“The idea”, … “that you can set fire to countries in the Middle East, collapse their societies, and traumatize entire populations sowing carnage on a biblical scale, and not expect any reaction in the form of blowback is utterly insane.”
The attack in Central London by a lone individual and the political response it invoked, highlights the hypocrisy that dominates western political thought in general, and none more so than in Australia.
Last week a single individual drove his vehicle at speed across Westminster Bridge, aiming at the many pedestrians there at the time. Of those struck by the vehicle, three were killed and forty injured, seven of them seriously. The individual then left the vehicle and ran onto the precincts of the nearby parliamentary buildings where he was confronted by a Police Officer. He stabbed the Officer, who died shortly thereafter. The attacker was in turn then fatally shot by another Police Officer.
Total deaths were therefore five persons including the attacker.
The attack inspired the Sydney Morning Herald to devote four of its news pages to the event, plus an editorial. The latter was headed “Terror strikes at the heart of democracy.” The “one inviolable truth to emerge,” said the editorial, was that “the mother of all parliaments survived.”
The one oblique allusion to the possibility that this attack did not occur in a geopolitical vacuum was the editorial’s observation that “This is the stuff of 2017 when the West’s role in the Middle East has divided the Muslim world.”
The absurdity was not confined to the pages of the print media. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was in full rhetorical flow. “It is”, he said, “the birthplace of our parliamentary democracy and the rule of law that sustains it. It was an attack on parliament, freedom and democracy everywhere in the world.”
The individual that inspired this nonsensical rhetoric was, as is often the case, a “deranged individual motivated by a sick, twisted and dangerous ideology.” The likelihood that such motivated persons, in the estimate of the head of Australia’s intelligence services represented no more than 0.5% of the people of the Muslim faith did not deter One Nation leader Pauline Hansen from describing Islam as a “disease” that Australia should “vaccinate itself against” by banning all immigration to Australia by Muslims.
Not one of the politicians quoted in the extensive media coverage, nor any of the so-called “terrorism experts” trotted out to give us the dubious benefit of their insights, nor did any of the many editorial writers reflect on why it is that selected western countries are attacked by similarly motivated individuals, deranged or not.
John Wight, writing for Counterpunch (www.counterpunch.org 24 March 2017) succinctly expressed what should be obvious to all western politicians, commentators and editorialists:
“The idea”, Wight said, “that you can set fire to countries in the Middle East, collapse their societies, and traumatize entire populations sowing carnage on a biblical scale, and not expect any reaction in the form of blowback is utterly insane.”
Only a few days before the London incident fighter bombers of the United states led coalition in Iraq bombed civilian areas of Mosul, ostensibly targeting ISIS fighters. Whether in fact any ISIS fighters were killed is unknown. What is known is that at least 150 civilians, including women, children and old persons, were killed.
Similar attacks by coalition forces, which include units of the Royal Australian Air Force who perform a variety of military functions, operating in Syria and Iraq have resulted in similar levels of civilian casualties for each raid as was the case in Mosul.
Most of the Australian media simply ignored the Mosul carnage and nowhere did it receive more than a tiny fraction of the coverage given to five deaths in central London. Where it was reported, there was usually a qualifying phrase to the effect that the Americans were “investigating” the deaths of civilians. On the experience of multiple previous such “investigations” it is safe to assume that there will be no apology, no compensation for the victims, and no change in policy.
Following the Mosul disaster there were no multiple pages of newsprint devoted to the harrowing accounts of survivors forced to pull their dead relatives from the rubble. There were no editorials announcing the “inviolable truth” that the mass slaughter of civilians is a crime that will inevitable produce a reaction against the West’s dangerous ideology of regime change. Nor was there any recognition that this latest chapter in the destruction of whole societies was but a page in a long history of the West pursuing its geopolitical goals.
There is a similar media blindness to the ongoing tragedy in Yemen. If anything, the hypocrisy here is on an even greater scale than Western action in Syria and Iraq.
