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BBC News Hour

October 16th, 2014

My piece on the incoherence of US and Australian policy in the Middle East, suggesting that we should leave the people of the region to sort out their own problems, attracted a fair bit of interest, including a discussion on the BBC. You can listen to it here (about 31:55) for the next few days. I’ll try to replace this with a permanent podcast link.

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  1. Pete Moran
    October 16th, 2014 at 17:11 | #1

    Who in the US is doing any critical thinking? They seem culturally unable to accept error and change course.

    Glenn Greenwald had a horrifying piece a few days ago suggesting the 2016 candidates on both sides are setting themselves up for continuous war.

  2. J-D
    October 16th, 2014 at 17:27 | #2

    The other academic speaking, Scott Lucas, suggested that for the US to do nothing in the Middle East was a simplistic suggestion. It occurred to me, thinking about this, that in any situation total inaction is always the simplest response, but it isn’t therefore always wrong. Would Scott Lucas suggest that there is no international problem where the appropriate US role is to do nothing? Why? So there’s that.

    Then I also thought, even if there is some course of action the US might take that could improve the situation in the Middle East, how good are the chances of discerning it? There are many different courses of action the US might take. There might be reasonable odds that some of those actions would make things better, but there are also surely reasonable odds that some of them would make things worse. Scott Lucas seemed confident that there are things the US could do that could be beneficial, but how is anybody to know which? As between some theoretical ideal form of US intervention and inaction, maybe we wouldn’t want to choose inaction; but as between the kind of actions the US seems likely to consider and inaction, inaction seems the better prospect. You mentioned Camp David as (I assume this is what you meant) an example of US intervention in the Middle East that made things better, but if we think of that as one hit as against how many misses? (I’m not sure how to score that), it doesn’t look like encouraging odds.

  3. ChrisH
    October 16th, 2014 at 17:35 | #3

    J-D scores the hits against the misses: that is, implicitly assuming that all past interventions were aimed to ‘improve the situation in the Middle East’ and that improvement means enhancing the lives of those who live there by stabilizing the political and economic framework and improving the living standards of most people.

    But where would you get that notion of past interventions?

    The number of USA interventions, and the number of other ‘Western’ interventions, that had no such intent of improvement is disputable: but, I think, indisputably large.

    Pollyanna might say, therefore, that beneficial action is much more likely if benefit intended; Le Misanthrope might say, therefore, that benefit is unlikely to be intended. Either way, a scorecard tells us little.

  4. J-D
    October 16th, 2014 at 18:35 | #4


    I think I take your point (maybe not). However —

    It’s reasonable to suppose that US efforts to intervene in the Middle East have been motivated at least as much by a desire to make things better from self-interested US point of view as by selfless humanitarianism. But if we compose an evaluation of the results of US intervention in the Middle East solely by whether it has made things better for the US, I still think the scorecard would read poorly. Even from a purely US-self-interested point of view, I think the record is not in favour of the US intervening in the Middle East and the experiment of doing nothing looks well worth trying.

  5. Ikonoclast
    October 16th, 2014 at 19:26 | #5


    I agree. The West should disengage from the Middle East. It would be in our positive self-interest and also in the interest of most Middle Eastern countries. Our interference in their region has only increased and worsened their conflicts.

    Pete Moran summed up an important point re Americans “They seem culturally unable to accept error and change course.” I watch various American talking heads on the nightly news (politicians, journalists, commentators). The amazing blind spot they almost all have is the clear a priori asumption that the US MUST ALWAYS intervene. They appear culturally and ideologically incapable of even remotely imagining that any other course is possible. It’s become a kind of national monomania and compulsion to interfere anywhere and everywhere all over the world.

  6. kevin1
    October 16th, 2014 at 20:46 | #6

    We (the world, not Australia) are fortunate that there is still someone, somewhere who finds room for sane voices such as JQ to comment on this issue. I rarely find the ABC quoting Quiggin; outside BBC, The Guardian, Al Jazeera – is there anyone else? Does this not validate our disrespect for the MSM, and the growing respect for alternative media?

    Also noteworthy that an “economist” is regarded as an authority on “politics”: long may regard for interdisciplinary knowledge – the wide angle lens – continue. Is this the reverse of Gresham’s Law when applied to the “knowledge economy”? Perhaps this because value and utility are meshed in unregulated contexts, unlike state-sponsored measures of utility.

  7. rog
    October 16th, 2014 at 21:50 | #7

    There’s a rumour floating around that by increasing production the Saudis are pushing $oil down to economically disadvantage terrorist states allowing the US to shoot them down, a win/win scenario.

    Abbott shirt fronting Putin is part of the show.

    When $oil resumes an acceptable normality Saudi will be more secure as will the US economy, via inflation.

    As I said, its just a rumour.

  8. Donald Oats
    October 16th, 2014 at 22:25 | #8

    Considering we are spending $600 million for one year of “humanitarian mission” in the Middle East, our $18 million “humanitarian” donation/loan to help with the Ebola epidemic is shown for the paucity it really is.

