It is sobering to consider that the 21st century is only 15 years old and a geographically isolated and peaceful country like Australia has already participated in two major conflicts – Afghanistan and Iraq – and fought skirmishes in a lesser one, the birth of Timor Leste. Now we are preparing to join another one far away in Iraq and perhaps even extend that to Syria.
It is just as sobering to consider a number of other facts:
- The disturbing images of police guarding Parliament House in Canberra being armed with assault rifles no less. This seems so un-Australian.
- The recommendation that servicemen wear civilian clothes where possible and avoid hanging their uniforms on the backyard clothes line so as not to draw attention to their presence. What is life coming to?
- The likelihood that the fastest-growing industry in our cities will come under the heading of threats. That is, extra security for public buildings, more cameras monitoring every movement, more thorough searches of airline passengers, bullet-proof vests becoming a common sight and chicanes guarding the more sensitive targets. We shall become a suspicious society. The friendly Australian assurance of ‘No worries’ will no longer be the same.
- That young people from Islamic families given haven in Australia from persecution should want to persecute others, including fellow Moslems, under an Islamic banner and in a means so vicious and gruesome as to disturb the emotions of people everywhere.
What is happening to our once pleasant, safe, generous, tolerant and easy-going land?
It may be to the good name of Australia that we are doing something about crushing a tyranny in a region far from our shores. But shouldn’t others closer with more to fear than Australia be doing something?
It is heartening that Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have now contributed their planes to the fight against Islamic State (IS). But what about other Arab countries and European nations with large Islamic populations vulnerable to IS hatreds? Between them they have much more to offer than what Tony Abbott calls our ‘minimal contribution’.
Australia has got involved ostensibly on the grounds that up to 60 Australian jihadists have lent their services to IS. But so have volunteers from many other countries which have not stirred themselves into action. The truth is that we want to remain eager to help the U.S. at any time, few questions asked.
We like to think we are important to the U.S. when it comes to military adventures. We are not. We are useful. Our presence in the Gulf and Iraq wars was very small. We did not suffer a single death in action. President George W. Bush proclaimed John Howard a ‘man of steel’. Yet he and Australia barely rated a paragraph in his memoirs.
A major casualty of IS’s rampage through Iraq and Northern Syria are the terrorist group’s potential victims fleeing for their lives. In the past week alone, an estimated 120,000 desperate Syrians fled to the sanctuary of Turkey. They joined tens of thousands before them who have sought safety in Turkey and Kurdistan in Northern Iraq.
It is trauma on a mass scale. These people have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their possessions, their dignity, their way of life, their hopes and in many cases their relatives, neighbours and friends.
This is and will always be very much a local issue with so many different religious, political and tribal interests involved. It should be for the immediate neighbourhood to deal with rather than 21st century Crusaders.
It begs the questions:
Should Australia, while giving moral support, not leave at least the initial heavy lifting against IS to Iraq’s fellow Arab countries and Turkey who are far more threatened than we are?
And would Australia not make a greater contribution to the IS question by being at the forefront of the campaign to help the displaced victims than to provoke a threat to its own people and way of life by our ‘minimal’ military involvement?
After all, IS had never threatened Australia until we joined the coalition. Its sole initial purpose was to create a Sunni caliphate and victimise anyone in the region who disagreed. But it seems old loyalties and habits will win out and Australia has probably gone beyond the point of no return in arming the RAAF fighters now poised for action at their UAE base.
FOOTNOTE: When I returned to Australia in 1985 after living in security-conscious London and New York even then, I was enchanted by a Sunday afternoon scene on Sydney harbour. There were people in boats and yachts alongside a submarine in the old Neutral Bay base and sailing next to warships at Garden Island with no attempts to stop them. They were carefree days when truly there were ‘no worries’.
John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign tv news.