Today is the fifth anniversary of September 11. Many advocates of American imperialism still live with their delusions of Bush grandeur. Debate within Western nations about terrorism still remains infantile, however. “We” are noble and “they” are barbaric. Scott Burchill, Senior Lecturer in International Relations in the School of International & Political Studies at Deakin University, explains:
In Australia the discussion of terrorism is distorted by a doctrinal fiat that the Federal Government and its ideological supporters insist can never be challenged – the West is always the innocent victim of terrorist attacks, never its perpetrator.
The contemporary analysis of terrorism is therefore a quest to discover why others – our enemies – commit crimes against us. This is usually explained by their psychic disorders, their hatred of our superior values and freedom, their fanaticism or their resentment at our innate goodness.
The subject ‘Western state terrorism’ is therefore a non-subject because no such phenomenon has ever existed. If it is ever raised, usually by left wing academics, it is simply the bile of conspiratorial minds afflicted by “anti-Americanism” and “moral relativism” – people with an irrational hatred of their own society, and the West in general.
It is therefore unsurprising that when the non-subject of Western state terrorism occasionally rears its ugly head in print, attempts are made to immediately censor it. Such is the fate of Paul Gilby’s Power and National Politics, which has the temerity to suggest that a serious examination of terrorism should include an analysis of acts of terror committed by the West (see: Textbook links US, Israel to ‘state terrorism’.)
The examples Gilby cites are unremarkable – US terrorism in Nicaragua (Cuba is an even more outrageous example), Israeli state terror in Palestine, Russian crimes in Chechnya, Turkey’s attacks on Kurds, Indonesia terrorism against East Timorese, Achenese and West Papuans. He might also have mentioned US attacks in Iraq since 2003 – most notably the siege of Falluja in November 2004, which is almost certainly a grave war crime. The victims of state terrorism dwarf in number the victims of private, retail terrorism – such as Al Qaeda – by a figure that would be difficult to overestimate. Hence the efforts by apologists for Israeli state terror such as Colin Rubenstein, to dismiss the issue as “ideology” as if no Palestinians have ever lost their lives at the hands of the IDF.
A serious examination of contemporary non-state terrorism, which Gilby’s book appears to be, must also discuss the ‘blowback’ thesis of conservative scholar Chalmers Johnson (based on a CIA thesis), which suggests that attacks by Al Qaeda and affiliated groups may be the unintended consequences of earlier US policies in Iran and Afghanistan during the Cold War.
Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop, however, wants no such analysis in Victorian classrooms. Instead she is trying to censor such arguments, demanding that the book should be immediately withdrawn. For Bishop, the idea that contemporary terrorist attacks may be connected to historical grievances for which the West bears some responsibility is “inconceivable.” Actually it isn’t, and there is a veritable library of books which examine precisely this issue. Many are written by those on the political right.
She is also greatly concerned by the book’s suggestion that “the Howard Government is deliberately using the threat of terrorism to keep Australians fearful and thus supportive of Government policies and actions.” Governments have, of course, never stooped to such depths. The Howard Government, for example, has never exploited the arrival of boat people (Tampa) or the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Iraq) for political advantage. Perish the thought.
Ministers of Education should launch books instead of trying to to ban them – especially those which raise uncomfortable issues for government. Mrs Bishop’s actions are both disturbing and mistaken. If the challenges posed by terrorism are to be met and overcome, the whole subject must be taught, discussed and understood – not just the politically correct version favoured by conservatives.
Although many frightened people – especially older men, for some reason – still insist that the Bush administration may have mis-stepped, but its heart is essentially in the right place, the response is simple: our governments’ actions have made the world a more dangerous place. State terrorism exists, and causes far more deaths than Islamic extremism. The West “gets” Islamism (despite Tony Blair claiming otherwise) but we also know that invading Iraq, Afghanistan, extraordinary rendition and torture comes with a high price.