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George W. Bush and "super-sized" war for freedom and values

Chris Johnstone - Relax EveryoneNow that President George W. Bush has significantly upgraded his ‘War on Terror’, from simply a "clash of civilisations" to a war for "civilisation" itself, it is time to reflect on just what sort of a civilisation we are defending. By any standard, and whether or not the war is regarded as a struggle for land or ideas, western civilisation—or at least, American civilisation—is losing in the Middle East, in Asia, Africa, and in a good deal of Europe.

According to his speechwriter, “the sight of an old man pulling the election lever [except in Florida, we assume], girls enrolling in schools, or families worshipping God in their own traditions… the way of life enjoyed by free nations… for the possibility that good and decent people across the Middle East can raise up societies based on freedom and tolerance and personal dignity.”

I'm all for these things too, as well as apple pie, home ownership, private enterprise and the right to follow whatever football code one likes. But it's the increasing disconnection between what we say we are fighting for and what we actually seem to be fighting for, not to mention the increasing hysteria of those who insist that the price of maintaining our freedoms is the truncation of those very freedoms, which make me, and lots of others, wonder whether this is a war from which we should abstain.

“They form,” he says, “a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam—a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent… their goal is to build a radical Islamist empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings, and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilised nations.”

George W Bush flagYet the evidence of our civilisation teetering on the brink is not very great, while the evidence against those on "our side" who would brutalise our culture and our freedoms, unconcerned about the means we use to defend our remaining freedoms, is getting increasingly substantial.

This is not to deny that there are terrorists in our midst, or a real threat of terrorist incidents, even in Australia. It is still of the essence of our society that the overwhelming proportion of Australians, including the overwhelming proportion of our Muslim Australians, reject and repudiate the ideology of our terrorists, and that there is no prospect whatsoever of that ideology prevailing here. There is, however, the possibility that the threat is being over-dramatised.

George Bush, John Howard and others insist that we are winning the long war against terrorists, and perhaps by body count they are right. But there is evidence that even within our own societies, the way we fight the war has not only positively recruited young men and women willing to give their lives against us, but massively increased popular sympathy for such people in some parts of the world.

"Our side" has stumbled badly in trying to make a complete conspiracy of a movement with many faces and many differing aspirations. In doing so, we may well have created a unity which might otherwise not have existed. There are and were links between Islamist movements in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, but each had very local features and grievances, and the idea that shadowy figures such as Osama bin Laden were, or are, calling the shots is ludicrous.

It is useful to remember that the intelligence debacle that so convinced George W. Bush of the need to make Iraq a battleground, was not confined to false views about the existence of weapons of mass destruction, but also arose from false ideas about the attitude of Iraqis to their liberation. There is no evidence that it has confronted this failure: the optimism that things will ultimately come out right looks more and more like wishful thinking.

The real war—the war of ideology—will not be won in Canberra, London or Washington—but in the hearts and minds of people in countries quite different from ours. Muslim countries, and also those countries on the fringes of Islam, in Africa, behind the old Iron Curtain, Thailand and the Philippines must, if George Bush's notion of freedom is to prevail, repudiate not only terrorism, but the medievalist vision of the complete Islamic state which provides it.

During this phony war, instead, we have probably amplified, particularly through television and the cinema, all of the images which make our civilisation seem alien and unattractive—even horrifying—to "them". From the point of view of Australians, moreover, we probably reinforced the notion that the freedom for which we were fighting was Americanism, not our own rather different culture.



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