Source: The Age
By Malcolm Fraser
February 10, 2006
Terrorism can be beaten if the West sticks to principles it espouses.
In 1997, there was an exhibition of photographs by American artist Andres Serrano at the National Gallery of Victoria. Many regarded the exhibition as offensive to Christ. Churches and others objected. The Catholic Church sought a court injunction. The objections were strong. A youngster eventually damaged Piss Christ with a hammer, violence was involved. The exhibition was closed.
That was our reaction to an exhibition that many people regarded as offensive to their religion. The reactions to the Danish cartoons have clearly been much more widespread and violent, that must be condemned. But those cartoons were published in a highly charged political atmosphere.
We have a right to free speech and expression but that right is in some instances circumscribed by law. The worst
excesses are covered by defamation laws or laws relating to racial or religious vilification. These set the bar very high and most of us understand that if we wish to live in a civil society where there are broadly harmonious relationships between different groups, races and religions, we must exercise that right with common sense and, hopefully, with a degree of wisdom.
Today we know that Islamic fundamentalists, who won't be changed by logical argument, will use any excuse to stir their supporters to encourage the view that Christian nations vilify and degrade Muslims. Thus the fundamentalists gain new recruits. If terrorism is to be overcome we need to make it much harder for the fundamentalists to use arguments, however superficial, that attract potential suicide bombers.
Unfortunately, in the years since 9/11, the United States and its closest allies have done many things which make it easier for the fundamentalists to attract recruits. The war against Afghanistan was supported, but not the war against Iraq. Iraq had not housed al-Qaeda, it didn't have weapons of mass destruction, it was a secular regime. Saddam Hussein was a terrible dictator but so are a number of others, some of whom at times have been called "ally" by the US.
If the resources poured into that war had gone to fight terrorism and extremism, while maintaining a broad-based, international coalition, terrorism would have been significantly blunted, maybe overcome.
But America wanted an emphatic demonstration of American power.
Insurgents in Iraq have all been regarded as terrorists, even though it appears a majority are Iraqi.
The arguments about weapons of mass destruction were false. The decision to go to war was made months before American people were told. Hans Blix was never going to be allowed to finish his report. It would have taken away the main reason for the war. These actions and the falsehoods that accompanied them fractured worldwide support and sympathy for the US.
There is a perception also in the Middle East that the US, in particular, is prejudiced in favour of Israel. This may or may not be true but, while that perception exists, it becomes a reality that infects the politics of the region.
The US has promoted democracy in many parts of the world. In Egypt this has given a platform for extremists. In Iraq it has brought a Shiite regime to power, with close links to Iran. In Palestinian territories, Hamas has won. The United States and others have said they cannot talk to Hamas. Islamic countries are now saying democracy is all right for America if it gives the result America wants.
It would have been possible to say to Hamas: if there is to be peace between Israel and Palestine, your policies are going to have to change but you have been democratically elected and we will talk to you and judge you on your actions from the day of your election.
That would not have violated Western principles. For Islamic countries, all this demonstrates a double standard.
We said we believe in the rule of law, in due process, in the principles of liberty. What about people in Guantanamo Bay, designed specifically to deny access to the law. What about Abu Ghraib? What about the Torture Papers, published by New York University's Centre on Law and Security, which demonstrates that the highest authorities in the US were seeking to find ways in which invasive questioning of detainees could be undertaken with impunity. What about the military tribunals that, from their nature, cannot provide justice ?
The British Government has condemned these tribunals. The Australian Government has been prepared to condemn David Hicks, whether innocent or guilty and renounce its own citizens.
America pursues the rendition program. Individuals are 'captured, taken from the street, from America, perhaps South Asia or parts of Europe, flown to a country that will allow questioning under torture.
Our leaders talk of the principles of freedom and democracy and of liberty. But Islamic fundamentalists can point to example after example where Western governments have failed to apply those standards to their own actions.
The great failure, even sin, of the coalition of the willing is the belief that we in the West cannot fight terrorism and adhere to our own principles. Even in Australia, many of these principles have been abrogated. The onus of truth has been reversed, due process abolished and there are provisions that allow the detention in secret of people the authorities know to be innocent of any crime.
Our leaders believe we must adopt tactics and practices too often used by our opponents if we are to beat them. Their faith in democracy is shallow and inadequate.
Terrorism will only be overcome if we adhere to our own principles and destroy the arguments that the extremists can use so ably to attract new recruits.
Malcolm Fraser was prime minister from 1975 to 1983.