Were We US-Bashers Wrong All Along?

Posted by Helen Darville under Opinions on 1 October 2001

There were some negative reactions to posting John Pilger's article "Inevitable Ring to the Unimaginable" on the website and some of the arguments made against it were legitimate and fair. Our editor, Anbarasu Balrasan, believes that this article is the best response to the Pilger school of US bashing. It is definitely an intelligent opinion piece written by Helen Darville, author of 'The Hand that Signed the Paper' which makes us ponder deeply about the September 11 incident as Darville expresses "old certainties died in the New York holocaust".

Last Thursday, Miranda Devine assembled a sort of rogues' gallery of Yank- and Israel-bashers in the pages of this newspaper. Andrew Bolt did something similar in the Herald Sun in Melbourne. It seems that liberal intellectuals - in the latest trahison des clercs - have taken to parroting Saddam Hussein and Mullah Mohammad Omar. John Pilger was particularly notable for his ability to regurgitate Taliban press releases.

That same Thursday morning, some dozen people contacted me, wanting to know why my name was on neither list.

"Come on," said one close friend, a Jewess who cordially disagrees with me on just about everything. "You've got to be Australia's loudest, most visible Israel-basher. And not a peep since September 11."

I have watched, since that day, the cosy leftist pieties of my youth disintegrate. Those pieties will be familiar to many of you. Chief among them is the old saw that to understand horrors, one must be willing to contextualise them. And if that mitigates them, so be it.

Despite what some would have you believe, the person who wrote The Hand that Signed the Paper was a creature of the Left: a tree-hugger, a "dreamocrat", a harsh critic of both globalisation and American foreign policy. My father stood for the Greens in the 1993 Federal election; my sister was the first woman president of the Townsville Trades and Labour Council; I had a two-year stint on the University of Queensland's student union council - as a Democrat. I was so into siphoning blame away from the perpetrators of violent crime that friends tell me my views were parodic, almost Pythonesque. Society did it. Arrest society.

Hence my willingness to take swipes at Israel and the Jewish lobby, to accuse both (without distinction) of paranoia, of reverse racism, of exploiting the Holocaust for political and territorial gain. "It's so much easier to clobber the Palestinians," I wrote in 1995, "if the world feels sorry for you over something that happened 50 years ago."

The images of Palestinians cheering as planes carved into skyscrapers made me sick at heart. One fat woman in ugly specs will stay with me for a long time. Don't go there, I chanted under my breath as she ululated with joy. Don't go there. That's where the Nazis went, and that way lies madness. There are accounts beyond number of Eastern European peasants cheering German executioners on, trying to prise the carbines from their hands: let me shoot them, Herr Soldat.

Worse, these demonstrations of hate were repeated - something not widely reported. The Palestinian Authority has been busily preventing further filming. A friend at the BBC sent a distraught email telling how Yasser Arafat's police had both destroyed his camera and opened his head up with a truncheon.

In a beautiful bit of double-think, the liberal intellectuals would have us side with the demonstrators and accept that the only country not permitted to fight in its own defence is the United States. Americans are simultaneously expected to accept every carping criticism of their foreign policy (Israel, Iraq, Chile, etc), the death of thousands of their civilians and to respond peacefully. That the Americans - by the laws and usages of war - are entitled to a ferocious military response is all but discounted.

"Negotiate," the carpers say. "End support for Israel." "Acknowledge why the world hates you." Within this is a large amount of submerged anti-Semitism: "Israel's brutality towards the Palestinians led directly to the attacks on America." There's also a naive belief that were there no sanctions against Saddam's Iraq, no babies would starve. Poor Saddam: just another victim of the wicked USA. "Now the Americans know how the Iraqis feel," wrote one utterly fatuous Guardian columnist from the safety of the Home Counties.

These arguments blur the fine line between what one understands about an atrocity, and what one condones. I can be certain about the blurring, because I've been tempted down that road myself: "We all know the Holocaust was heinous, but..."

In one sense, there's a childish honesty to the celebrating Palestinians, those Indonesians wearing their Osama bin Laden T-shirts, the Pakistanis shouting "Death to America!" They make no attempt to disguise their beliefs. Here in the West, no-one can say directly that they hate America and are happy about the slaughter, so they do it circuitously: "It was an outrage, but..."

There is, however, one thing of which I'm certain. Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, the Pakistani and Palestinian demonstrators, Saddam and the fine folks who support them - they'd like to see all Jews dead. I know this because I know what Nazi propaganda looks like, what it feels like, how it works on your mind. I know because writing The Hand that Signed the Paper forced me to grapple with certain of the aims and values of Nazism. These people hate Jews so much that, consciously or unconsciously, they've come to identify with Nazis.

Indeed, I think the common label "Islamic fundamentalist" is inaccurate. Islamo-fascist seems closer to reality. Much of their output is worthy of Der Stürmer: Australia's own Nidalul Islam magazine features an Arabised version of the conspiratorial Protocols of the Elders of Zion. My BBC friend tells me that a hit song in Syria and Egypt is called - with admirable clarity - I hate Israel. According to Dharb-i-Mumin, a major Pakistani weekly, 4,000 Jewish employees in the World Trade Centre were absent on the day of the attack. Yasser Arafat was forced last week to close an art exhibit at the West Bank's al-Najah University. It boasted a life-size re-creation of the scene in Sbarro Pizzeria after the suicide bombing which killed 15 people. Oh, and a floor-to-ceiling wall mural of religious Jews - the skullcapped variety - being blown to bits. Meanwhile, Saddam tells us that America should disengage itself from its evil alliance with Zionism, which has been scheming to exploit the world and plunge it into blood and darkness.

Last week - after learning of the tasteless West Bank exhibition - I nearly rang the Australia-Israel Review. I'm not sure what I'd have said, even whether I could have made a sound. Finally, I could stand the feeling of sitting in an intellectual forked stick no longer.

As yet, I can't specify which incident in the past three weeks led me to abandon my old watchwords of understand, contextualise and explain. If this piece seems more exploratory than explicatory, please know that it is only the beginning of an honest attempt to document a series of wrenching personal and political shifts.

Have I blurred the fine line between understanding and condoning atrocity? I hope I haven't, but fear, sometimes, that I have. In the midst of often bitter attacks on America and Israel, are others taking the same glib and facile path I once took - and thereby absolving not only the terrorists, but their state sponsors, of blame?

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