Re Australian pre-emptive strike threat
peterb at dsp.org.au
Thu Dec 5 22:00:18 MST 2002
Howard's hypocrisy on fighting terrorism
Statement by Action in Solidarity with Asia-Pacific (ASAP)
December 6, 2002
Prime Minister John Howard's comments on November 29,
December 1 and since then about the validity of Australia
launching a pre-emptive strike against anyone from another
country planning a terrorist strike on Australia have
understandably angered many. He purports to be concerned
about terrorism, but avoids a serious discussion about how
to prevent further terrorist actions in Australia or
In response to a question on the ABC's Lateline about the
Central Intelligence Agency's unmanned rocket strike against
an alleged terrorist in the Yemen, Howard argued that the
United Nations Charter should be changed to allow states to
take such pre-emptive actions. He then "covered" himself by
saying such pre-emptive action should be contemplated only
if there would be no other alternative, but then said
nothing about how to avoid any pre-emptive action.
Howard's statements are another component of the propaganda
offensive by the Australian, United States and British
political elites to create a climate of fear of and
hostility towards the non-Western world. The campaign to
create this climate is, in turn, meant to make it easier for
these political (and business) elites to justify unilateral
military action against or in any part of the non-Western
The propaganda offensive has made use of the criminal
terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and, more
recently, the Bali bombings to build a picture of the
non-Western world as the source of violence and barbarism. A
coded language has been developed to create this picture.
The initial targets of the offensive are "Islamic
terrorists". Then, through a combination of statements by
political leaders, media commentators and distorted news
reports, the target is extended first to "Islamic
fundamentalism" and then to Islam generally. The depiction
of Islamic conservatism is then often associated with the
Third World, that is to say, the non-Western world in
This message is never portrayed directly, although some
techniques are rather vulgar. One such technique is to
accompany an article on "international terrorism" (usually
laced with references to Islam) with a map of the world
indicating the countries where supposed terrorists reside.
Almost inevitably these maps colour in the non-Western world
of the former exploited colonial countries, still
impoverished by imperialism's exploitative debt trap.
The ideological division of the world into the "civilised"
West and the "uncivilised" non-Western world is a reversion
to the ideological backwardness of the nineteenth century.
It is integral to the revival of the doctrine of the
lawfulness of the pre-emptive strike.
Of course Bush and Howard consider that only they, the
"civilised West" have such a right to pre-emptive action,
usually against targets in the non-Western world. If Jordan
or Egypt, for example, launched a military action to prevent
Israeli terror attacks on Palestinian refugee camps, this
would be seen as an act of war.
This ideological division of the world into two camps
through the coded discussion of "international terrorism"
is, of course, not about "civilisation", at least not as a
serious struggle about cultural progress. It is about money,
markets and resources. The political, military and business
elites of the "Western world" have been organising a
sustained economic pillaging of the non-Western world
through the enforcement of the neo-liberal package of
austerity, privatisation, import deregulation and increasing
Washington, London and Canberra know very well that these
policies will generate resistance by the peoples of the
Third World and even, to some extent, by corrupt pro-Western
governments in many countries. The propaganda offensive
against "international terrorism", with all its coded
messages, is aimed at building popular acquiescence among
the working people of the United States, United Kingdom and
Australia to any future military action by these governments
to protect their economic interests.
The propaganda target today is "Islamic terrorism"; the most
likely immediate military target will be Iraq. These
softening up devices are aimed at getting ordinary working
people in the West used to such wars, interventions and
jingoistic ideological campaigns.
Howard's statement supporting pre-emptive strikes attracted
hostile reactions from the elites of South East Asia, as
well as on the streets. His statements have been universally
- and correctly - perceived as arrogant.
In countries with large Islamic populations, many people can
sense that Islam is being used as a code for "uncivilised
non-Western beliefs". This adds to the depth of feeling that
people like Howard manifest an arrogance against their
religion and South East societies as a whole. Statements
that emphasise a rich countries' right to take unilateral
military or police action in their countries only add to
this general sentiment.
At the level of governmental and political elites, neither
Australia nor Indonesia, for example, has a serious approach
to preventing future terrorist actions. Terrorism of the
kind that occurred in New York on September 11, 2001 or in
Bali last October is an increasingly generalised political
phenomenon flowing from the social and political crisis
engulfing many countries in the Third World, including those
suffering military attack, such as Palestine.
No level of state repression or intelligence surveillance or
tightened police control will bring an end to these kinds of
terrorist acts. The levels of desperation and social
alienation prevalent in so many countries will inevitably
drive people to acts of criminal insanity. Of course, the
perpetrator of any terrorist acts, non-state or state,
should be held to account in a court of law. But neither the
police nor the courts nor the intelligence services can
bring an end to an essentially political phenomenon. Indeed,
increased state repression based on racial and religious
profiling will only intensify the conditions giving rise to
A serious approach to ending these acts of non-state
terrorism must involve a finding a solution to the
repression and suffering engulfing so much of the Third
World. Neither the US, Australian and British governments,
nor any of the pro-capitalist Third World governments, can
take such a serious approach as it is their policies, and
the policies of the banks and companies that they serve,
which are the cause of the social havoc and suffering.
In relation to the increased social volatility in Indonesia,
of which the Bali bombing is one terrible manifestation,
Howard is the ultimate hypocrite. Indonesia's social,
cultural, and political institutions are all on the verge of
bankruptcy and suffering a major collapse in popular
legitimacy. The police, the courts, the parliament and the
bureaucracy have almost no popular credibility.
A recent poll by the country's leading daily newspaper
KOMPAS showed that President Megawati's popular support had
dropped to only 10% - a sign that people are fed up with the
continuing corruption and elitism. This situation is a
direct result of the 27 years of money-grubbing,
dictatorship under Suharto.
Suharto corrupted all of these institutions, turning them
into tools of repression or self-enrichment. Howard was one
of the strongest defenders of Suharto, including Suharto's
invasion and occupation of East Timor. Howard, and most of
Australia's political elite, is totally complicit in the
dictatorship's destruction of Indonesia's economic,
cultural, social and political institutions.
Howard is complicit in the creation of the conditions that
have made acts of non-state terrorism more likely. He is one
who must be held responsible for the Bali bombings. Howard
helped legitimise violence in politics in Indonesia. While
Suharto's dictatorship murdered, arrested and pillaged,
Howard defended the dictator and invader as a "caring and
sensitive" leader. The same attitude was displayed by all
the Western elites. Why should anybody be surprised then if
other groups decide to copycat the criminal violence of the
state terrorists that the West, including Labor and Liberal
governments, so lauded and defended?
There is only one way to ensure the end of non-state
terrorism. Only fully mobilised people power that brings to
an end all conditions of social violence, economic
exploitation, and wars of oppression and state terrorism
will end such terrorism. Threats of pre-emptive strikes or
increased police and intelligence controls will be totally
ineffective and are, in fact, part of the policy package
that has brought the world to its current state of havoc.
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