    This Abbott government needs to rethink its priorities seriously; no bomb we drop in Iraq or Syria is going to fix anything but will kill people, ISIL and harmless civilians alike. We can do far more in the long run by helping specialist nurses and doctors get to Africa with all the equipment and logistic support we can supply. And don’t tell me our military can’t do that.

  9. paul walter
    October 16th, 2014 at 22:29 | #9

    Very enthusiastic about that excerpt.

    Prof. Lucas, drowning in an ocean of euphemisms and over determined, open-ended language, only managed to highlight the problems with what passes for US thinking; the verbiage and prolix fools no one but the exceptionalists themselves.

    While the US refuses to adopt a fair umpire role as to Israel, it ensures that incidents like the turkey-bombing of Gaza only ensures the loss of moral authority it requires to combat offshore financed Sunni extremists… the US hegemony is falling apart, for the mulishness.

    The chooks definitively have home to rest re Kurdistan; essential component of the redrawing of Middle Eastern borders on a rational basis. Now the US paw is trapped in a vice extending from Turkey to the Sunni Gulf states.

  10. paul walter
    October 16th, 2014 at 22:33 | #10

    Digressing, but must echo Donald Oats’ comment.

    The absurdity of comprehensively inadequate preparation for an Ebola epidemic while $trillions are spent blasting mid eastern sand crystals back to dust, is a leitmotif sticking out like canine gonads.

  11. rog
    October 17th, 2014 at 05:27 | #11

    This is the good news

    ..there is a broad-based consensus not just in the region but among nations of the world that ISIL (another acronym for ISIS) is a threat to world peace, security and order


  12. Doug
    October 17th, 2014 at 07:38 | #12

    From newspaper reporting it seems likely that if ISIS is defeated much of the region will descend to failed state status with militias racing around – however major financial support for refugees in providing basic health and education might reduce the recruiting pool for the next round of insurgents

  13. Ikonoclast
    October 17th, 2014 at 08:06 | #13

    I pretty much got the impression from the BBC interview that Lucas’s thesis was “American intervention has rarely if ever worked in the Middle East but it will work this time and we should keep doing it.” He didn’t advance any reasons why it would work this time or why they should keep doing it. He didn’t address JQ’s position that the M.E. or at least fighting in the M.E. is not oil-strategic.

    My own point to support this last is that China is now the the world’s largest oil importer. What big wars is China fighting to secure its oil imports? What’s that I hear you say? None! That’s right. This proves the case that huge, expensive wars in the Middle East or elsewhere are not necessary to secure oil imports (in a time of general peace other than the M.E.). China’s imports in ranked order on 2010 came from;

    1. Saudi Arabia
    2. Angola
    3. Iran
    4. Russia
    5. Oman
    6. Iraq
    7. Sudan
    8. Venezuela
    9. Kazakhstan

    Really, if modern geopolitics and geostrategy were a soccer game, China would be leading USA 5 – nil at half time and all those 5 points would be from US own goals. All China has to do is sit back and watch the US make mistakes.

    “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake, it’s bad manners.” – Napoleon.

  14. Fran Barlow
    October 17th, 2014 at 08:36 | #14

    And since J-D does have a penchant for metacommentary, and in pursuit of tidiness, interventions, providing they are relatively well-conceived, attempts to do something to resolve some apparent problem, often simply change the kind of problem existing — trading one set of problems for a different set of problems.

    Sometimes, the trade is a good one in a macrocosmic sense, because more legitimate claims are served by the new set of usages, shifting burdens onto peoople more fit and apt to accept them, but sometimes the trade is more murky and those who perceive themselves as suffering from it (or see new opportunities for miscreant conduct) respond in ways that create new problems to address. Accordingly, since the changes aren’t all capable of being quantified on a common scale, a pure ‘net-benefit analysis’ sometimes masks the qualitative impact of the changes.

    More generally, and given that J-D has noted that US interventions have often not served the US well, one might add:

    a) as a grossly inequitable and non-inclusive society, one would expect the vast majority and perhaps all of any benefits to go to the most privileged, and a regressively skewed portion of any costs to be settled onto the shoulders of the 90% least privileged. If the welfare of the top 10% of Americans is what we mean by “America benefiting” then perhaps it’s so that the US has benefited from these interventions.

    b) Politically, since many of the interventions are driven by political trading within the elite aimed at corralling sections of the populace to support one fraction or another of the boss class against their own interests, whether there is a net exogenous benefit to the top 10% is not of itself decisive in determining whether “America benefits” from a foreign intervention. If “being tough” and ‘not losing {…} on my watch’ is a key part of this trade, then even when no exogenous benefits flow from the interventions, “America” in the limited sense above still benefits.

