Good Men And Women Have To Stop Doing Nothing

Humanity isn’t a word used much these days. We should be ashamed at that.

It’s a word I love because it has so much meaning. It’s a way of describing all of us. It’s a way of describing the good in all of us. Our commonality. We all live on this planet earth. We may speak a different language, but we are all still human beings. We breathe air, we have DNA, we walk on two legs, we have intelligence and we know right from wrong. We are all in this together whether we like it or not.

Humanity also means compassion, understanding and respect for our fellow human beings. A moral compass that we use, or are supposed to use, to guide us to act in a way that will benefit others for no expectation or benefit in return. We do it because it is the right thing to do.

Humanity is not a word in use in Aleppo, Syria these days. It hasn’t been used in that place in quite some time. All of us, and I do mean all of us,have forgotten, or don’t want to remember, or be reminded of humanity and our obligation to it when it comes to Aleppo, especially when every day we see video of the systematic destruction of a city brick by bloody brick.

Each bomb dropped, each building destroyed has people inside. Yes people, as in men, women and children. Innocent people. We don’t want to know about that either. People whose only crime is to be the unfortunates to live in a city in the cross hairs of a pointless and destructive civil war.

Of course they are not the only ones suffering in Syria. But Aleppo has become the lightning rod, a metaphor for everything that has gone wrong in Syria and in us and everything that has gone wrong in the futile and insincere attempts to stop the violence. We should be ashamed. Everyone on this planet should be ashamed. People are being slaughtered and we do nothing. It reminds me of the words of Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing. We have become particularly good at doing nothing.

But collective shame doesn’t begin and end with Aleppo. It isn’t enough that we do nothing to help them. We then turn around and try and take away their hope. The people of Syria still have the will to survive in the midst of madness. The ‘lucky’ ones are trying to do something to help themselves when confronted with inhumanity and no one prepared to help them. They are doing what anyone else would do in their terrible situation. They are running away. They are taking to unseaworthy boats and making perilous crossings of the ocean to try and find a place that isn’t being bombed 24/7. It’s hardly surprising yet we, as in the nations of the world, are continually surprised. What is surprising to me is that we do nothing to help them yet we do everything in our power to dissuade them from running away. Dissuade them from boarding boats unfit to go to sea and paying people smugglers for the privilege.

We don’t have that right and they have no choice. We have no right to tell them they can’t board a boat especially if we are not going to help them.

If they stay they die, if they take to the sea they may still die but at least they have a 50/50 chance of survival. Fifty percent is better than nothing.

And to add insult to injury, those that do manage to make that perilous crossing and survive, are rewarded for their efforts by being forced to live as non-citizens, or forced to walk hundreds of kilometres in the hope that someone, somewhere will take pity on them. Worse still if they come to the country that I live in they will be put in prison in some third world Pacific island hell hole with no hope and no prospect of leaving. And our Government congratulates itself on the fact that this final solution has stopped the boats. Humanity isn’t a word used much in Australia either.

I am tired of humanity being hijacked by politicians and other selfish, soulless people. It doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to all of us and it’s time for human beings to reclaim it. If we don’t, we have no future and we certainly don’t have a world worth living in. We have to start being good men and women. We have to stop evil from triumphing. We have to tell politicians, we have to show them they don’t speak for us when they say they won’t help people in need. Because that is what good people do.

We Are All Paris

The world is a different place today. France is a different place. Paris is a place I barely recognise and I don’t know what will become of it.

The Paris I know is a city of romance. A city of light. A city of cafes and restaurants and history. Of baguettes and croissants and cars with yellow headlights and fantastic public transport. Of iconic monuments and buildings which made it so easily recognisable. A city of art, culture and life. Wonderful life. Now it’s a city splashed with the blood of hundreds of its innocent citizens. Slaughtered randomly, brutally by a small group of depraved fanatics.