Yemen is one of the world’s poorest countries. For decades, it was ruled by a brutal dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh who throughout his long reign was supported by Western nations, including Australia.
A popular revolt in 2012 force Saleh to flee to an exile well cushioned by a personal fortune amassed during his time in power. According to a UN report released in 2015, (www.untribune.com 24 February 2015) that stolen fortune was estimated at between $30 and $62 billion dollars.
Saleh was replaced by his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi following an election organized by the Gulf Cooperation Council member States, of which Saudi Arabia is the biggest, richest, and most heavily armed. Saudi Arabia relies upon the UK, France, the US and Australia for most of its armaments and personnel for its mercenary forces.
Hadi won the election with 99.6% of the vote, a not entirely surprising result, as he was the only candidate the GCC countries permitted to run.
This Saudi “success” in installing its favoured candidate followed a year after its invasion of Bahrain in support of a Sunni dictatorship battling a Shi’ite uprising by the 70% of its population that subscribe to that branch of Islam.
None of this was deemed worthy of comment by the Australian political leadership. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has in fact only ever released two press statements regarding Yemen. In the first of these, dated 19 February 2015, Bishop expressed concern about the “deteriorating security situation” in Yemen and called for “all parties to cease armed hostilities and to continue the political transition process.”
Bishop also said in her press release that she had “discussed Australia’s concern about the situation in Yemen” during her meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. There was no mention of the invasion of Bahrain and the suppression of the democratic aspirations of the majority of the Bahraini people. Similarly, there was no mention of the farcical “election” of Hadi, nor any explanation of quite what “political transition process” she had in mind.
Bishop’s second press release was on 12 April 2015, on the eve of her visit to Iran. In that statement Bishop said that Australia “recognises the legitimacy of the government of President Hadi.” “We note,” she said, “President Hadi’s request for protection and the military action taken in response by Saudi Arabia.” She then called for a ceasefire.
In the nearly two years since that last statement, there has not been a single official government response to the situation in Yemen. It is apparently sufficient to “note” Hadi’s request for military action by the Saudis and then ignore everything that happens since.
It might have been more accurate to consider what Australia has failed to “note” about Saudi Arabia’s continuing onslaught upon Yemen. Michael Brull (www.newmatilda.com 12 September 2016) reported that by March 2016, a year after Bishop’s professed concern, 39 universities had been damaged by Saudi bombing; 810 primary and secondary schools had been damaged and 3809 schools closed. An estimated 85% of the population was in dire need of food and 2.4 million (about 9% of the total population) had been displaced.
Anthony Billingsley (www.internationalaffairs.org 13 October 2016) noted that the food shortage problem was aggravated by the Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports. He further noted that the bombing of civilian infrastructure, in addition to the aforementioned schools and universities included water supply, sewage treatment plants and power infrastructure was prima facie evidence of war crimes. The human cost of the war, said Billingsley was proportionately greater than that in Syria.
As recently as the 25th of March 2017 the Sydney Morning Herald was noting that Australia was selling arms to the Saudi government, unlike the Dutch who banned such sales on humanitarian grounds. Both Defence Supplies Minister and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop refused to comment on the SMH report. Apparently, noting one’s concern in April 2015 requires no further comment or alteration of policy.
We are entitled to ask our political leaders, how is it that an attack by a lone individual that results in the deaths of four victims be a threat to our very democracy, western values and the rule of law, when active participation in the destruction of a whole country by one of the world’s least democratic regimes does not even justify a word of comment or condemnation?
We are further entitled to ask, does not the waging of illegal wars by Australia and its western allies that destroy whole societies (Libya. Iraq, Syria and Yemen to name but a few), kills and injures hundreds of thousands of people and displaces millions constitute a far greater affront to our values and the rule of law?
Turnbull promised that he, his government and our security agencies would “work relentlessly and tirelessly to keep our people safe.”
Would it not be a better return on money spent and “relentless and tireless work” to actually cease participating in other’s wars of choice, and start to behave in the manner we profess to believe in?
James O’Neill is a Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at [email protected]