The Guardian 10 August, 2005
TAKING ISSUE — Marcus Browning
Has Flak Jacket Johnnie
got you jumping at shadows?
There was a brilliantly observed moment in a photo earlier this month on the front page of The Age newspaper of Aboriginal Australian Rules footballers "Polly" Farmer and Michael Long at the naming of the Indigenous team of the century. In between them, smiling and looking at the camera was John Howard: Howard the interloper, stealing some of the reflected glory emanating from the two proud and dignified Indigenous men.
The photo's value was not only in reminding us that the Prime Minister is a small man in other than just the physical sense. Seen in a different context — his government's rejection of the reconciliation process and dumping of Indigenous rights in general — Howard's smile becomes a smug smirk of satisfaction.
It was a reminder also that his government's racial profiling applies not only to people from the Middle East: Indigenous Australians have been a target from day one in office.
Of course, the government denies it its actions against Muslims amount to racial profiling in pursuit of suspected terrorists. It may not be official policy, but in practice that's exactly what it is. So it was that last week Howard called for a meeting between the government and Australia's Muslim leaders. Are the leaders of the Christian churches going to be invited, for example?
Of course the Muslim leaders will come to the table, but they will do so fully aware that the government has used them and their religion to instil fear in the general public. Its scare campaign has made them the target of racial and religious hatred and bigotry.
In 2002, when the government announced it intended passing legislation based on the British Terrorism Act and Anti-Crime and Security Act, the Islamic Council of Victoria warned in a statement: "In the light of the experience of the Muslim community in the United States, where some 6000 individuals were caught up in the post-September 11 'security net', many Australian Muslims fear they will bear the brunt of this legislation."
It continued, "To give ASIO such powers as are envisaged in forthcoming legislation, which includes the power to detain people not suspected of committing a crime for 48 hours, without access to their family or a lawyer, constitutes a real threat to the liberties of the Australian people."
Indeed, six men were arrested and interrogated last month by ASIO. We know about those six because ASIO decided to tell the mass media. Nothing more is known about them, or how many others there are.
There is also a push now, here and in the US and Britain, to legalise torture. Should we hesitate to call this fascism?
The Federal Police say they are monitoring 60 terrorist suspects in Australia. That number will increase significantly over time as even more laws restricting democratic rights and freedoms of speech and action are introduced.
Criticism of the government and active opposition to its policies will be made unlawful. Already the use of certain words and phrases are being censored, as are such things as the taking of photographs in public places, a reflection of how the combination of governments' scare tactics and their actual involvement in the war in Iraq will be used to gag people.
The NSW government is planning strategies to evacuate Sydney and intends to put detectives on the streets to walk the beat in fluorescent vests, in response to bombings on the other side of the world in London. That is the clearest admission that if there is any threat to Australia it is because of our involvement in the Iraq war.
In fact, Howard would be the one to benefit from an attack: Tony Blair's popularity rose after the London attacks. The question is — has Flak Jacket Johnnie got you jumping at shadows? If he has, he's winning.
The main objective in all this is not the prevention of terrorist acts. Britain and the US had introduced draconian laws under cover of anti-terrorism long before the attack on the US in 2001. In Australia such laws were implemented before the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
They didn't prevent terrorist attacks, and won't in the future — terrorism by definition is random acts of violence, a political tactic.
In a piece in The Age on August 2, Raimond Gaita, Pprofessor of Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University and a Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of London, presented, in part, the essence of these developments.
On the Iraq war he noted, "Some of Australia's most influential political pundits now say that robust realism persuaded many 'ordinary Australians' that we must sometimes be prepared to kill thousands of civilians in order to secure America's protection in as yet unforeseen circumstances.
"That, the pundits say, is why Prime Minister Howard escaped serious criticism, even though no weapons of mass destruction were found and though no one believes we invaded Iraq to liberate Iraqis from Saddam's tyranny.
"We must hope the pundits are wrong. If they are not, it will be very hard for Muslim leaders to convince young radicals in their community that 'ordinary Australians' do not hold Iraqi lives cheap – so cheap that we don't even bother to count how many we kill."