Paris will never be the same. It can never be the same. Its citizens aren’t safe. Unfortunately making them safe means making big life changes. It may mean they must live in a constant state of martial law. Police and the army, heavily armed, patrolling the streets, to deter and intimidate. In all likelihood, a permanent presence. It is a tragedy. Absolutely contrary to a country built on liberty, equality and fraternity. France fought a revolution for freedom and democratic principles. And now its citizens, in its capital, can no longer trust anyone or anything. They will always be looking over their shoulders. Looking at each other with fear and doubt. They won’t be able to travel freely and easily. Everywhere they gather in numbers must now involve being searched and delays and difficulties and inconvenience. It’s the price they will have to pay to feel and be safe. It is sad and horrible. Many tears have been shed and will be shed over the coming days, weeks and months. Not just tears for the dead, or the injured or for the survivors. The traumatized survivors who will be forever haunted by what they saw and heard. They will never forget. They can’t forget. There will be tears for what Paris has now become. For the world we now live in.

And not just what Paris has become. This kind of attack can happen anywhere, anytime. In any capital city in any country that dares to take on IS. And it probably will. That is the frightening reality all of us must now face.

As long as the Islamic State exists, nowhere and nobody is safe. Governments have a responsibility to keep their citizens safe. And that will mean all of us making sacrifices, giving up hard won freedoms. It is the price we must pay.

And what will become of the people fleeing oppression who have landed in the thousands in Europe and elsewhere hoping for a new life? We have only just learned that one of the terrorists responsible for the Paris massacres gained entry to France by arriving in Greece pretending to be a Syrian refugee. Countries will begin to close their borders. These poor people will no longer be welcome, permanently displaced. They have run away from oppression only to suffer a form of oppression in some ways much worse than what they have left. It is so unfair and wrong.

There will be change. There has to be change. No doubt the events in Paris has awoken the sleeping giant. Retribution will be swift and, as the French President has already pointed out, merciless. This has galvanized the world and so it should. It will be the coalition of the willing and the unwilling all united with one stated purpose: the annihilation of the so-called caliphate.

The people responsible for the Paris massacres are cowards and bullies. They will pay a terrible price for what they have done. Already there is speculation of a political settlement in Syria, which would clear the decks for a united military approach to IS. A worldwide declaration of War already made in part by the French President.

All of us mourn with the people of Paris. We stand united with them. We share their grief but it must somehow ( and I don’t know how) result in a better world, a safer and kinder world. If it doesn’t, then what has happened will truly be for nothing. And that doesn’t bear thinking about.

We Have A Moral Obligation To Do Something

Sometimes I don’t like the world we live in.

I don’t.

It is frequently inhumane, lacks compassion and treats the vulnerable with callous indifference.

Right now there is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions right under our noses. People as in men, women, children, old and young fleeing war, oppression and slaughter in countries like Syria and Afghanistan.

The desperation of these refugees is such that they will take to anything that will basically float to undertake the perilous journey over water, to reach safety and hopefully a new life. It’s a dance with the devil. You are maybe damned if you are do and almost certainly damned if you don’t. Take the risk and die. Stay and definitely die. Would you call that a choice?  It’s being played out nightly on the TV news. Many make it. Some do not. But despite the obvious risk, they come. And keep coming. Desperation makes you crazy.

We have seen these people arrive in the thousands. A human tidal wave, that shows no sign of abating. A human tidal wave, that Europe largely doesn’t want to know, doesn’t know what to do with, or how to stop. It’s not going to stop. If anything it will continue to swell.

But what is really important here has been our collective response, with a few exceptions, to these people who need our help. What has it been? We close our borders, or in the case of Australia, the country I live in, we close our borders, tow them back to their stepping off point or, if that doesn’t work, force to them to go to a glorified prison in some god forsaken rat hole like Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. They used to come in relatively large numbers. Now they don’t come  at all. Our Australian Government takes the credit for this. As if there is any credit to be taken. It trumpets the catch cry, we have stopped the boats, as if they have done something laudable. I guess it could be regarded that way if you think cruelty is laudable.

