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A Syria not so far away from our election

  • 28 August 2013

A collective sigh of relief could be detected rising from the nation as our political leaders briefly turned their attention from the election campaign to events in war-torn Syria.

Partly it was an expression of relief at having a diversion from the dreariest political contest in living memory. Partly it was a reaction to being suddenly confronted by something real, something concrete, after weeks of chimera and empty rhetoric.

Syria’s murderous ordeal and Australia’s contemporary political experience at first glance may seem completely unrelated, and yet certain themes resonate between them. Of course there is nothing in this country to compare with the internecine bloodshed and cruelty of Syria’s civil war. Reports of an apparent chemical attack on its citizens by the Bashar regime fill us with horror and outrage, as we also reflect that such hatreds and methods are thankfully not part of our reality. 

But what exactly is our national reality? Syria represents the politics of all or nothing, of absolute power as both a means and an end; a state of affairs in which human lives are mere numbers on a casualty list and mercy has become a stranger to justice. Expressed in these terms, could it be that Syria’s experience begins to resonate for Australians, as we prepare to select a new government from the mire of negativity, mistruth and mean-spiritedness in which the major parties have chosen to wrestle for our votes?

The thought was prompted by an ABC TV news report mentioning the Liberal Party’s forthcoming attack ads, which one source said would 'make the Somme look like a Sunday picnic’. Crass and disrespectful of the victims of the First World War killing ground, the remark saw fit to compare our political process to a mindless slaughter. Similarly, in Labor’s television ads – reminiscent of the Grim Reaper campaign during the AIDS scare in the 1980s – hapless ‘victims’ of Coalition policies are consigned to oblivion. 

It is one thing to hold passionately to one’s political beliefs, but quite another to turn a contest of social values and spending priorities into an all-or-nothing, winner-take-all, blood sport. Of course we are talking about representations and not realities, inclinations not facts. Like the commercial radio host heard recently explaining that he did not need to provide balanced or factual political coverage ‘because I’m an opinionator’. 

I assumed he had made up the word but sadly discovered it already existed (my Google search