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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics
Sunday, May 30, 2004
The war in Iraq, we are told, is just like the war in Vietnam.
For these reasons, I was very pleased to host a talk on Wednesday by Quynh Dao, a Vietnamese Australian who witnessed the war in Vietnam, saw communism in place, fled to Australia, and has watched how the media and intellectuals have distorted the truth about the Vietnam war and the communist dictatorship.
Quynh, a member of the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Committee, gave a highly professional presentation, with technical assistance from the Vietnamese Professionals Society (Victoria). The result was a truly memorable experience.
The text of Quynh's talk, Two Sides to Every Story: Perspectives on the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, is now available.
Comments would be most welcome.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
This reminds me of the scrooge-like behaviour of Tasmania's Governor, His Excellency Richard Butler, whose narcissistic parading of his contempt for the institutions he has sworn to represent (such as declining to take the title "his Excellency") is cold-hearted and mean. Placed alongside the magic, romance and pageantry of the marriage of commoner Mary Donaldson to the handsome Crown Prince Fredrik, in Copenhagen, the city synonymous with fairytales, who could prefer Butler, or for that matter the Hinch grinch?
Monday, May 17, 2004
Saleem was a Shiite and the leader of the Islamic Dawa Movement in Basra.
The terrorists clearly seek to undermine not just the foreign occupation, but also any possibility for Iraqi self-government except by the terrorists themselves. As I stated in my recent talk, it is vitally important that the Coalition not abandon the majority of Iraqs who support a transition to a stable, free and democratic country. Al-Qaeda's objective is to tear down all forms of order hostile to the terrorist agenda.
I would like to personally extend my sympathies and condolences to the people of Iraq.
We must stay the course, ensuring that Iraq possesses a viable, democractically-elected government capable of defending itself before we consider leaving.
Sunday, May 09, 2004
The document covers a lot of ground, being a basic primer on the ideology of al-Qaeda and its precursor groups, showing how al-Qaeda radically altered the understanding of key technical terms (which are explained in the text) by synthesising rival ideologies. Some of the key concepts and Arabic terms used by Jihadi Salafis such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates are explained, which should give the reader a better understanding of groups such as Ansar al-Islam and al-Muhajiroun. Some of the material in this document is based on my thesis research, and is the only place this understanding of al-Qaeda's methodological ideology for political change is available.
Finally, I tried to cover the events in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and the Madrid bombings and election result - essentially an up to date picture of what is at stake and what al-Qaeda's specific objectives are at present. The talk was given just before the horrible prisoner abuse scandal broke.
In addition to putting the talk online, I have revamped one page, initiating The Middle East Project by adding ten separate biographical pages to the website. Eventually, the Middle East Project will be a portal to information on various Middle Eastern issues, but particularly to documents on Al-Qaeda-linked terrorism.
One other thing to blog on:
I found an interesting article on bin Laden's gold award offer on an Arab publication called Dar al-Hayat. The analysis of bin Laden's strategy in Iraq is spot on, and matches the predictions I made in my talk. For al-Qaeda, Iraq is not only an open arena for terrorist attacks against American and 'hypocrite' targets, it is also an opportunity to regenerate its network by training recruits in jihad in Iraq. These muhajiroun will then either travel to other hot spots or return to their home countries (eg in the West) to commit terrorist attacks.
What actually happened was that NRK concocted a conspiracy theory in order to discredit a group organising an anti-terrorist demonstration. Because one of the organisers of the anti-terrorist project had been critical of the Norwegian media for its allegedly anti-Israeli bias, that organiser was targetted and duped into an interview by an NRK journalist who pretended to be sympathetic to the group's opposition to anti-semitism. The interview was then deliberately twisted and misrepresented, then broadcast as a special segment on the evening news.
This is what NRK considers the appropriate response to criticism of its anti-Israeli bias by a group that opposes anti-Semitism - accuse the group of being part of a vast, interlocking jewish conspiracy. The broadcast has taken the debate over whether Scandinavian media are simply anti-Israeli or actually anti-semitic to a new level. The episode has shades of Stalin's "Doctors Plot".
How can decent people believe that state-funded media is a good idea when said media operate in this way?
While Australia's state broadcasters have not quite descended to NRK's level, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) sometimes comes close. The broadcaster, which was originally intended to provide foreign-language media for isolated migrants, is now a left-dominated funds trough that serves to broadcast semi-pornographic arthouse movies, usually from countries in which everyone speaks English anyway.
The last remnant of SBS' original raison d'etre is the foreign news broadcasts that are screened every morning. Recently, SBS began broadcasting Hanoi television news into the living rooms of Australia's Vietnamese community, despite a stated preference for alternative Vietnamese-language news hosted by emigres in America. Vietnamese groups in Australia launched protests against SBS, pointing out that their children were being taught lies about their parents, their old country, and their new country, in their own language, if they turned SBS on in the morning.
A member of the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Committee who was involved in the protests will deliver the 26th May PWHCE talk. If you are in Melbourne on 26th May, please consider attending this event.
Sunday, May 02, 2004
The Westminster Constitutional system is a conglomerate of documents, conventions and assumptions. As such, it has constantly changed and adapted, from the days when Parliament was a gathering of Lords convened by the Monarch for the purpose of levying troops, through to the present system.
The United States Constitution is a codification of assumptions and conventions that prevailed at the time it was written; before the British constitutional system had reached maturity. Since 1766, the British system has matured significantly. Specifically, Walter Bagehot overturned some faulty assumptions, such as the rather clumsy and potentially dangerous wall between the Executive and the Legislature, which makes it well nigh impossible to rein in an Executive who has lost the confidence of the Legislature. In addition, there is no way to break supply deadlocks, which encourages them to happen with discomforting regularity. (This is why in some parts of the US, public servants have to wait for backpay and roads are closed because there is no money to perform necessary roadworks). The American Constitution is worse than a 230 year old document frozen in time. It has actually codified the misconceptions of the 18th Century. This is compounded by the fact that the American Constitution, being Republican, is founded on a negative concept: the abolition of the Monarchy.
On the other hand, the Australian Constitution is just over 100 years old - it was written after the most important developments in Constitutional Law had already taken place, and it incorporates those ideas. The Australian System is less rigid than the American, and has continued to evolve over time: for example, the Australia Act considerably altered Australia's status vis-a-vis Britain. Much of our Constitution is, in reality, convention, lending it a greater flexibility. (For example, the Ministerial system is not enshrined in the Constitution, but is inherited from its parent.) Our relationship to Britain is one of both independence and connection; a mature and civil approach.
Australia has one of the world's most flexible yet stable constitutions, and one of its most successful. We have had only one major Federal crisis (the supply crisis culminating in the 1975 Dismissal), which was resolved without undue fuss. On the other hand, the most recent American Presidency saw a major crisis which was unresolved.
America's partisan judges and governors, its systematically corrupt system of electoral borders (rotten boroughs went out of style here a long time ago!) and the obscenely venal system of electoral funding are an embarassment for America's democratic allies (most of which are monarchies). It would be great to be able to point to the great successes of a liberal-democratic capitalist system such as we have in our "Northern European" monarchies (Britain-Canada-Australia-NZ, Norway, Sweden, Denmark), but we are constantly embarassed by the glaring cracks in America's imperfect democracy.