Are you over Zaky Mallah yet? If incomprehensible men in funny hats appearing live on our television screens were such a crime against humanity, as this episode seems to be viewed, how did Australia survive Molly Meldrum for so long?
Assailed by the manufactured outrage over this beat-up in the last fortnight, one could see the government desperately lapping up every opportunity to connect this opponent of ISIS and advocate for Australia with the murderous thugs painting Iraq and Syria red.
The most gob-smacking hysteria came from the government’s token “real liberal”, no less. In an interview on ABC television, a feisty Malcolm Turnbull suggested the ABC had put the lives of people at risk by including Mallah in the studio audience of Q and A.
Now keep in mind Mallah had been all over the media in the past year, including Channel Ten’s ‘The Project’ last October, essentially delivering the same message – urging young disaffected Muslims thinking of fighting overseas to heed his example and stay home.
The Australian newspaper no less – the publication that has hyperventilated more feverishly than anyone else over the Q and A show – saw fit three years ago to provide a platform for the young man, once charged under anti-terror laws and now repentant.
“We do have religious freedom here in Australia, there’s no doubt about that,” The Australian quoted Mallah as saying. “Anyone who disrespects freedom doesn’t deserve to live in a country where there is freedom. This hit me in the head while in Syria. We Muslims have so much freedom here yet we are causing so much trouble.”
Now maybe I’m wrong, but it would seem rather out of character for a man whom The Australian described as fighting a “jihad of peace”, a man calling on young Muslims to appreciate what they have here in Australia, a man who has made it his mission since his early brush with the law to preach moderation, to suddenly change his entire worldview and blow himself up in the ABC studios.
Of course, the real agendas here are twofold. First is the Abbott government’s shameless campaign, in concert with the proudly partisan News Corp, to use every opportunity to foster a climate of fear, to politicise national security and to sound a dog whistle for the benefit of the Anglo Australians who do not feel comfortable with Muslims.
This is not just an Australian phenomenon. The increasing militarisation of government agencies, the suppression of dissident voices and the calculated use of the threat of terrorism to keep populations docile are all being employed by western governments struggling for a cohesive philosophy in a post neo-liberal world.
The publication American Conservative, no less, ran a column this weekby a former CIA agent Philip Giraldi, who condemned the 15-year-old “War on Terror”, saying it had done little but increase the size of the security state, lay entire nations to waste and deprive Westerners of the liberties we are supposedly seeking to protect.
“One might…argue that ‘the threat of terrorism’ is deliberately exaggerated and even nurtured by governments to justify tax increases and military spending while also permitting behaviour by the country’s executive free of the usual legal and constitutional restraints,” Giraldi wrote. “For Americans, the threat is best described as miniscule, hardly reflective of the popular view of a world awash with militants all seeking to kill US citizens before travelling to Times Square so they can blow themselves up.”
Sound familiar? Politicians and the media have a vested interest in beating up the domestic terrorist “threat”. Indeed, Giraldi quotes a US State Department report showing that while there was an 81 percent increase in terrorism-connected fatalities in 2014, nearly 80 percent of all those fatal attacks took place in five countries —Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Syria. By contrast, in the US since the 9/11 attacks, there have been only seven incidents attributed to jihadi-type terrorists, resulting in 26 deaths. In the same period, 48 Americans were killed by white supremacists and other non-Muslim extremists in 19 separate domestic terrorist incidents.
Here in Australia, the closest we have come to a domestic terrorist incident was the Martin Place siege in late 2014. But even there, the links to politically driven terrorism are tenuous. The siege was carried out by Man Monis, a disturbed lone individual with a criminal past and with no history of “jihadi” ambitions. That he was clearly a nutter did not stop the government from staging the maximum flags security pose.
The national security agenda, aside from being a gift to a Coalition government trying to avoid talking about a tanking economy, also suits an imploding conservative media for whom the imaginary threat of bogeymen terrorists in our streets provides perfect clickbait.
For News Corp, there is the added bonus in the Q and A case of throwing another bomb, so to speak, at the ABC and public broadcasting in general. It goes without saying that Murdoch and his editors hate the ABC for ideological reasons, but the bigger motivation is a commercial one, with public broadcasting a direct competitor in a crowded digital space. This is an old story, going back to the 1930s. Of course, back then, the Murdochs hated the ABC because they were worried broadcasting would kill print.
So the national security beat-up is a scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours scenario. The government and the Murdoch tabloids beat the drum daily, and in so doing wedge their enemies as soft on terror, ratchet up fear to drive circulation and votes and play the culture wars to their hearts’ content.
In short, this is not a story about a man in a silly hat on a silly TV program. And this is not a story about terrorism. This is a story about power and politics and money.
Business as usual in other words.