These people have committed no crime. Unless you believe asking for help is somehow a crime. And it is no good pretending we don’t collectively share some culpability for their displacement. They are currently living in a war zone in the countries I have already mentioned. And countries like the United States, France the United Kingdom and Australia are contributing to that war zone by dropping bombs and missiles. Even if you truly believe it is a necessary evil to be doing this, it doesn’t excuse us from having a responsibility to the people who have been displaced as a result of what we have been doing.

Syria is a political and social catastrophe. A catastrophe, in all probability, that it may never recover from. I understand that. But we can’t simply shrug our shoulders and pretend we aren’t human beings. If people are in need, we have a moral obligation to help them. I am unable to process how we can simply look away and pretend they don’t exist or pretend it’s too big or pretend that we don’t have that obligation. Sorry but we do. Believe or not it was one of the things we all signed up for in order to become a member of the human race. Even if you don’t believe what I am saying, then believe this. It’s the right thing to do.

I was looking at a video the other day that made me very sad at what we have allowed ourselves to become. It showed a homeless boy on the streets of a wealthy and affluent American city begging for help. It was cold and he was dressed in rags and carrying a plastic bag. All he had in the world. He was weak and desperate. It was etched on his face. But people just simply kept walking and pretending he didn’t exist. We do indifference so well. In the end, another homeless man gave this young boy some help in the form of donating his own warm jacket. Two desperate individuals but one prepared to sacrifice what little he had to help a fellow human being. It was uplifting but at the same time morally bankrupt.

If you want to abrogate your responsibility, think this isn’t your circus, want to turn a blind eye to the suffering of your fellow humans, fine. But go and live on another planet because you certainly don’t belong on this one.

You Can’t Negotiate With Religious Extremists

Terrorism left its calling card in Sydney today. I think we all kind of knew it was coming. We just didn’t know the where?, or the when? Both of those questions were answered when a middle-aged fanatical Jihadist, walked into a busy café, in the heart of the city, around 9 in the morning. He was armed with a sawn off shotgun and proceeded to take more than 20 people hostage. What followed was a siege lasting 17 hours. It ended around 2 am, when heavily armed police stormed the café, after hearing the sound of gunshots coming from inside. Minutes later, three people were dead. The fanatical jihadist hostage taker, and two of his hostages, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 38. Australia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We knew there would be consequences. The Islamic State publicly vowed revenge against innocent people to be chosen at random. But you can’t stop living your life, just because a group of religious crazies threaten you, or want to attack you for the way you choose to live. Nor should we.

Authorities know quite a bit about the Jihadist hostage taker but I don’t want to waste oxygen talking about him to any significant degree. He was Iranian and a Muslim convert. A self styled cleric who was convicted of sending poison pen letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan. He was also on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his wife, who was stabbed and set on fire. He persuaded his girlfriend to kill her.   The self-styled Jihadist also faced 40 sexual assault charges after complaints from seven women who attended one of his ‘spiritual healing sessions.’ The Jihadist likened himself, on his own webpage, to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the police charges against him were laid for “political reasons.” His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month, stating: “I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.” ( Praise be to Allah)

During the siege, this religious fanatic forced his hostages to hold up a black flag, with Arabic writing, against the window of the cafe and record video messages on their mobile phones, listing his demands. The videos were initially posted on YouTube but were immediately removed on the advice of police. Deep down we all knew, right from the very start of this, it was going to end badly. Of course, there will be the inevitable questions: Should this man have been released on bail? Had he been identified as a religious extremist and placed on a watch list? If not? why not? His lawyer described him as a ‘damaged goods individual.’ There will also be scrutiny of how the police handled the siege. We received many public assurances from the New South Wales Police Commissioner, the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister that the police were professionally trained to deal with this type of crisis and we should all have faith that they can bring about a peaceful resolution.

