Hard News by Russell Brown


Terror panics and the war imperative

In this week's Media Take -- which you can watch here -- we look at three related topics: the sudden imperative for a new war in Iraq to defeat Islamic State; Australia's startling media panic over terrorism plots and the troubling new security laws simultaneously passing through the country's legislature; and the realities of Islam.

Paul Buchanan talked to my co-host Toi Iti about the move to war and the implications of an active role in the new action for New Zealand. Buchanan notes that Islamic State was identified as a threat, particularly to Iraq, in intelligence reports 18 months ago, but the reports were largely ignored by the White House and other Western governments. He concludes on this note:

Let me just say that wars are two-way streets. And if we do in fact follow Australia's course and put military assets into the Middle East, we become a target ourselves.

In part two, I talk to David Fisher and Jane Kelsey about the extraordinary conduct of a fairly large part of the Australian media around the recent police raids and the suspected jihadists: first in basically allowing the police to write the script; then in running preposterously false stories based on tips from unnamed sources; and then, especially in the case of the Murdoch papers, waving through a new law that literally criminalises journalism around security matters. It really looks like the Urewera raids times 10.

I concluded by asking Fisher about the police raid on Nicky Hager's house. He replied thus:

I don't think that the state likes journalism very much. I think that journalism's very awkward for the state, because it asks questions about what they're doing ... we have a great responsiblity to ask these important questions about what the state's doing. Sometimes we don't ask those as clearly as we should. Maybe they've forgotten what we're there for in the first place -- and that's why they're happy to go after us.

In part three, Toi talks to  and Auckland University lecturer in Islamic Studies Dr Zain Ali, who explains the various interpretations of sharia law (I thought he could have been a lot less equivocal about the vile punishments employed in Saudi Arabia) and Jon Stephenson about Middle Eastern perceptions of Western hypocrisy and the various monsters we've backed in the past.

I put together the video tracks for the first two parts, which was an interesting experience. First, in revisiting the lead up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, from Dick Cheney's eloquent explanation in a 1994 interview of why invading Iraq would be insane, through to the manufacturing of the case for the war in 2003. And second in getting to grips with exactly what Islamic State is.

I found two documentaries particularly useful. One was this Vice News report (for all Vice's problems with commercial ethics, its foreign reporting is frequently superb), riding alongside Islamic State, mostly in the group's Syrian stronghold, Raqqa:

It's an anxious, aggressive, almost entirely male, world of religious fervour, one whose recruiting targets young adherents with a shock-and-awe media strategy and ludicrous promises of heavenly reward -- and which enforces its will on the ground with bewildering public cruelty. These are terrible, terrible people -- who also, metaphorically, make the trains run on time.

The second is this one, from Iran's PressTV. PressTV material generally needs to be approached cautiously, and this one occasionally lurches into what seem to be state-sponsored conspiracy theories, but it gets even closer than the Vice report to a world where people are crazy and fearful, often at the same time, and where it is very dangerous to be disillusioned. It also makes the case that Islamic State has been fuelled in various ways by the intervention of the West and its allies.

Be warned that there are a number of disturbing scenes. I "watched" some parts with my hand obscuring the screen.

Also, we simply didn't have time to include all of ABC Media Watch's examples of awful media practice in the report for the second part, but you can see the full picture in Media Watch Episode 34 (on the way the police controlled the message around the terror raids) and Episode 35 (on the news media's fabricated terror scares).

This week's episode, Security, secrecy and the new anti-terror law, broadcast after our show, is also well worth viewing.

I'm not inclined to dismiss the seriousness of what is happening in Iraq and Syria, or discount the reach of Islamic state's foul ideas -- they are both mediaeval in their cruelty and millennial in their communications -- but the distant conflict and the expansion of state power closer to home seem like things into which we should neither be spooked or simply wander. We do need to ask questions of our leaders.

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