This article first appeared in Margo Kingston’s Webdiary page of the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ on 30 October 2001 but is as relevant today as it was when first written.
John Howard's speech of October 25, 2001, justifying Australia's participation in the so-called war against terrorism is one of the most banal and clichéd set of words ever spoken by an Australian "leader". They are based on fear, ignorance, arrogance and twisted truths that offer no meaningful long-term solutions to the problems that beset our world today.
He has married Australia's cause to that of America's without any consideration of the consequences and without any consultation with the Australian people. His obsessive knee-jerk reaction of jumping onto America's retaliatory bandwagon without a by-your-leave demonstrates what an excuse for a leader we have.
It would be naive in the extreme to believe that the death of Osama bin Laden, his senior associates, fanatical followers and/or the downfall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, will put an end to the desperate acts of tragic terrorism characterised by the awesomeness of what the world witnessed on 11 September 2001. It won't.
Firstly, Howard has no idea of what bin Laden's motives are. To claim that bin Laden seeks "wholesale confrontation between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds" is nonsense, pure rhetoric exclusively designed to suck in and prey on the gullibility of the public.
Secondly, Howard has the temerity to suggest that bin Laden "cynically uses the tragedy of the Arab-Israeli conflict to define his crimes in pan-Islamic terms." Howard uses the word "cynically" to politically twist a situation he supports by supporting a nation that continues to supply arms and treasure to the oppressor in the tragedy. Now that's cynicism!
Howard also tells us "The sheer scale of the carnage inflicted has taken terrorism to a new level unprecedented in the history of mankind." The scale of the carnage was indeed huge. Has Howard forgotten the Holocaust when 6 million Jews lost their lives?
Howard tells us nothing about how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be resolved. Make no mistake here, the final and complete resolution to this conflict is the only way the world can begin to live in any kind of peace and freedom from fear from these kind of terrorist attacks. Howard tells us "the United States has invested enormous capital in trying to resolve that conflict". It sure has. US economic and military aid to the Israeli's over the past several decades to ensure a resolution of the conflict in favour of Israel have run into the billions of dollars, and still no end to it. If it hadn't been for the meddling of US (and British) interests in the first place the situation in the region would possibly have been resolved ages ago.
Howard tells us "The immediate aim is to seek out and destroy Al Qaida and ensure that Afghanistan can never again serve as a base from which terrorists can operate." Afghanistan may well be the base today but, rest assured, unless the problems of the Middle East are resolved, the base will simply reappear somewhere else with a new and just as eager set of commanders.
Those who helped in the planning and carrying out of the 11 September operation should be sought out, (forget this `I will hunt them down and kill them' mentality), and brought to face justice at an Internationally convened trial, the mechanisms for which already exist at the Hague.
With passions running high at the end of the Second World War, the Allies were faced with the problem of what to do with the captured Nazis so obviously responsible for the Second World War. The initial reaction from most of the Allies, including the British, was to deal with them quite summarily via a field courts martial prior to execution. The Americans insisted that this was not the way to deal with war criminals and that, for the sake of justice, it must be demonstrated that there is justice in victory when war is won and not simple victor's vengeance.
The Nuremberg Trials of the major War Criminals, and the subsequent trials of other Nazi war criminals, were for the purposes of demonstrating that these types of crimes will be dealt with severely but, above all, fairly, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that in a world that seeks justice and not vengeance, justice should prevail.
Where are those principles now? Why has Howard not insisted that any assistance from Australia can only be provided where the pursuit of legal justice only, and exclusively, is being sought? Why has Howard embarked on this crazy wild goose chase with the US? Why has he not reminded the Americans of the virtues of justice that the Americans, and only the Americans to start with, expounded in late 1944 when it looked like the Allies were at last getting the better of the Nazis and the problems of facing up to the question of what to do with War Criminals were being asked?
How short our memories are. All the virtues Australia believed in, Australians fought and died for, over the last hundred years have now seemingly gone out of the window.
Hatred feeds only one thing, more hatred. Stop hating. Try understanding. Look beyond Howard's self-righteousness and self-interested politics. There is no future down the road that Howard is taking us, just greater despair and insecurity.
If this world is to pursue a road to peaceful and prosperous globalisation, and if Australia wants to be an active participant in that world, then it is going to need to open up its mind and arms to the world and show a great deal more compassion and understanding than it has shown so far. We must show we can lead by example and not just blindly follow.