CAVAN HOGUE. Where the bloody Hell are You?

Nov 19, 2018

Our current Prime Minister loves P R slogans and seems to believe that they are a satisfactory alternative to an understanding of a world that does not eat meat pies. To his credit, however, he has publicly criticised US trade policy which is at least standing up for Australian interests as he boasts he does. The same cannot be said for the Jerusalem fiasco. He is a member of the Pentecostal church which believes that Jesus will return in Jerusalem so we must support Israel. As he faces elections next year that is probably all that will save him.  

Scott Morrison signed off on the disastrous tourism slogan “Where the bloody Hell are You”. The big mistake there was to assume that the rest of the world is like Australia; it isn’t. He now seems determined to improve on that by his slogans on Jerusalem and about how we decide our foreign policy uninfluenced by foreign countries. I wonder what they think of that in Washington? Does he really think that our joining the Coalition of the Willing was not influenced by other countries? Of course he could argue that doing things to pay our insurance premiums for American protection is doing something in Australia’s interests and therefore getting involved in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan was in our interests. So he must argue that the Grand Alliance of the USA, Israel, Guatemala and Australia serves some important Australian interest that overcomes opposition from the rest of the world. It would seem that this unstated Australian interest is also more important than trade with Indonesia. Chest thumping about Australian independence is yet further evidence of his belief that Trumpeting slogans is the way to govern.

Josh Frydenburg has weighed into the debate by accusing Dr Mahathir of anti-Semitism. He probably has a point in that Mahathir has made some negative public statements about Jews rather than Zionists which is the term used by Muslims who are critical of Israel but who understand the religion they profess. However, this does not take away from the fact that Dr Mahathir’s observation that raising the Jerusalem issue is likely to increase the terrorist threat to Australia. Indeed, the elephant in the room in this whole debate is that we ignore the cause of terrorist attacks in Australia and focus only on the symptoms. Australia is a target because of our ill-advised involvement in Middle East civil wars and our perceived bias in favour of Israel against Arabs. So far as I am aware, countries that stay out of this imbroglio do not suffer terrorist attacks. Others have shown the flaws in the argument that moving our embassy to East Jerusalem would contribute to the peace process.

The demand that the Muslim community do something to stop terrorists is another slogan which plays to the bottom line – if I may mix my metaphor. Firstly, there is not one Muslim community in Australia which is probably why the much better organised but smaller Jewish community has more political influence than Muslims. Arabs make up less that 20% of the world’s Muslims and Muslims in Australian may be Arab, Persian, Indian, Pakistani, Bangla Deshi, Indonesian, Malay, African or something else. Furthermore, the number of terrorist incidents in Australia is small and many of them are carried out by mentally disturbed people. A much greater threat to our community comes from Christian paedophiles as the Royal Commission has shown. Why doesn’t the Prime Minister demand that the Christian Community do something about this? Indeed, it could be argued that demonisation of Muslims is likely to create terrorists rather than solve the problem. I also suggest that historical perspective might help in looking at all this. We have a long history of singling out groups we love to hate. A hundred years ago it was Irish Catholics who bred like rabbits, wanted the Pope to run the country and were all IRA terrorists. Then the came the Chinese, the Balts and the Greeks and Italians and so on. Muslims are just the latest in a long line of targets and they might perhaps take heart form the assurance that soon it will be somebody else’s turn.

Politicians in this country do not become prime minister because of their foreign policy expertise and have to learn on the run. Mr Morrison is no exception so he would be well advised to keep this in mind and to tread carefully lest he find himself sinking. He is now floundering in a bog that he is struggling to get out of and the answer is not to keep mouthing cheap slogans that fool nobody. It will be interesting to see how he gets out of this mess.

Cavan Hogue is a retired diplomat who was High Commissioner in Malaysia and served at the UN and in Indonesia amongst other countries.

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