Jake Bilardi and the Helen Lovejoy Approach to Justifying War

Front page news in todays Herald Sun:

“PLOT TO BOMB US”

“Jihadi Jake’s plan to attack Melbourne”

The photograph of an eighteen year old boy stares back at us from the right of the headline. The article describes his blog posts, which detailed the boy’s fantasies of bombing Melbourne and carrying out grenade and knife attacks as “chilling”, and states that “chemicals” were found in the boy’s home. Jake Bilardi is now dead, allegedly as part of a suicide bombing which resulted in the deaths of ten or more people.

How hysterical has the media become to trot out this story as if it were proof of an existential threat to Australians everywhere?

In between lazy appeals to the public’s fear of ISIS, the article mentions that Jake Bilardi was intensely interested in world politics, and prior to his ‘radicalisation’ was an atheist. In a blog post Jake penned some weeks before his death, he states that he was “growing tired of the filthiness and corruption of Australian society” and that his research into the war on terror led him to form a “complete hatred and opposition to the entire system Australia and the majority of the world was based upon.”

We can all agree that the path Jake took was not an exemplary one. He chose to side with a group of fascists responsible for horrific crimes against humanity, an act that we must condemn wherever it occurs and whoever it involves.

But why, when context is so key to understanding these complex issues, is the Herald Sun not asking important, difficult questions?

The question we should be asking ourselves as a country is, what could we have done differently to prevent this from happening? We can blame ISIS until we’re blue in the face, the fact of the matter is that in doing so we are accomplishing nothing except for currying a feeling of moral, cultural and nationalistic superiority. Whether this is grounded or not, it confers no benefit to us as a community.

Jake’s mother had died several years prior to his involvement with ISIS, and friends and family point to this as a turning point for the boy, leading an already quiet young man to withdraw even further into himself. Where were the support services this human being needed? Where was the funding that could have provided those services, services which may have prevented his eventual death in a foreign land at the hands of sick old men? It was being spent on fighter jets and defence.

It’s true that we each have personal responsibility for the choices we make, and that as adults we bear the consequences for our actions. But Jake was not an adult. He was eighteen years old, a vulnerable, seemingly confused but intelligent young man looking for a sense of meaning and belonging in a world that had painfully wronged him. Why did we, as a people, not provide that for him? What is it about our culture that makes that search for meaning lead to the ranks of a bizarre quasi-religious militia on the other side of the world?

To use this child’s death as grist for the war mill is despicable behaviour, and the editors of the Herald Sun should be ashamed of the tone of the articles they allowed to be published this morning. We could have used this as an opportunity to ask ourselves what each of us can do to fix the endemic social problems here at home, and in doing so create a society so vastly preferable to religious extremism that it would be next to unthinkable to leave it to engage in such chaotic violence. We could have fostered some empathy with the real victims of this situation, the ten or more innocent human beings who lost their lives because of our inability to constructively criticise our own nation and implement support networks for those most in need, or perhaps with his family, who no doubt will experience vilification and hatred from the strikingly ISIS-like neoconservatives calling for a nuclear genocide in the middle east.

Mark Knight’s cartoon depicts Jake at his computer, surrounded by shadowy figures with culturally incorrect facial hair and overemphasised features, disturbingly reminiscent of antisemitic propaganda from the second world war. The caption reads, “you’re never alone on the internet.” A statement that is all too true, but that applies not just to the violent extremists overseas, but equally to their equivalents in our own parliament.

The Herald Sun’s comment:

“President Barack Obama may have to put American boots on the ground to stop the slaughter.”

Are we so afraid of the spectre of terrorism that it has become an acceptable behaviour for the mainstream media to sell war using the death of a child?

Whatever the answer to that question may be, we can be sure of one thing: if Obama puts American boots on the ground, the last thing we’ll see is an end to slaughter.

New “Anti-Terror” Legislation Undermines Basic Human Rights

Yesterday Australians were once again asked to swallow a weakening of our civil rights masquerading as a safety measure.

Amidst the broken record appeals to a dangerous external threat to the nation in the form of the “death cult” Islamic State, prime minister Tony Abbott introduced the idea that Australians could benefit from the creation of a new, “flexible” department dedicated to preventing terrorism.

Such a department could oversee all existing forms of law enforcement in the nation, including ASIO and the AFP.

The likelihood of corruption under such a model seems unreasonably high. If one organisation within the government has regulatory powers over our systems of mass surveillance in addition to the highest levels of law enforcement, and that department is expressly dedicated to stamping out “terrorism”, it would not be unthinkable that such a department could quickly fall into the role of aggressively quashing political dissent.

The means of doing so at the disposal of such a department would be further reaching and far more pervasive than even the Stasi could have hoped for, with current programs within ASIO allowing agents to access the email records, phone calls and online chat activities of citizens, along with their associated metadata. It would be trivial for such an organisation to imprison political activists, and under new legislation journalists would be unable to report on any such abuses, facing up to ten years imprisonment.

There is a proposed mechanism of accountability in all of this, which would supposedly feature the commonwealth ombudsman, Colin Neave, as having oversight over the way metadata is collected and used. This is out of step with statements made to The Guardian Australia by Neave himself that his office would not play a formal oversight role in the scheme and would give advice only at the attorney general’s discretion.

Citing a report commissioned by his own government, Abbott voiced his support for the measure, along with a review of the current terrorism alert system and new strategies to counter violent extremism.

These strategies do not, according to the governments own report, which you can find here, extend to a review of the systems and departments already in place, despite enormous public backlash following the revelations of Australia’s involvement in the Five Eyes surveillance network, a global dragnet coalition comprised of the security agencies of Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

The report does state, however, that there is a need to employ “increasingly intrusive and sophisticated monitoring measures”, citing the disclosure of classified documents by Edward Snowden as a causal factor in the need to broaden the scope and power of local security agencies. This does not seem to reflect rulings by the Court of Justice in the EU, which called metadata retention, part of the proposed extensions to security agency powers, a “wide ranging and particularly serious interference” with the fundamental rights to respect for privacy and the protection of personal data.

Nor does it reflect the data collected on the efficacy of such programs. A report by the New America Foundation, available here, states that “an in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal. “

The report seems to recognise this in a round about way, even if it does not take into account the implications therein, stating in a few different ways that lone terrorist attacks by people who don’t use telephones or the internet in planning and executing their activities are nigh on impossible to detect and most likely cannot be prevented.

In summary, it seems that the government is relying on the tried and true methods of fascist administrations throughout our history, that is, painting a picture of an external threat that poses grave danger to our citizens, if, and only if, it is not kept at bay by ever increasing state power.

This rhetoric is too tired and worn to allay the fears of any critically minded individual, and is blatantly out of step with the actual, measurable severity of the threat of terrorism to Australians.

The Coalition is trailing once again in the polls, at 47% according to a poll published in the Australian newspaper on Tuesday, and it is beginning to become transparent to most Australians that these proposed measures are little more than desperate vote grabbing by an incompetent government of ideologues, interested solely in their own continued employment.