Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Backyard terror has global implications

By John Carroll - posted Monday, 21 October 2002

Standing back from the horror of October 12 and its aftermath throughout this week, there are two distinct lessons to be learnt. One is specific to Australia; the other challenges the entire West.

Bali is our own backyard. Ordinary Australians across the length and breadth of the country, from suburb here to bush town there, have direct knowledge of Bali, or know about it through stories from family, neighbours or friends - and they think of it with affection. It's where you go to relax, to have fun. It's where footy teams go for their end-of-season trip. Indeed, for many, it's the only overseas place they have visited.

A landmine has been detonated in the backyard. September 11 is no longer an abstract threat, something that occurs a long way away, New York or wherever, and only to other people. Instantly, the widespread complacency in this country that has met the new phenomenon of mastermind mega-terrorism has evaporated.


Before October 12, only a half-dozen government ministers, our security agencies and the few who have read the two reliable books on Al Qaeda, suspected the extent of the south-east Asian networks. The latest of those books, Rohan Gunaratna's Inside Al Qaeda documents the development of Jemaah Islamiyah in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, including tracing complex ties to Al Qaeda, for which it is, in part, a front.

On Australian television this week, Gunaratna argued that only Jemaah Islamiyah had the capability in the region to mount a terrorist attack on the scale of October 12.

The organisation has links into Australia, just as there are Australian Muslims who received terrorist training in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

There are messages here for elites. The inappropriateness of pacifist tendencies in sections of the Australian left, and the churches, is exposed - this is not a moment to "turn the other cheek".

Gunaratna's book praises Foreign Minister Alexander Downer as the sole senior government member to be taking terrorism seriously - if that was true, this is now a wake-up call for the rest of the ministry. Defence Minister Robert Hill's recent signals favouring a shift in strategy and spending towards the army over the other services is vindicated.

If the domestic lesson is for realism and toughness, the lesson for the West as a whole is that a war against Iraq is a diversion.


Let us be clear about first principles. The organiser of global mega-terrorism is Osama bin Laden. His target is the entire West - which he calls a snake, with the United States the head.

The greatest failure in the West has been in intelligence. This is principally due to reliance on high-tech surveillance. Western agencies no longer have men on the ground. As a result, there is minimal information today about Al Qaeda cells, their chains of command and, above all, the whereabouts of the organisation's leadership.

Saddam Hussein had no significant links with September 11, our foreign minister has acknowledged as much. If Al Qaeda received state backing, it was from Iran, not Iraq, and in the early 1990s. The sole "strong" argument US President George Bush has for attacking Iraq is to send the signal to the rest of the world, and to his own people, that the campaign against terror has not stalled. Bill Clinton has expressed concern that a campaign against Iraq risks expending American resources that should be focused on Al Qaeda. Clinton had his own humiliations in pursuit of Bin Laden, but this time, in my view, his reading is correct. It is confirmed by October 12. Would Saddam even know where Bali was?

Nevertheless, if the United States does invade Iraq, with or without United Nations authorisation, Australia has no choice but to provide support. Bin Laden has made sure that what we face is a war of civilisations. The West is the target. Consequently the West has to stick together, minimising internal dissension, for the sake of morale.

The historian Samuel Huntington, in his seminal book The Clash of Civilizations, ridiculed Paul Keating's foreign policy initiative to turn Australia into an Asian nation. Australia is an outpost of Western culture. As a result its security depends on strong ties to the West, which means primarily the United States. This does not preclude good relations with our Asian neighbours, but reminds us of the underlying reality. October 12 has also confirmed the Huntington argument.

Ordinary Australians, who received a tragic wake-up call this week, never bought the Keating line. It was at odds with their visceral sense of things. They might be interested in Huntington's final judgement, that in 100 years historians may look back at the Keating policy as "a major marker in the decline of the West".

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

This article was first published in The Australian Financial Review on 18 October, 2002.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

John Carroll is reader in sociology at La Trobe University. His book Terror - a Meditation on the Meaning of September 11 was released last month.

Related Links
John Carroll's home page
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy