Editorial comment from the November/December 2014 edition of The Socialist
In recent months we have seen the re-emergence of the ‘war on terror’. The US, supported by Australia and other western powers, has led a new military offensive in Iraq and Syria. This time, they tell us, the intervention is to stop ISIS (Islamic State).
While the brutal acts being carried out by ISIS need to be condemned, this latest war is not a humanitarian mission to protect the people of Iraq and Syria. Western capitalist powers are pursuing their own strategic interests. As was the case a decade ago, the US is seeking to assert control over the oil-rich Middle East region.
ISIS has grown precisely because of the disaster created in the aftermath of the 2003 imperialist intervention in Iraq. Sectarian and ethnic fault lines opened up after the invasion and occupation. The adventure left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, created four million refugees and destroyed most of the country’s infrastructure.
The regime of Saddam Hussein was overthrown and a pro-US puppet government was installed. The western powers deliberately stoked up sectarian divisions to counter the growing opposition to the new regime. In the absence of a united workers’ movement which could draw together opposition to the new government, ISIS were able to step into the political vacuum.
While ISIS is no doubt an extremely reactionary organisation, the portrayal of them as the latest ‘evil’ to threaten the world is a narrative created to suit the interests of western imperialism. There are many ‘evil’ organisations around the world. The west conveniently ignores most of them unless they get in the way of their profit interests.
This latest mission is clearly about defending western big business interests in the Middle East. Many US companies made a fortune in the aftermath of 2003 but the rise of ISIS is now putting these gains in jeopardy. A number of Australian companies also have significant financial interests in the region including major banks, resources companies and construction firms. This is what lies at the heart of Australia’s involvement.
At the behest of their big business backers, the Abbott government and the mainstream media have manufactured hysteria about terrorist plots in Australia in order to bolster support for their participation in the war effort. Most of the claims made about terrorism in Australia have either been unsubstantiated or widely exaggerated.
The truth is that since 1978 only 113 Australian people have died from terrorist attacks – that figure includes Australians killed overseas. In contrast between 2003 and 2012 about 1000 women and children were killed by their partners or parents in domestic homicides. It is utter hypocrisy for the government to tell us that they can not afford to allocate more resources to combat domestic violence but have billions to spend on “combating terrorism”.
Raids on properties occupied by Muslim people have been carried out in order to bolster support for the government’s skewed priorities. In one instance the media reported about a sword that was seized in a Sydney terror raid. The sword could have easily been used to behead innocent people in Australia we were told. Just a few weeks later it was quietly revealed that the sword was actually a plastic decoration.
While some of the accusations made by the mainstream media are farcical the more serious aspect to this scapegoating is that it has led to a marked increase in discrimination against Muslim people in Australia. A number of instances of abuse and attacks have been reported in various cities.
The outrageous suggestion to ban the burqa in parliament house played no small part in creating an Islamaphobic atmosphere across the country. In the end the government backed away from the ban but their fear mongering goal was achieved nevertheless.
Banning any sort of head dress is an attack on the elementary democratic rights of Muslims and Muslim women, in particular. People should be entitled to have the right to wear whatever they want to.
The Islamaphobia being pushed by the government and the mainstream media, and the hysteria over supposed terrorist threats, has also gone side by side with the introduction of new anti-democratic terror laws. These laws give increased powers to the police and intelligence agencies and mark a major attack on civil liberties.
The laws have been supported by the Liberals, Labor and the Palmer United Party. The Greens have proposed some amendments to the bills but they support the laws in general terms.
To give just one example of how the far reaching the laws are they outlaw so-called ‘subversive activity’ in any other country. ‘Subversive activity’ generally means attempting to overthrow a government. This definition is so broad that it could include a range of different political activities aimed at replacing a particular regime or achieving social change.
The government already has more than enough laws on the books to deal with any potential terror threats. Abbott is using the atmosphere of hysteria that he has created as a convenient cover to wind back democratic rights.
While these increased powers will be used against sections of the Muslim community in the first instance, they are designed to be used against others who stand up to the government and big business interests in the future. They will especially be used to repel and intimidate any opposition to the government’s imperialist war efforts.
As the government looks ahead to more unstable economic times they know that more and more people will inevitably protest against their profit driven agenda. As we have seen overseas, anti-democratic laws can come in very handy when there is a need for regimes to try and put down anti-government movements and organisations.
Socialists stand opposed to the barbarism of ISIS and against terrorism but far from supporting another imperialist intervention in the Middle East, and a reduction in democratic rights, we point to the need for a political alternative to the crisis at hand. At root, it is the profit driven capitalist system that creates war and poverty. It is in these conditions that terrorist groups thrive.
An alternative to both ISIS and imperialism can be built in the Middle East but it requires an appeal to workers and the poor in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and beyond, to unite around a programme of defending the democratic rights and the national aspirations of all peoples.
It would mean campaigning for the vast wealth of the region to be collectively owned and controlled democratically in order to provide a secure standard of living for all. A voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East would enable all peoples to freely and democratically decide their own fates.
Here in Australia socialists stand opposed to the Abbott government meddling in the Middle East. We demand the withdrawal of all Australian troops from the region. We are opposed to the media and the government scapegoating Muslim people.
Far from allowing the government to divide and rule ordinary people we strive for working class unity against in the face of big business domination of society. Ordinary working people, irrespective of their background, have more in common with each other than they do with those who exploit us.
Democratic rights and civil liberties must be defended as a starting point for people being able to exercise control over their own lives. In Australia, just like the Middle East, there exists a vast amount of wealth. Under capitalism 99% of society fights over the crumbs while the rich get richer at our expense. A socialist alternative to capitalism and imperialism aims to turn this situation on its head.