  15. Ikonoclast
    October 17th, 2014 at 12:22 | #15

    @Fran Barlow

    I agree with all that analysis. It is clear that intervening like a bull in a china shop, in a part of the world which the US does not understand and does not have any sympathy for or empathy with, is fraught with the dangers of making things worse not better. Attempts to solve or resolve a “wicked problem” in this self-interested manner often just transmogrify it into another wicked problem.

    I think the boss class in the US is benefiting in the short to mid-term from intervention and the whole “war on terror”. The war generates huge profits for the military-industrial complex and various other contractors along for the ride on the gravy train. The war(s) enable diversion of monies from welfare recipients and workers to go into the pockets of the elite.

    Long term it is hugely damaging to the US economy and to the USA’s place in the world. One suspects the US elites will eventually suffer for this but not before the lower 99% suffer badly and for much longer. It’s hard to see a way out of this. The US elites will hold on to power at any cost now. They are quite prepared to kill many millions to do this, even some domestically if that’s what it takes.

  16. rog
    October 17th, 2014 at 17:35 | #16

    @Ikonoclast I disagree that the US has no understanding of these regions; the US (as do most western nations) has a long history of dealing with tribalism. It’s never pleasant, always messy but eventually resolutions are made.

    The recent Scottish independence campaign was interesting for those in the UK; a considered and lengthy debate between both sides shows just how far society has come. In the good old days issues were settled by sword and rope.

    ISIL or ISIS are remnants of a time long passed, where street gangs ruled.

  17. J-D
    October 17th, 2014 at 19:43 | #17

    @paul walter

    I’m not sure what you have in mind when you use the expression ‘adopt a fair umpire role as to Israel’, but it gives me the impression that you’re suggesting that the US should intervene in the Middle East, only in a different way from past interventions, which is not the same as John Quiggin’s suggestion that it should not intervene at all.

  18. hc
    October 17th, 2014 at 19:44 | #18

    John, I am impressed with your confidence as I am always much less sure and much less confident. The implication of your view is to do nothing about ISIS. But I think there is a case for addressing the threat posed by these monsters. There is a history so yes I am unsure that argument is strong enough but feel awkward about walking away from this disaster.

  19. Ikonoclast
    October 17th, 2014 at 21:12 | #19


    The West is always so selective about which “monsters” it decides to deal with. Sometimes this selectivity is based on Realpolitik and there are good arguments in favour of that. The Regime in North Korea has been for many years and still is in many ways monstrous. Why doesn’t the US do anything there? It might be because Nth Korea and China have nukes and Nth Korea also has enough conventional, incendiary and chemical weapons to melt Seoul to ashes, cinders and black mush. Another set of monsters are actually the elite that run the West. They can’t see it or at least won’t admit it and they certainly are not going to eliminate themselves. Finally lots of monstrous little groups do horrible things all the time but if they are not sitting on resources we want, we don’t seem to really care.

    So this is a summary of the monsters we won’t deal with;

    (a) Really big monsters that can fight back.
    (b) Our own monsters.
    (c) Monsters who don’t live near juicy resources.

    This whole war against ISIS/ISIL thing is not about how monstrous they are. They are monstrous but no more monstous than say the House of Saud. So I am not sure what it is about. Probably it is just about the fear of losing control of all of Iraq’s oil again. But there may be a loss of face/egg on face pride issue and a demonstration effect requirement for the Americans too. Perhaps ISIS/ISIL have to be made an example of because really the USA becomes a total laughing stock in the M.E. and around if ISIS/ISIL wins. This is called getting one foot on the sticky paper. Or perhaps it’s like fighting the Tar Baby. Kind of appropriate image actually.

    Note: There are plenty of Tar Baby type legends in folklore. It seems many ancient folks were aware of the dangers of being too belligerent, starting unecessary fights and then getting stuck deeper and deeper in the bad situation. But we modern people are so much wiser than that aren’t we? (That’s sarcasm of course.)

  20. paul walter
    October 17th, 2014 at 22:41 | #20
  21. paul walter
    October 17th, 2014 at 22:51 | #21

    Now why did it do that?

    Was going to compliment Fran’s comment because it also traverses the psychoanalytics by way of the comment made by Lucas re “tidiness” and several other besides in that vein.

    What happens when the patient comes out the fugue, discovers the straight jacket and recalls that the “hygiene” involved the violent deaths of so many people. Nurse Ratched would love it.

    I just keep thinking of so many Hollywood depictions of psychosis, from “Psycho”, to, “Stepford Wives” (TV version) to tonight’s effort on Gem, “The Adams Family”.

    The nearest example I can come up with as to “civilised” Western violence against an “other” would be Israel’s macabre recent frenzied slaughter in Gaza, although our own Rob Morrison also rings a bell.

  22. kevin1
    October 17th, 2014 at 23:23 | #22

    On the matter of incoherence, news and the ABC, a perceptive commenter on Crikey the other day noted that, 13 years after 9/11, probably 99% of us are still mystified and ignorant about the muslim world and what makes it tick. Our MSM, supposedly searching for relevance in a post-print world, still has no professional journalists who are on top of the complexities of Islamic religion and politics and can speak or write authoritatively.

