The New Reality of Terrorism

Australian security forces run through a mock terrorist attack as a preparatory exercise.
Australian security forces stage a mock terrorist attack in a Dec. 18, 2002 exercise in Sydney (Photo: James D. Morgan/Rex Features). 

Stop the world. I want to get off. This is the credo of the tolerance-worshipping, selective civil libertarians of Australia’s Vietnam generation, for whom the United States remains the archenemy and Osama bin Laden and his sympathizers an irritating challenge to their reflexive anti-Westernism.

The fatuity of the “anxiously affluent,” fashionably postmodern, faux-bohemian baby boomers and their ideological offspring would be irrelevant if it didn’t manifest in a stubborn refusal to face the reality that we do live, as U.S. Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman said yesterday, in an “age of insecurity.”

Like the United States and other Western countries, Australia is a target for terrorists of the religio-fascist extreme Islamist persuasion. Australians died in Bali, the government has since received credible threats of a terrorist attack on Australia, and we must be vigilant. We can no longer carry sharp objects on passenger flights, unattended bags will be viewed with more suspicion, and some people will be raided by ASIO [the Australian Security Intelligence Organization]. But this does not mean, however, that we cannot maintain a healthy skepticism about police and intelligence agencies, or that we will abandon our respect for freedom and the rule of law.

These simple facts have escaped a small but self-important section of Australia’s media and political elite. Some newspapers and sections of the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corp.] took the view that the Bali attacks were somehow “our fault” because of Australia’s support for the campaign against terrorism. They resorted, as the American left did after Sept. 11, 2001, to blaming U.S. and Australian foreign policy rather than the perpetrators. They took predictable umbrage at ASIO raids on homes of people suspected of having links to terrorist groups. Many had earlier called for inquiries into the intelligence failure that played a part in Bali!

Now we have the distasteful spectacle of this same cabal deconstructing death threats, as they seek to find a hole in the government’s decision to issue a general warning about terrorism. Ministers and public officials who were castigated for not issuing travel warnings are now ridiculed for daring to release terrorist alerts.

You’d be forgiven for thinking there is no risk of terrorism and that the federal government has just issued the warning without good reason to annoy us all. At least New South Wales Premier Bob Carr challenged the received wisdom. “The enemy we face here is group of totalitarian Islamists who have hijacked one corner of one of the world’s great religions...they are fascists, they are Islamic fascists and totalitarians,” he says.

At some newspapers, commentators profess to be more tolerant of terrorism, or the threat of terrorism, than they ever were when unpalatable views were expressed by, say, [right-wing politician] Pauline Hanson. A council employee is revealed to have made inflammatory statements about the West versus Islam. His employer does not sack him. Fair enough. But one opinion writer celebrates this as a triumph for civil liberties and free speech. Instead of focusing on the intolerant views expressed, she goes on to attack the intolerant spirit that is apparently alive in Australia, which gets promoted by ASIO and most politicians.

The moral equivalence on display since is redolent of the unwillingness of the pacifist left to admit to: the fascist threat in Europe in the 1930s; the brutality within the left in Spain in 1936; Stalin’s repression and mass murder of dissenters in the 1930s and 1940s; the reality of the communist threat in the McCarthyite 1950s; and Mao’s reign of terror and death during the Cultural Revolution. Christopher Hitchens hit the nail on the head when he resigned from the U.S. left-wing magazine The Nation. In his farewell column, the reformed Trotskyite said he could no longer work with colleagues who believed U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to be a greater menace than Bin Laden. As Mr. Carr said: “If someone has done military training in Afghanistan, if someone is a member of JI [Jemaah Islamiyah],...if someone has expressed sympathy for Osama bin Laden, I would want to know why ASIO and the federal police have not interrogated them.”