Bring about a peaceful resolution? Are you kidding me? When they said that I began to get very worried. For a start this was not a normal siege by any stretch. Most sieges are an attempt by the hostage taker to achieve some personal advantage. The Jihadist who walked into that café only had two purposes, to die killing innocent people and secondly to create maximum publicity so that when he did, everyone would remember who was responsible and, hopefully, from that time on, live in fear of it happening again. He didn’t care that he would be killed. In fact he was counting on it. You can’t negotiate with people like that. You are wasting your time to even try. But the New South Wales police did try. They didn’t comply with his demands but they tried to negotiate with him. And they waited.

Now I don’t want to sound like some armchair quarterback replaying the calls that were made with the benefit of hindsight. I understand the police had a nightmare on their hands. But I will be honest and say I think it was a serious mistake to wait for the shooting to start before they did any shooting themselves. It might sound harsh but being reactive is too late. The horse has bolted. The hostage taker is already doing what he came to do from the moment he walked into that café. We live in a different world. There are people in it who have no regard for their own life as long as they can take the lives of innocent people. The hostage taker in Sydney made it pretty clear who he represented, and what this was about, right from the start. You don’t negotiate. You wait for an opportunity or, you create an opportunity, to use lethal force against him. You certainly don’t wait until he starts killing people. It’s a harsh lesson that maybe the New South Wales police are about to learn.

We Have No Choice

Australia has thrown its lot in with the United States in the war against the Islamic State but not everyone is happy.

I say war even though it’s undeclared. It’s a war of philosophy and ideas as much as weapons and like or not it is one we have to fight and win.

In a rare moment of lucidity the Australian Prime Minister described ISIS as a certain type of terrorist organization, which hate us not because of what we do but because of who we are and how we live. The PM went on to say that he hoped how we live, and who we are, will never change. Amen to that.

Unsurprisingly, Australia has agreed to an American request to transport arms and equipment to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic militants in Iraq. The country is facing a humanitarian catastrophe and this is our way of averting that catastrophe.

The move has the support of the other major opposition political party in Australia but not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

One independent Member of the Federal Parliament said that Australia had taken sides and if the country wants to be gunrunners for the Kurds at the behest of the United States then we are part of that war.

This particular MP is a former senior intelligence analyst turned whistleblower. He resigned from his analyst position in protest at Australia’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq War.

His remarks were strident and some might say intemperate. I must say it took me by surprise. I guess his opposition to this is to be expected but we are facing a very different set of circumstances in Iraq this time around.

He received fairly predictable support from other left wing Members of Parliament who called on the Prime Minister to suspend all current Parliamentary business to debate Australia’s latest military involvement in Iraq.

Some newspaper columnists have waded in castigating the Government for being ready to do Washington’s bidding. The Government was interposing Australia in a country fighting a civil war and clearly taking sides in that conflict.

The main Opposition party in a rare show of bipartisanship supported the Government’s decision. They acknowledged it was not an easy one to make but made for the best of reasons-humanitarian relief to prevent genocide against the beleaguered minorities in northern Iraq. It is a risk but on balance the greater risk would be to allow ISIS to succeed in Iraq.

Australia has already begun dropping relief supplies to an Iraqi town holding out against ISIS but this latest development will place our military and our air force in harms way. In order to make sure the arms get to the right people Australian aircraft will land on Iraqi soil, risking anti-aircraft fire from the Islamic State. We will be giving the Kurdish Peshmerga rocket propelled grenades, mortars as well as different caliber ammunition.

The Prime Minister said that understandably Australia shrinks from reaching out to these conflicts and I am sure plenty of other countries do as well. But the truth is these conflicts reach out to us whether we like or not. He said 60 Australians (that we know of) are involved in terrorist groups in the Middle East. Another 100 are actively supporting those Islamic extremists. With such a significant number of Australians involved with these groups they become radicalized, brutalized and accustomed to kill in the name of God. And so the logic goes if they think it is right to kill in the name of God in Iraq then it stands to reason those same people will think it is right to kill in the name of God in Sydney, London or New York.

Australia is yet to receive a request from the United States to join air strikes against ISIS but if that request comes I am sure it will be regarded favorably.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for a global coalition to stop the spread of what he called the cancer of the Islamic State. For me it brings to mind the frequently quoted Edmund Burke homily: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. In this case doing nothing is not an option.