    Yes it is a super boring (to non-believers) labyrinth of history and differentiation between sufi, shia, sunni, wahabi, salafi, ahmadiya, modernists, liberals, conservatives and all the rest, and having read Karen Armstrong’s book on Islam I am still turned off big time by the arcane scriptural and genealogy disputes. However, it is central to the big decisions our polity faces, including going to war against people whose religious allegiance is central to their identity. Complicated and uncomfortable it may be but we need to get more regular face-time with people who can explain it. I think the ABC has Rachel Kahn in religious radio programs, but she’s not a frontline talking head. Can you name anyone else?

    Should it be any more difficult for a specialist journalist to get up to speed on this than learning the lineage and distinctions between the mainstream 20 faith groups listed in my local council’s directory: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, Pentecostalists, Mormons, Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, Church of Christ, Shiva, Sathya Sai Baba, Baptists, Spiritualists, Presbyterian, Salvos, Uniting, Theosophists, Quakers, Greek Orthodox, Bethel, Brahma Kumaris, Judaism. How can we the general public, who expect the MSM to have the inhouse capacity to interpret the world for us, hope to understand it?

    I guess when arrogance and ignorance are worn as a badge of honour, it doesn’t matter,except in the results, which are there for all to see in the standoff last week on Lateline TV between the journo and the spokesperson from the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir. She adopted the pose of prosecutor/inquisitor at the start, demanding he renounce the Islamic State behaviour. He refused to follow her script, and it went downhill from there. The dumbest thing was that the journo, despite her cast of researchers, apparently did not know that HT had rejected the violence of IS, with their representative saying “Resurrecting the caliphate should not be accomplished through blood, charges of apostasy and explosions.” Yet she asked “What are Islamic State fighters doing in your name?” and persisted with this false premise which he wouldn’t put to rest.

    This is not the first time Emma Alberici has been caught out by her presumptions. In 2012 Afghan politican and human rights campaigner Malalai Joya turned out to a vigorous opponent of Western intervention, and Alberici was uncomfortable with someone who wouldn’t follow her script – bad journalism. http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2012/s3473632.htm

  23. Ikonoclast
    October 18th, 2014 at 07:54 | #23

    I don’t think we can expect the mainstream media to educate us in any sense.

  24. J-D
    October 18th, 2014 at 10:35 | #24


    I agree that it should be no harder to understand the meaning of Sufi, Salafi, Ismaili, Deobandi, and the rest than it is to understand the meaning of Pentecostalism, Christadelphianism, Mormonism, Lutheranism, and so on. But it’s also no easier. How many people could be expected to understand the significance of the distinctions between all the different varieties of Christianity?

  25. Ikonoclast
    October 18th, 2014 at 11:00 | #25

    Cults and religions. Is there any functional difference?

    Q. What is the difference between a cult and a religion?
    A. A few thousand members.

    “A cult is a religion with no political power.” — Tom Wolfe.

    “In the sociological classifications of religious movements, a cult is a religious or other social group with socially deviant and novel beliefs and practices” – Wikipedia.

    “Religion is blik.” – saying following R.M. Hare’s coining of the term “blik”.

    “The analogy of games – most commonly associated with Ludwig Wittgenstein – has been proposed as a way of establishing meaning in religious language. The theory asserts that language must be understood in terms of a game: just as each game has its own rules determining what can and cannot be done, so each context of language has its own rules determining what is and is not meaningful. Religion is classified as a possible and legitimate language game which is meaningful within its own context. Various parables have also been proposed to solve the problem of meaning in religious language. R. M. Hare used his parable of a lunatic to introduce the concept of “bliks” – unfalsifiable beliefs according to which a worldview is established – which are not necessarily meaningless. Basil Mitchell used a parable to show that faith can be logical, even if it seems unverifiable. John Hick used his parable of the Celestial City to propose his theory of eschatological verification, the view that if there is an afterlife, religious statements will be verifiable after death.” – Wikipedia.

    “If you ask me: are all cults a terrorist organisation? My answer is no as there are many peaceful cults at present around the world and in the history of mankind. But if you ask me are all terrorist organisations, some sort of cult? my answer is yes. Even if they start as ordinary modern political party or organisation, to prepare and force their members to act without asking any moral question and act selflessly for the cause of the group and ignore all the ethical, cultural, moral or religious code of the society and humanity, those organisations have to change into a cult. Therefore to understand an extremist or a terrorist organisation one has to learn about a Cult.” – Former Mujaheddin member and now author and academic Dr. Masoud Banisadr.

  26. kevin1
    October 18th, 2014 at 20:51 | #26


    I didn’t mean to suggest an equivalence, only that it is an achievable task for some people who call themselves journalists to acquire the knowledge and skills to explain to the Australian public the salience of various aspects of Islam to policy and events. Wheeling on academics to comment does not integrate the understanding well enough. It’s clear the significance of Islam to the rest of us will only grow and not just as a foreign policy issue. So it’s desirable that the general public needs to get educated if we want to reduce the Manichean and alienated tone of much political and cultural discourse and clarify our goals.

