Tuesday, October 15, 2002

There is an increasing insistence that some action by Australia can prevent or deter further massacres like the Sari Club. That there is an onus on Australians to understand what role our country has had in contributing to the circumstances that lead to this. Once we understand, we can take the steps needed to avert another. The words are unimpeachable: dialogue, negotiation, root causes, regional engagement. But they amount to the same thing.

What has not been done, is an examination of where such a path might lead us to. What if we did decide that it was cheaper in blood and treasure, to simply fold our tent and satisfy the demands of the terrorists. After all, they’re not here, and we might be able to keep it offshore if we can successfully find out what they want, and give it to them.

This is a demand that the foreign policy of a democratic nation be altered to please nameless, faceless mass murderers. The reason given is fear that they will kill and maim randomly selected Australians. The victims will not be related to policy in any fashion, apart from their citizenship. This is different only in degree to a practice of targeting an ethnic, racial or religious group based only on their membership in a particular group.

The foreign policy will need to be shaped in advance of any overt demand by the killers. The Australian Government must act in ignorance, attempting to satisfy the unknown desires and aspirations of anonymous criminals. These goals may shift at any time before or after policy decision are taken.

These demands may be limited or unlimited. They may include performance markers that are impossible to achieve. They may include conditions that are unacceptable to a significant minority or majority of Australians, For instance, there may be a demand of non-interference in East Timor, or the forced repatriation to Australia of all Christian Indonesians. They may involve internal Australian changes, such as unlimited unchecked immigration, or the banning of some sects of Islam from practising within Australia.

Those that may be making the demands take considerable pains to remain unknown. There are no credentials or identification to allow the proper identification of members of the gang. Anyone who presents themselves as a spokesperson has as good a claim to legitimacy as anyone else. So new groups with conflicting demands may multiply without check. The gangs have no checkable base of popular support, which may or may not be a result of their domestic political situation. Either way we have no way of deciding which, if any, of the conflicting demands should be met first, in what order, or at all. Voices in the Australian political scene may appoint themselves as interpreters of the killers’ demands, but their revealed truths are as likely to conflict as any other.

When the only sorting system available is the severity of the threatened reprisals and the demonstrated willingness of each group to carry out their threats, the gangs now compete with each other in murder with the aim of proving themselves more dangerous than each other, by using randomly chosen victims as their arena. Since the previous aim of the gangs was to be more inhuman than liberal democracies, this situation represents the beginning of an endless escalation of kill and counter-kill.

Further attacks can only be seen as evidence of failure on the part of Australia to satisfy the group carrying out the attack. The only acceptable response is to increase efforts to meet demands that may or may not be made known, by people who may or may not be the people carrying out the attack.

Thus the Australian Government is set on a downward path of attempted appeasement, while the gangs have an incentive to constantly raise their demands, and their consequences of non-compliance. The incentive is provided through competition with other gangs for policy impact, and from past successes when achieved. The cycle, once started, would be extremely difficult to halt, much less reverse. Australian prestige in the area would decline in the most direct sense, that of our ability to project influence abroad and enforce domestic policy within. Again, this may contribute to further cycles as our ability to deliver outcomes declines.

There is a reason that foreign policy has always been to never, ever deal with terrorists. Once encouraged, they or their descendants can never, ever be satisfied. The conflict between a liberal democracy like Australia, and the aspirations of groups that commit the mass murder of people for no other reason than their membership of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group is absolute. This is a war to the death; either our values or theirs.

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