 

Vale James Foley

I read an opinion piece today that made me stop and think. Like all good pieces of journalism should.

It was about the American reporter James Foley who was barbarically murdered by Islamic terrorists who then shamelessly broadcast the deed on YouTube. The intention was very clear. To goad the United States into a ground offensive in Iraq so that they can recruit more young Muslims to the cause.

But Foley’s tragic and senseless death isn’t why I was drawn to the story or even what the story was about. The writer was talking about the incredibly dangerous game that freelance print and photojournalists play in trying to report the news in places that have become too dangerous in the 21st Century.

I say 21st Century because news has never been reported this way in the past. By that I mean freelance journalists are the new frontline troops in the media war to cut costs. They go to these places with little or no budget, backing and sometimes without even basic training. Many times they go without having the endorsement of an established media outlet so they are truly on their own.

It wasn’t always like this. Wars used to be covered by seasoned reporters who worked for long established media organizations that had the budget to maintain correspondents and a bureau in trouble spots around the globe. But those days have long gone especially for the print media and increasingly for television. Replaced by fresh-faced eager reporters who work freelance, so they are paid per story and prepared to take crazy risks to get it. This trend’s been happening overtime for some time But the Libyan conflict in 2011 was in some ways the catalyst. It acted like an irresistible magnet for freelance journalists who offer a much cheaper option for mainstream media wanting to cover that story. Apparently there were so many freelancers working in Libya at the time of the Gaddafi overthrow they outnumbered the rebels on the frontline.

According to those who were there, the freelancers and the rebels along with an ever-dwindling number of staff reporters would advance forward or backward to safety when the Gaddafi forces advanced. One of those freelancers was James Foley.

According to those who knew him, James Foley was courageous and a very nice man to know. He’d been a former reporter for a US military newspaper, before arriving in Libya full of hope, purpose, opportunity and the belief that he might have been immune to the dangers he faced. In fact there was no shortage of like-minded individuals keen to begin earning their stripes war reporting. And there was no shortage of media outlets willing to buy their images and stories. In fact it was a buyer’s market. Many freelancers prepared to work without insurance, expenses or even the airfares to get them home.

And as Libya deteriorated, it became less clear as to who were the good guys and who were not, and freelancers like James Foley had to make judgment calls on who to trust and when to leave. Safety in numbers ended up being the strategy they followed and it resulted in journalists like Foley forming strong bonds with colleagues he worked alongside and who would share a prison cell with him. In 2011, Foley was captured in Libya along with two other freelancers. A South African photographer travelling with them was killed in the incident. This time Foley was lucky. He was freed after 44 days in captivity. But instead of doing some soul searching and taking stock, James Foley plunged on in again to begin reporting from dangerous places. When Libya became yesterday’s news it was replaced by a more dangerous conflict, the civil war in Syria. It was more bloody and unpredictable. Media organizations were again looking for daring tales and images from the frontline and freelancers like James Foley wanted to take up the challenge even if it meant surviving on nothing more than your wits. In late 2012 and mid 2013 the risks began to outweigh the rewards. Working in northern Syria became next to impossible because of the ever-present threat of kidnap.

James Foley’s luck ran out for a second time in late 2012. He and a photographer were captured ironically on the last day of a two-week trip in an area of the country they had visited many times before. Foley’s captor was a local warlord who would later join the Islamic State. Now, I don’t mind admitting I have a major problem with all of this. What I find hard to reconcile is that 11 additional journalists were kidnapped in Syria in the following year yet the demands for freelance work continued unabated. This kind of journalism has no doubt created opportunities but at the same time it has allowed established media organizations to outsource their coverage for a bargain basement price to reporters prepared to take the risk. It’s called all care but no responsibility.

It has meant that freelancers like James Foley end up paying a terrible price. The Middle East may well be the most important story this century. I just don’t happen to think the price being paid for the privilege of reporting the story is worth it.