    At present the message is that Islam is an incomprehensible tangled web of either crazy barbarians or “good” moderates, and we don’t really know which is which or for how long. The whining petulance of “they hate us for who we are, not what we do” reflects presumption and prejudice – as if middle east history does not fire up many of the combatants, All this diminishes the humanity of muslims, promotes the spread of hate ideas, and almost guarantees bad decisionmaking.

    We have many leaders who will work against our national discourse being degraded, but it needs more than goodwill, it needs knowledge and skills acquisition, especially communication skills. I’ve noticed some of the dialogue being frustrated and ineffectual because one side rests on deductive rationalism and the other on dogmas and beliefs beyond argument. Growing up Catholic, I’ve been down this track and the rules of engagement are few.

    In this case, there are also class, cultural, ethnic divides which exacerbate division, and often a different vernacular; the dominant culture responds with difficulty to challenging voices from subcultures with outsider status.

  27. Ikonoclast
    October 19th, 2014 at 06:19 | #27


    Or people could do something really different, like read a few books on the subject. Or simply read the Wikipedia entry. Why this assumption that we have to wait for the mainstream media and journalists to explain something to us? I pity the person and the society that gets an education” from the MSM and journalists.

  28. kevin1
    October 19th, 2014 at 06:40 | #28


    I mean no disrespect when I say I am not concerned with what you know; I’m talking about how our society can change to improve itself, at an institutional and community level. Cataclysmic events or utopian programs shouldn’t be needed to get incremental changes based on self-interest, and adapt to a changed environment. It just needs people to wake up earlier – like you and me 😉

  29. rog
    October 19th, 2014 at 07:29 | #29

    @kevin1 Unfortunately in Australia and perhaps elsewhere the response has been to further disadvantage and disenfranchise various groups of people; this can only serve to increase not decrease the dysfunction.

    Lack of adequate food, shelter, health and education is not how people learn to become model citizens. We saw in the Treaty of Versailles a punishment of a whole nation and how that punishment resulted in more war and destruction. The lesson that was learnt has not been remembered, we now have groups of young men who are disillusioned with little or no education, work opportunities and hope for the future. Punishment is not an effective solution; every time the big stick is used the stick has to be a bit bigger.

    It is not religion it is poor leadership and poor governance that is at fault.

  30. J-D
    October 19th, 2014 at 07:47 | #30


    It’s a diversion from the issue here, so I won’t go into detail beyond putting on record the fact that I disagree with your view about the Treaty of Versailles and that I don’t think it’s supported by a careful study of the evidence.

  31. sunshine
    October 19th, 2014 at 07:59 | #31

    Who the the main stream media supports wins elections (still). Bring on the wild west of internet news ,the MSM has failed us. At best maybe journalists aren’t trained properly -thinking that their job is to be balanced and that simply showing 2 sides to things will do it (even when one side is formulated by an idiot) .At worst maybe some dont care about balance or truth at all.

    Abbott is a racist as he enables and encourages racism .He is playing with fire, dividing Australians ,importing the kind of divisions Australians have been without for a while now. I think our automatic bi-partisan US alliance is at the heart of this. Also old rich white Christian blokes are afraid of multiculturalism too.

    What are we doing ? terrorists merely ‘chatter’ and we become paralised with fear and start throwing away our freedoms -handing them a wonderful victory.

    I didnt mind Emma Alberici s attack on the guy who wouldnt answer the question ,but I think for consistency she shouldnt reserve that approach for Muslims only. I wold like to see more politicians treated like that.

  32. kevin1
    October 19th, 2014 at 08:23 | #32


    I agree about the foreign wars, but I’m referring to our domestic dialogue, where the aspirational goals for some young people are religious based and actively hostile, yet we can expect simplistic and misleading responses from both the dominant culture and muslim representatives.

    A recent example is the ‘Muslim hate in Australia’ social experiment which apparently got 800,000 Youtube views. A couple of actors doing a role play http://islaminaustralia.com/2014/10/04/muslim-hate-in-australia-social-experiment-video/ in a public park found that bystanders made comments or active interventions to defend muslims from bullying. It’s not clear how many examples occurred, but the muslim students were encouraged by the support, while noting there is also much prejudice (in fact 30 attacks over the past 3 weeks around Australia http://www.smh.com.au/national/dozens-of-antimuslim-attacks-as-islamic-leaders-warn-of-community-fear-20141009-113tmk.html).

    The Herald Sun reporter also wrote up the experiment positively, but concluded there is no Islamophobia here and it is a “a straw man designed to shut down debate”. This gave her a licence to set off on a rant against the burqa, Left wing media, self-loathing locals etc. That is, a self-congratulatory rant about Australia, saying there is no issue.

