Unfinished business

It’s a cliché, and that in itself should make you suspicious. In George Orwell’s centenary year, doubly so. ‘Unfinished business’ is so often the language of squalid vendetta. Reflex language. When used, as it has been, in the context of the war against Iraq, it wears an air of necessity, as though settling scores were an essential part of noble destiny.

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, used the phrase to mean finishing off a 12-year-old war, one prompted by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and prosecuted by the father of the current US president. Much was left unresolved after that war, but it was work to be done in peace, with ingenuity, resourcefulness and diplomatic finesse, not bombs.

The Saddam Bridge (left), shot by documentary photographer Mathias Heng, was built after an older bridge was destroyed in 1991. Saddam Hussein, with the hubris reminiscent of another dictator, and the architectural bombast of Hitler’s favourite builder, Albert Speer, replaced it with the angled vanity of the ‘Saddam Bridge’.

But no-one has replaced the shattered windscreen of the Baghdad taxi through which Mathias Heng photographed the Saddam Bridge. The taxi driver, Abdulilah Abbas (see page 32) is a veteran of the Iran–Iraq war. He has had to rebuild his life since that conflict, no simple task in a country ruled
ruthlessly. He has been helped by the great technocratic skills of the Iraqi people, who have managed, through the oil-for-food program, to keep themselves nourished in an organised fashion throughout 12 years of sanctions and arbitrary rule. But it has not been easy. Neither will the consolidation of an Iraqi state, controlled and administered by Iraqi people—with its considerable oil wealth in Iraqi hands—be easy to achieve. But if the world is serious about combating terrorism, and committed to the reality, not just the rhetoric, of freedom, that consolidation is business that must be done.

Even less easy, but absolutely necessary for any decent world order, will be the settlement of the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. Without a Palestinian state, and a corresponding sense of security for Israel, there will be no peace in the Middle East and little guarantee of peace in the rest of the world.

Oil has been a focus of this current US–Iraq conflict—not the only focus certainly, but an important factor in the strategic calculations. More precious even than oil is water. If we are not careful, and farsighted in our dealings, the wars of the near future will be fought over water.

The water tanks (left, photographed by Eureka Street institution, Bill Thomas) are every bit as ingenious as the Saddam Bridge, but in their combination of utility and beauty there is no bombast. In Australia water tanks are part of our physical and psychic landscape. But we need now to bring them, and all they represent, to the front of our minds. No imperial power, not even one that can build the 21st-century equivalent of aqueducts, will be able to quench the thirst of a world that has squandered its life source.

No imperial power can afford, either, to squander its young people, or stymie the joyful energies that prompt them to jump like the Australian child (again, photographed by Bill Thomas) testing himself in the benign dunes of our island’s long coastline.

This is my last Eureka Street as editor. In May, Marcelle Mogg takes over. Please welcome her and give her the generous support that I have enjoyed these past 12 years.

The Australian Jesuits have been the inspiration and backbone of this venture into independent publishing. They will understand the depth of my gratitude—personal and professional. So many people—writers, photographers, artists, cartoonists, contributing editors, subscribers, our Board, patrons, donors and supporters—have made Eureka Street. I thank them all.


And in the engine room, where it all happens: to my assistant editors and graphic designer, who have borne much; to my editorial, production and marketing assistants; to the hardy, generous staff at Jesuit Publications; to our printer and his people at Doran, and to the editor-in-chief at the Canberra Times, thank you. Not a single issue could have appeared without you all.

And to all of you who are now reading this—thank you, and please, keep backing independent publications. They’re the sinew of democracy.

 

 

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