Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Terrorism and words: a reality-check on Isis

If truth is the first casualty of war, common sense is the first victim of terrorism.
There are no better examples than the hyper-ventilated assertions which followed the recent bombings in Brussels. France’s President Hollande declared that ‘all of Europe has been hit’. UK Prime Minister David Cameron warned that his country faced ‘a very real threat’. Here, Malcolm Turnbull ticked off the Europeans for their sloppy security. Prominent journalist Greg Sheridan, channelling Donald Trump’s absurdity that ‘Belgium and France are literally disintegrating’, wrote that the attacks represented a ‘damn [sic] burst’ which left the ‘structures of the world … trembling’.
If we didn’t know better we might easily mistake messrs Hollande, Cameron, Turnbull and Sheridan and regrettably many others as Isis recruiting agents. Their comments are a dream for the organisation’s propagandists. Worse, they paint a picture of the threat from Isis that is not borne out by the reality.
Isis terror threatens individual safety. Does it really threaten the security of European or Western states more broadly? There is a vital difference between the two ‘s’ words. Isis is a truly appalling outfit which commits heinous deeds. It has around 30,000 fighters and controls large tracts in Iraq and Syria. But without a navy, without an air force, how exactly does that translate into threat potent enough to make ‘the world’ tremble?
Fortunately, there is still wise counsel to be had. President Obama’s 2016 State-of-the-Union address should be required reading for all those prone to excitability:
… over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.
Some of the best commentary on Brussels came from The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins. The political and media over-reaction, he wrote, ‘converted a squalid psychopathological act into a warrior-evoking, population-terrifying, policy-changing event’. It also illuminated an appalling double-standard given that the ‘atrocities in Brussels happen almost daily on the streets of Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus’.
For Americans, and quite possibly many others in the ‘trembling’ West, household furniture poses at least as great a danger as terrorism. Micah Zenko  from the reputable Council on Foreign Relations has written that in the decade after 9/11 an average of 29 Americans were killed each year in terrorist attacks. Figures compiled by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that about the same number were crushed to death each year by unstable television sets and furniture.

Unwelcome news for the hyper-ventilators; important perspective for everyone else. 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Election update: the inside story from Malcolm Turnbull

After examining the intricacies of Australian politics and discovering there weren’t any, Dr Sigmund Freud eased himself back into the interview circuit by chatting to the Prime Minister.
MT:     Wonderful to see you again Dr Freud, there’s never been a better time–

SF:      Hang on, we went through all that last time! I want to ask about you and the forthcoming  election.  
MT:     Well there’s just never ever been a better time to talk about me. I’m at the top of my game.

SF:      That’s not the message I’m getting. There’s a lot of grumbling about you, about your indecisiveness, your lacklustre leadership.

MT:     Well the Labor Party has always been a party of whiners and whingers, just shows we’ve got them rattled.
SF:       I’m not talking about the Labor Party—

MT:      Well then it’s just the sort of ingratitude we’ve come to expect from the Greens.

SF:       (Slowly and precisely) Read my lips. I am talking about the Liberal Party, the party you lead, the party of government.

MT:     (Turns to adviser) Good God, are we in government? I wondered why I was getting so much media attention. Thought as usual it was my good looks and charm, and of course my extreme wealth. (Adviser whispers, MT adopts a serious, there’s never been a better time for me to be prime minister look, and lowers his voice)
            Well the Liberal Party has always been a broad church, even welcoming those with absolutely no moral or social standards at all. We firmly believe that money makes up for a lot of human failings.
SF:      You’re being strongly criticised for your indecisiveness. 
MT:     And what poppycock that is. When I make up my mind about something there’s no-one, absolutely no-one who’ll be quicker than I am in setting up a detailed, in depth examination or a series of Australia-wide focus groups in case I decide not to go ahead with it and need an explanation that I can take to the Australian people and explain why I’m such a decisive squib. That’s the basis of representative government Dr Freud and explains why the Australian people, my people, have such confidence in me as their leader. (Turns to adviser) How did that sound? 
(Adviser lowers heads and looks sideways)

SF:      What about innovation?

MT:     You took the word right out of my mouth, Dr Freud! I’ve set new standards in innovation in the short time I’ve been Prime Minister. (Turns to adviser again) How long did you say it was? Can’t believe it, I must tell Lucy. Remind me after we finish here. (Turns back to Dr Freud) Where were we?

SF:       Innovation.

MT:      Well let me give you two quick examples. Look at the innovative way we’re keeping the Labor Party from governing by pretending that we are. (Beams)

SF:       You said there were two examples.
MT:      Of course, of course, all in good time. I bet you can’t guess.

SF:        Prime Minister, I am the father of modern psychoanalysis. Do you really think that makes me a mind-reader?

MT:      Of course not, my apologies. Well I am proud to say that as of today, this very morning in fact, I have changed my name by deed poll.

SF:        You’re no longer Malcolm Turnbull?

MT:      Don’t be silly, I would never do that to my people. Too unsettling for them. But from today my name is no longer Malcolm Bligh Turnbull. It’s …  

SF:      Can’t wait.

MT:      It’s Malcolm Forward-to-the-past-and-quickly-now-Eric-Abetz-is-watching Turnbull.

SF:        Mmm, if you must. And the election?

MT:      I’ll cross that bridge when I’ve passed it.