    Everyone got out of it what they wanted to hear. Good luck to them all, because if one or two of the park incidents got a negative response, I suspect none of the strong conclusions would have been made. And the “evidence” is absolutely nothing more than luck.

  33. kevin1
    October 19th, 2014 at 08:56 | #33


    I didnt mind Emma Alberici s attack on the guy who wouldnt answer the question ,but I think for consistency she shouldnt reserve that approach for Muslims only. I wold like to see more politicians treated like that.

    The point is that it was out of character – watch next time some great and powerful people from Washington are interviewed and see if they get scolded. Why the difference? More like a police interrogation I thought; this just fuels the resentment locally.

    And as I said, she was badly informed. The august Australian newspaper said “Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir eschews violence, but it has no problem with incendiary rhetoric about the demise of Western democracy.” Gawd, I’ve done a bit of that myself in the past, but ideas and action are two separate things.

  34. kevin1
    October 19th, 2014 at 09:18 | #34


    Rog – in frustration with moderation, I have removed the links from my reply and repeat it here.


    I agree about the foreign wars, but I’m referring to our domestic dialogue, where the aspirational goals for some young people are religious based and actively hostile, yet we can expect simplistic and misleading responses from both the dominant culture and muslim representatives.

    A recent example is the ‘Muslim hate in Australia’ social experiment which apparently got 800,000 Youtube views. A couple of actors doing a role play in a public park found that bystanders made comments or active interventions to defend muslims from bullying. It’s not clear how many examples occurred, but the muslim students were encouraged by the support, while noting there is also much prejudice (in fact 30 attacks over the past 3 weeks around Australia.

    The Herald Sun reporter also wrote up the experiment positively, but concluded there is no Islamophobia here and it is a “a straw man designed to shut down debate”. This gave her a licence to set off on a rant against the burqa, Left wing media, self-loathing locals etc. That is, a self-congratulatory rant about Australia, saying there is no issue.

    Everyone got out of it what they wanted to hear. Good luck to them all, because if one or two of the park incidents got a negative response, I suspect none of the strong conclusions would have been made. And the “evidence” is absolutely nothing more than luck.

  35. rog
    October 19th, 2014 at 10:18 | #35

    Evidence to repudiate my own bias is in this report

    New research from Queen Mary University of London has found youth, wealth, and being in full-time education to be risk factors associated with violent radicalisation. Contrary to popular views – religious practice, health and social inequalities, discrimination, and political engagement showed no links.


  36. John Quiggin
    October 19th, 2014 at 14:06 | #36

    @hc In reference to monsters, JQ Adams got it right 200 years ago. America did not then, and should not now go abroad in search of monsters to slay

    And why ISIL? Why not Mexican narco gangs, or Kony, or the Saudi dictatorship (also fond of beheadings), or any number of other governments, lots of whom are US allies? The only notable thing about ISIL is that they occupy some of the same territory as Saddam Hussein, also portrayed as the worst of the worst, and that their existence is largely due to the overthrow of Saddam and the attempt to the same to Assad.

  37. kevin1
    October 19th, 2014 at 14:14 | #37


    I recall claims that higher education is not associated with secularism so much in the muslim world; people hang onto their religion. And some highly educated terrorists too.

  38. October 19th, 2014 at 15:01 | #38

    I looked at the full article and I wouldn’t be too concerned. There’s nothing really in that article to show that the scale they developed is measuring what they think it’s measuring, that is a propensity to terrorism. One of the things that would really make me question the results, for example, is that there is no association between gender and sympathy to terrorist activities (which is what their scale apparently purports to measure, although it’s not clearly defined in the article).

    There’s a lot of evidence, eg in the work of Wilkinson and Pickett, that violence is associated with inequality, that is that more unequal societies have higher levels of violence and criminality. However you can’t apply that kind of societal association on the individual level, as they appear to be trying to do.

  39. jungney
    October 19th, 2014 at 18:19 | #39

    I don’t think that it is possible to underestimate the role of an external threat to the US in shoring up a jingoistic nationalism against others. The US hegemon always produces the conditions in which an aggressive other can arise thus allowing the hegemon to discipline the (often heavily armed) discontents at home into patriotic blood service. The beast has done so ever since WWII.

    War is always wrong. It is still, as the old Wobblies’ poster had it, an enterprise involving a “bayonet with e member of the working class on either end”. For ‘working classes’ read any disenfranchised group in the USA.

    Otherwise, remember Ediwn’s Starr’s (1969) WAR.

    It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker.

    Good on you JQ.

  40. sunshine
    October 19th, 2014 at 18:40 | #40

    These fights over resources seem to get sold to us as epic clashes of religion or culture. Dont they think the average Aussie would go to war simply for resources ? People dont ever seem to have cared much for non Australians -especially if they are not white or Christian. I suppose a good v’s evil story must be more palatable than a ‘we want more of their stuff’ or ‘we must remain a loyal deputy sheriff’ one.

