narendra Modhi stands accused of complicity in the killings of Muslims in the same state in 2002 – she flees to a cemetery and establishes a new life there full of colourful characters.

Alongside this narrative is a wider perspective set in Kashmir. As she recently told the Guardian, these two sections become one book because, “geographically, Kashmir is riven through with borders, and everybody in the book has a border running through them,” she said. “So it’s a book about, how do you understand these borders?”

Roy is scathing of India’s behaviour in Kashmir, accusing the military of torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances. It’s a place where darkness envelops its victims but also entrances its many visitors through natural beauty. As one character Musa is described: “He knew that Kashmir had swallowed him and he was now parts of its entrails … In the heart of a filthy war, up against a bestiality that is hard to imagine, he did what he could to persuade his comrades to hold on to a semblance of humanity, to not turn into the very thing they abhorred and fought against.”

Throughout the book, Roy conjures up imagery reminiscent of the finest magical realism of novelist Salman Rushdie but she never strays far from real life. In one striking passage, Roy utilises her wit and sarcasm to devastating effect, mimicking those who blindly admire or celebrate India (or any country?) without question: “Compared to Kabul, or anywhere else in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or for that matter any other country in our neighbourhood (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Syria – Good God!), this foggy little back lane, with its everyday humdrumness, its vulgarity, its unfortunate but tolerable inequities, its donkeys and its minor cruelties, is like a small corner of paradise.

 “Children play at ringing doorbells, not at being suicide bombers. We have our troubles, our terrible moments, yes, but these are only aberrations.”

Roy wants readers to understand that state-backed violence across India is central to economic benefits for the minority who have become enriched through destructive neo-liberal policies. One can’t happen without the other. This violence permeates the book because so many characters either suffer because of it or inflict it on the less fortunate. This could be physical or psychological and the author is often explicit in her descriptions. This is an India that’s far away from the glossy tourist brochures advertising a tranquil holiday at the Taj Mahal. This section could be written by any number of Indian critics about Roy herself, incensed that a citizen of their country dares to publicly shame the human rights abuses of the current and previous governments. Roy’s life is committed to those less fortunate than her, more marginalised and hated by the majority. It’s where the best writers should always be.

It’s hard not to be transported to India with Roy’s love and revulsion of her birth country. The book isn’t a dry exercise in political culture but a rich and detailed look at a nation that overwhelms visitors and citizens. Roy is unforgiving of its mainstream leadership but embraces the myriad of characters she has created.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a fascinating and complex book – about modern India that will challenge anybody who thinks they understand the world’s largest self-described democracy. Roy wants readers to be uncomfortable with characters that sparkle with humanity, wit and anger. It’s hard not to be seduced with a work that forces us to confront what populations in democracies routinely don’t see or choose to ignore. This is as relevant in India as in Palestine.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe.

no comments – be the first ↪

ABC TV The Drum on refugees, terrorism and the limits of comedy

Yesterday I appeared on ABC TV’s The Drum talking about refugees, terrorism, comedy and the “war on terror”:

no comments – be the first ↪