From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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We deserve the enemies we have

26 October 2003

It was Sunday evening before I arrived back from Wollongong. I had been hired by The Greens to monitor possible ALP abuses of procedure at the polling booths in the Cunningham by-election. Most of the time, I’d hung around Fig Tree High School where nothing much happened. The ALP campaign workers made fools of themselves with a last minute anti-Green scare campaign and much mirth centred on the unoffical Liberal candidate who greeted arriving voters with “I’m Mouldsie, your independent, I’m your local butcher”, pronouncing butcher like the Greek word for the male genitalia, which was not the brightest move in an electorate awash with Greeks.

By the time I limped back to the office, it was clear that The Greens had pulled off a historic victory.

I opened a cider and the Saturday Herald and scanned the news of the Bali bombing. “We’ll get the bastards” the headline screamed. Well, maybe we’ll get them and maybe not. After all, they’re still looking for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. And if we catch these people, others will step forward.

If you don’t know your history you’re in danger of getting sucked in by people who want to stampede you for their own nasty purposes, I reflected. Fact is, the world has been through something like this before. A hundred years ago it was in the grip of terror and the threat came from the assassins of the anarchist movement. At the time, we were going through the first wave of globalisation -- it was called imperialism then, and its proponents sold it as a Good Thing.

Anarchism had a powerful appeal to all the powerless little folk dispossessed by this relentless economic force. Europe was full of them and they spilled over into the United States. Anarchism promised them a better world, one free from pitifully low wages, slums, destitution and other oppressions.

The Anarchist assassins struck at icons of the ruling elite. Between 1894 and 1914 they bumped off six heads of state including presidents of the United States and France, two premiers of Spain, and the king of Italy. They also killed bourgeois at the opera, innocent passers-by, aristocrats, politicians, provincial governors, policemen, judges, jailers.

They called this the ‘propaganda of the deed’ and it was supposed to incite a general working class insurrection, but basically it was a raw vengence and a form of protest.

Unlike al-Qaeda -- terrorism has since moved with the times -- the Anarchist assassins were members of a loose fraternity of local associations inspired by a few charismatic theorists with a romantic idea of the road freedom and plenty. Their terror wasn’t organised on an international basis and the theoreticians were barely connected with the grassroots activists they inspired or the deeds they carried out.

As each captured assassin was executed, others with nothing to lose stepped forward to avenge them. The knee-jerk response of the ruling elites: repression, tightened laws, heightened vigilance, police infiltration, failed to stop the attacks, but, over the early years of the 20th century, they gradually subsided.

Why? The crisis came to an end mostly because new beacons of hope emerged. For a time, the rise of the trade union movement and the organisation of the working class in an international alliance of Social-Democratic parties forged a practical alternative to the Anarchists’ fruitless acts of violent individual protest.

Hold that in mind and cut to today. In a military sense terrorism has ‘come of age’. Al-Qaeda picks targets with all the professionalism of a US airforce target analyst: politico-military “assets” like embassies and the Pentagon, high-value economic targets like the World Trade Centre or the Kuta nightclubs. The Bali bombing was devastatingly effective because the Balinese economy is alomost completely based on tourism. The perpetrators have simultaneously hit out at the despised Westerners, the hated Javanese ruling elites (who own just about everything worth owning in Bali) and the airline industry. The economic impact on Bali would have been of little concern to fanatical islamists because most Balinese are Hindus.

Now some silly journalists are saying Kuta was the biggest act of terrorism in Indonesian history. Give me a break. The CIA-backed 1965 coup that overthrew Sukarno and brought our old ally, General Soeharto, to power, saw Muslim fanatics and the army kill something like 650,000 leftists, trade unionists and members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). On the political landscape there was then no authority left between Soeharto’s pro-Western dynastic military looters and the village mullah.

Smart move Chuck, take out those commies and the radical nationalists and all you’ve got to deal with are high-class crims and priests.

So the Yanks -- with our enthusiastic support -- consciously hamstrung the development of a modern, secular, political culture in Indonesia. It was the same grand political strategy which, over time, also gave us regimes as apparently diverse as the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs, the Saudi monarchy, Dr Mathahir and Saddam Hussein.

Why then, feign indignation, when, across much of the Third World, the hordes of the poor and angry have only religious ideology to turn to? Where else is their beacon of hope? In scores of troubled countries, if you’re a student burning with frustration at your country’s hopeless future, a half-starved unemployed worker, a peasant squeezed beyond toleration, you can’t go down to the marketplace and find a bunch of young socialists with a stall; you can’t talk to a trade union activist … because they’re dead, or deep underground. The CIA has ganged up with the military looters to wipe out the secular Left, so you talk to some half-mad young mullah instead.

After the overthrow of the planned economies of the Stalinist world, the market fundamentalists promised that the Millenium of Plenty would arrive. It just hasn’t happened and much of the Third World is in worse disorder than before.

These people know. Deep down, the footsoldiers of the new terrorism yearn for respect, progress, stability. They watch TV and they see us rolling in wealth, ease and luxury. Why act horrified when people with no political alternative find somewhere in their holy book an exhortation to vengence? Hell, we can all find something nasty in our traditional holy books. Until recently, Christians regularly justified their slaughter of Mulims, Jews and each other by reference to the Bible.

Yes, the West deserves the enemies it now has. Stalinist they might have been, but the PKI never called us infidels.