  41. frankis
    October 19th, 2014 at 21:47 | #41

    @John Quiggin
    It may sound simplistic or naive but those are I think the reasons we need to be there now in the ME standing against Islamic State – because we broke it and we’re therefore obligated. Needless to restate that we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq in 2003, shouldn’t have been so foolhardy and reckless. Today by contrast we do have the company of the rest of the civilised world and the pleas of the locals to encourage us.

  42. kevin1
    October 19th, 2014 at 23:03 | #42


    “pleas of the locals”? This is not the impression I have at all of political leaders in Iraq; evidence please.

  43. frankis
    October 20th, 2014 at 06:21 | #43

    I was giving no more thought to the utterances or inner feelings of whomever constitutes the “leadership” of Iraq at the moment – I don’t know who that may be – than I do to those of the Australian PM & “Team Australia” I confess.

  44. kevin1
    October 20th, 2014 at 07:48 | #44


    Malcolm Fraser’s critique of the new invasion in The Guardian was entitled “Without a ground force and an end point, the war against Isis will be a farce.” Someone, I forget who, called it the Coalition of the Lemmings.

    Many commentators have commented on the reluctance of the Iraqi politicians to “invite” Australia in; so where are the “pleas of the locals”?

  45. frankis
    October 20th, 2014 at 09:16 | #45

    I was thinking of Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Shiites and Syrians generally all at the local level, and what I thought was a majority of ME states at state level. Is this wrong?

    I was reading in its own words what ISIS stands for, and weighing that it has the momentum we’ve given it by destroying Iraq as a workable state. Then, I feel war is more tragedy than farce.

  46. kevin1
    October 20th, 2014 at 10:41 | #46


    The Australian decision on going to war is represented as an administrative one, of completing the “paperwork”, but it seems the footdragging at the Iraqi end has only been resolved by the imminent threat to Baghdad, so Not having a parliamentary decision in Australia is waved away which avoids the public being alerted that the “requests” are of questionable local legitimacy, and to support sectarian interests, despite the new Cabinet putting on a show of unity. Abbott and Shorten are scared of debate.

    The UN News Centre’s statement yesterday “New UN report reveals alarming rise in use of death penalty in Iraq” says 1,724 people are awaiting execution. Since the “death cult” phrase has been introduced, maybe we can start here.

  47. kevin1
    October 20th, 2014 at 19:02 | #47


    I was thinking of Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Shiites and Syrians generally all at the local level, and what I thought was a majority of ME states at state level. Is this wrong?

    Well you tell me, is it wrong? Have these groups really decided in favour of our intervention?

    This is war – is there a more important decision for a state to consider?

  48. frankis
    October 20th, 2014 at 20:30 | #48

    You may be assuming that Australia under any realistic ruling party or coalition might under some circumstances have opted out of this intervention. I don’t see that as having been much of a possibility.

    When you say “our” you seem to mean “Australia’s” whereas I prefer to ignore what this government says and does – write them off, basically – and in this context at least consider “us” to be the various nations opposed to the islamic caliphate objectives and, particularly, methods of ISIS.

    Is it wrong to think we’re tacitly supported by countries of the region? I don’t think so, no – is it? Has any nation in the ME objected to this intervention thingy we’re engaged in? Do you think perhaps the Saudis or someone, somewhere, may secretly want ISIS to succeed but dare not say so out loud?

    In 2003 it was important for Australia to do all in its power to prevent the US and UK from criminally invading Iraq on a lie. “We” failed wretchedly. Today I personally feel we need to be supporting an honest US-led initiative which attempts to help the ME better cope with continuing fallout of the chaos we helped bring. Also, Barack Obama is not Dick Cheney.

    People could reasonably disagree of course, as JQ has and most here perhaps do.

  49. kevin1
    October 20th, 2014 at 20:41 | #49


    Today I personally feel we need to be supporting an honest US-led initiative which attempts to help the ME better cope with continuing fallout of the chaos we helped bring.

    I am very suspicious of the motivations of some of the commenters at this blog who, the more they comment, the more they demonstrate their disingenuous motives. Another descriptionj would be “trolls” – saboteurs and rock throwers towards intellectual debate.

    Despite 2 invitations, you have deliberately avoided answering my invitation to “put up or shut up”. You are a malicious, time wasting and dishonest fakir. I HOPE OTHERS TAKE NOTICE AND ACT ACCORDINGLY.

  50. frankis
    October 20th, 2014 at 22:24 | #50

    “I am very suspicious …”

    Yes that comes across.

  51. patrickb
    October 21st, 2014 at 00:36 | #51

    Shark jump.

  52. Megan
    October 21st, 2014 at 01:50 | #52

    We really live in a Murdochracy (and that sadly includes his ABC, SBS and most other establishment media).

    How else to explain the ON/OFF/ON/OFF/ON…..OFF “boots on the ground fixation and the determination to stick it all down the memory hole?

