The Left and 9/11

Two views, one from here in Australia and the other on the global scene.

From my perspective, the last decade has brought both remarkable levels of carnage by both Western actions and Islamists but also a growing awareness of where the real threats reside, and it isn’t from some men in a cave in Afghanistan or safe house in Pakistan.

Left Flank:

…In the shadow of the twin towers are other legacies: those of endless war waged by the West and the dramatic rise of Islamophobia globally. It is these consequences that confront us today. And the Left’s inability, in particular in Australia and the US, to mount a serious ongoing challenge to them remains a serious failing.

It is for these reasons — the real human cost located in endless war and islamophobia, wreaked in the memory of those killed on 9/11 — progressive voices must return to bolder times.
One of my proudest moments as a Greens member was seeing Kerry Nettle fight her way through security and parliamentary members in order to deliver a letter from Mamdouh Habib’s wife to US President George Bush on his visit to Parliament in Canberra. The response from those in the vicinity, to block and manhandle Nettle, belies the relatively conservative nature of her action. While clearly Nettle knew approaching Bush would not be seen as ”˜appropriate’, who could have imagined that others would feel their political views gave them the right to physically restrain a Senator just because she disagreed with them.
But gone are the days when Nettle’s office was an organising centre of the campaign against the Iraq War in Sydney, or senators recruited their staff for the activist credentials rather than ability to impact political spin in the mainstream and on social media.
Increasingly Brown and the Greens have equivocated on political issues that are seen as too Left wing. A strategy of minimising criticism of the party in the mainstream media, in order to possibly increase the national Greens vote, is the order of the day. This is despite the personal commitment of most party members and elected Greens parliamentarians to various questions — such as the decriminalisation of drug use and its treatment as a health issue, decreasing the funding form the public pursue to the elite wealthy private schools, or most recently on the question of justice for Palestinians.… 
As success has come in the polls, and the number of representatives has increased in Parliament, the activist and progressive voice of the Greens has been diminished. So in recent weeks we have seen growing argument that the Greens should condemn the protests at Max Brenner chocolate shops, actions conducted by one part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Australia.
Some inside the party have claimed that the demonstrations were ”˜violent’ (even though the footage on Youtube show police attacking protesters rather than the other way around) and that the large number of arrests at the first demonstration might reflect badly on the Greens. Yet the Greens have always been centrally involved in environmental campaigns such as those against the logging of old growth forests and the damming of the Franklin, which have by their nature resulted in very many arrests of activists. By this logic, it is fine — even a badge of honour — to be associated with Bob Brown as he was arrested in Tasmania’s wilderness, but we should condemn those campaigning around the BDS and attempting to end the brutal occupation and repression of 2.3 million Palestinian Arabs living the West Bank or the 1.6 million living in Gaza.
This has reached near-farcical proportions with the decision by recently elected NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham to go to the Fairfax media to run a public campaign against the state party’s pro-BDS position. In an attempt to appear even-handed on the Israel-Palestine conflict (as if the balance of forces in the Middle East was ever even) he has joined the ”˜Parliamentary Friends of Israel’ group, as well as a pro-Palestinian caucus. This is akin to joining a ”˜Parliamentary Friends of South Africa’ group at the height of Apartheid.
Increasingly for some Greens, the priority is a squeaky clean image that plays well in the conservative mainstream media, rather than prosecuting established party policy or making the less popular argument on a crucial questions of human dignity. It is not enough to bleat words about human rights, if in the next breath you condemn those who are actively seeking and end to the Palestinian occupation. It may not be that the Greens as a whole want to be involved in organising the Max Brenner protests, although some members and MPs will, but to seek to alter the NSW party policy of supporting the BDS for ends related solely to political image is unconscionable.
More importantly, such political manoeuvres do not exist in a social vacuum. They have real impact on real people. Not only are the horrific conditions endured by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories being trivialised by those conservatives in the Greens unwilling to take a principled stand against Israel’s actions, the Australian debate over the BDS has unleashed a disturbing strain of hard Right and racist sentiment. Among all the confected slanders of ”˜anti-semitism’ against BDS campaigners from the mainstream, there has been no similar condemnation of the far Right, Islamophobic organisations that have joined the defence of the chocolate shops. Groups like the Australian Defence League and the Australian Protectionist Party have linked their hatred of Muslims and Arabs with Israel’s role as regional spearhead in the West’s war against Islamism. Despite the horrific consequences of the far Right’s ideology being expressed in the Norwegian massacre in late July, there is growing activity among like-minded Islamophobes here. One would’ve thought that Greens like Brown and Buckingham would be more concerned about these developments. Instead their quest for mainstream acceptance seems to be blinding them to the malign state of pro-Israel politics in this country.
Ten years on from 9/11 one wonders if the Greens are developing selective amnesia about the realities of the War on Terror and its Islamophobic ideological veneer.

In a September 2001 essay titled “Game Over: The End of Warfare as Play,” Klein noted that the United States had fought a series of wars in which it had experienced few casualties. “This is a country that has come to believe in the ultimate oxymoron: a safe war,” she wrote. The attacks of 9/11 would change that, she believed. “The illusion of war without casualties has been forever shattered.” Today, she’s not so sure.

I suppose it was wishful thinking. As I watched footage of New Yorkers fleeing from the attacks, their terrified faces covered in dust from the collapsing towers, I was overwhelmed by how different these images were from the people-free videogame wars that my friends and I had grown up watching on CNN. Now that we were finally getting an unsanitized look at what it meant to be attacked from the air, I was sure it would change our hearts forever. But the Bush Administration was determined to tightly police what we saw of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, introducing “embedded” reporting, and banning photographs of returning caskets. They also let it be known that reporters who embedded themselves with local populations instead of with allied troops were acceptable military targets — as attacks on Al Jazeera reporters in Afghanistan and Iraq made clear.

The wars being waged by our governments in our names are today more distant to us than ever before. . Some of the fighting is carried out by mercenaries, who die without so much as a mention in the papers. And drone attacks have ushered in something even more dangerous than the “safe war” — the idea of “no touch” warfare. This sends a clear message to the civilians on the other side of our weapons that we consider our lives so much more valuable than theirs that we will no longer even bother showing up to kill them in person.

As we should have learned ten years ago, this is an extraordinarily dangerous message to send.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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