    A few weeks ago our rulers/media (same thing) trumpeted that we were off to war. Then it was mentioned that there was just a bit of paperwork that had to be finalised. Then several times we were told that War PM Abbott was about to announce Boots On The Ground.

    That fizzed, but Abbott said we (Aus) had written to them (Iraq) and they had written back, and we were considering their response. Ludicrous.

    Then Bishop popped into Iraq to twist arms but got no luck. So on Saturday we were told that we never wanted to go there anyway, and the Iraqis hadn’t asked us to.

    Then today we get told it’s a done deal and we’re off to war with Boots On The Ground.


    This is from a few hours ago:

    Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Monday ruled out any foreign ground intervention to assist government forces in retaking territory lost to jihadists and urged Sunnis to give up such hopes.

    Abadi was speaking in the city of Najaf after a rare meeting with the most revered figure among Iraqi Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and before a trip to neighboring Iran.

    “No ground forces from any superpower, international coalition or regional power will fight here,” Abadi told reporters, reiterating previous remarks on the issue.

    “This is my decision, it is the decision of the Iraqi government.”

    Some officials and Sunni tribal leaders in areas most affected by the unrest have argued the world should step up its involvement from air strikes to a ground intervention against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

    “I am telling our brothers in Anbar and Salaheddin (Sunni majority provinces) who asked for foreign ground troops that such an appeal should not be made for two reasons,” Abadi said.

    “We don’t need foreign combat troops. And there is no country in the world which would be willing to fight here and give you back your land even if they were asked to.”

    The prime minister, from Iraq’s Shiite majority, had just met with Sistani, a reclusive Iranian-born cleric who is the highest Shiite religious authority in the country.

    Iraqi state television said it was the first time in four years that Sistani had met a high-ranking Iraqi government official.

    Abadi was due to travel to Iran later Monday for talks on Iraq’s war against the IS, which has since June seized control of swathes of the country and brought it to the brink of collapse.

    IS fighters hold towns just a few miles (kilometers) from the Iranian border, and the Islamic republic has been reported by senior Kurdish officials to have deployed troops inside Iraq.

    Major General Qassem Suleimani, the chief of Iran’s elite Quds Force, has been spotted in Iraq, where it is believed to play a key role in coordinating Iraqi military operations.

    SourceAgence France Presse.

  53. John Quiggin
    October 21st, 2014 at 04:35 | #53

    kevin and Frankis, please disengage from discussion with each other

  54. rog
    October 21st, 2014 at 06:31 | #54

    Gregory Paul argues that there is evidence that societies which exhibit high levels of dysfunction are stressful and religion provides relief from this stress. This would also apply to the US, which has high levels of stress coming from lack of universal healthcare, competitive economic conditions and inequality between income groups.

    The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions


    The antagonistic relationship between better socioeconomic conditions and intense popular faith may prevent the existence of nations that combine the two factors. 

    ..popular religion is usually a superficial and flexible psychological mechanism for coping with the high levels of stress and anxiety produced by sufficiently dysfunctional social and especially economic environments. Popular nontheism is a similarly casual response to superior conditions. 

  55. Fran Barlow
    October 21st, 2014 at 07:21 | #55

    @abcnews: STORY: The family of former prime minister Gough Whitlam says he has died this morning

    A sad day …

  56. kevin1
    October 21st, 2014 at 07:54 | #56


    Pew’s 2009 The Global Middle Class paper confirms greater religiosity by lower class for most of the 13 countries polled, but at p17 of full report says that the middle class who say religion is important to their life is still high in India 60% (72% lower income), Malaysia, 60 (86), Brazil 73 (78), Egypt 63 (64), South Africa 78 (79). Interesting that Chile, Venezuela, Argentina much lower than Brazil.

  57. frankis
    October 21st, 2014 at 08:01 | #57

    @John Quiggin
    – that feels like cruel and unusual punishment Prof, you really know how to hurt a guy.
    But tnx anyway.

  58. kevin1
    October 22nd, 2014 at 07:51 | #58


    I had a look at Paul and read Abstract and Conclusions closely but it is content-rich and I may not have interpreted it correctly, so pls tell me if I am wrong. It concentrates on first world countries so its comment “The antagonistic relationship between better socioeconomic conditions and intense popular faith may prevent the existence of nations that combine the two factors” seems a stretch. The “revolution of rising expectations” in the context of anti-imperialism in the “improving” world may have a different effect on religiosity. Of course, various countries in Asia and the Arab world are on different trajectories, not all improvement.

    For Indonesia, as a muslim majority country of great importance to Australia, it is my impression that religious adherence is not on the wane, but that doesn’t mean it has becomed “hardened.” The lowyinterpreter.org article “Meet Indonesia’s middle class (part 4): Where fashion meets religion” suggests an accommodation between religious and consumerist values, which keeps upwardly mobile segments in the religious “tent”. Despite internal conflicts, it has a high degree of non-fractious pluralism. It needs to be added that everyone is obligated to have a formal religious adherence, but I doubt that is a strong determinant of religiosity.

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