Why don't I feel secure when the Australian government gives me an anti-terrorism kit?

 

by Ivana Milojevic

I still vividly remember the short feature presentation I watched several times during my school days. It was called “Yellow Mini Morris” and it went like this: a couple, a blond beautiful woman and a tall handsome stranger arrive in Yugoslavia from Western Europe. They pretend to be ‘tourists’ admiring ‘our’ beautiful scenery. They drive around in their lovely yellow car apparently taking pictures of themselves. But all along, they are in fact taking pictures of our airports, bridges and other vital infrastructure. The message was clear: never trust foreigners, no matter how beautiful or well dressed they are. Be aware of anyone acting suspiciously. This includes anyone taking photographs. Also watch out for those traveling in a small yellow car. Driving past bridges, factories, electricity and gas companies. Being beautiful, blond or tall. Wearing designer outfits. And, especially, be aware and be suspicious of Western Europeans!

In retrospect, and in the light of the fact that NATO did bomb my native town and destroyed all its bridges over the Danube some twenty years later, the Yellow Mini Morris story may not be as ludicrous as it seems. In fact, one could go as far as to suggest that the xenophobic communist regime was right to teach us about all the threats coming from outside and endangering our then way of life. After all, many parts of former Yugoslavia will for many more years have to deal with the not-so-nice remains of NATO liberation from ethnic cleansing and totalitarian regimes. These remains include depleted uranium polluted soil, diseases brought by foreign soldiers, and the newly formed American military bases.

 Were xenophobes, totalitarian dictators and nationalists thus right when warning about the threat from ‘the Other’? Or was it that the discourse they created in itself helped create an environment of suspicion, therefore fear (especially of all ‘Others’), therefore obsession with protecting oneself, therefore bad diplomacy, therefore ‘pre-emptive defence’, therefore reactive response, therefore various military operations, therefore several full blown wars? Did we create a self-fulfilling prophecy, acting in such ways as to create the conditions of war?

 Yet again I find myself in a country (Australia) where the government warns us to be alert (but not alarmed!) so as to help protect ‘our’ way of life. It is as if I never really left a society based on suspicion and fear and never really came to a supposedly democratic, multicultural and ‘open’ one. Not surprisingly, I’ve been experiencing some strange déjà vu that started a couple of months earlier when I was asked for my I.D. for (acting suspicious by) sending a parcel overseas. This new measure, introduced to counteract terrorism reminds me of the way we used to send parcels during communist times. Parcels could only be sent if brought open and after being inspected by post office officials. To me, not being able to send a parcel without an I.D. is just another measure of totalitarian surveillance. Although both measures of controlling what gets sent through the mail are introduced to make everyone more ‘secure’, in my experience, too often, these measures can be utilised not only for preventing criminal actions but also for controlling political dissent. Even in democratic Australia, these measures already have had a negative effect on the freedom of politically undesirable groups of people, such as refugees without proper ‘papers’, that the conservative Australian government wants deported. Yet again, the measures that negatively impact political freedoms are always first felt among those that are politically the most vulnerable. 

But perhaps, my concerns are unwarranted. Perhaps I am projecting from one social context things that cannot happen in another one. Still, I would love it if the Australian government and the Prime Minister could reassure me of several things:

First, that I should not be suspicious of their desire to maintain peace. That the Aus$1.4 billion spent to strengthen Australia’s counter-terrorist capability, part of which includes my tax money, is NOT going to be used to destroy someone else’s lives, soils, bridges and places of residence. That the timing of sending this kit so as to correspond with preparations to attack Iraq IS coincidental.

Second, that upgraded surveillance systems for the ‘Australian Secret Intelligence Service’, ‘, the possibility for the Prime Minister to ‘take strategic control in a national emergency’ and people being encouraged to spy on and dobb on each other, are NOT signs of Australia becoming a totalitarian state.

Third, that ‘television, radio, newspapers and the internet’ referred to in the kit will NOT be used by government to control public opinion.

Fourth, that additional money WILL be given to the national and state Anti-Discrimination and Equal Opportunity commissions so to better respond to increased harassment of a ‘certain’ community and/or religion that has already been happening since the horrific events of September 11th.

Fifth, that the government WILL say sorry to the Indigenous population of Australia so as to stop projecting forward what had been done backward (physical violence and murders, destruction of one’s way of life).

Sixth, that xenophobes and racists calling themselves Australians WILL also be deported (together with those ‘suspicious others’), as they clearly do not fit the profile of ‘friendly, decent, democratic’ Australians’ who ‘embrace people, religions and languages from every corner of the world’ – as are ‘all’ Australians described in the kit.

Seventh, that Australian children are NOT going to suffer from living in an environment where an overly dangerous and threatening view of the world is communicated to them. Alternatively, that in addition to the increased availability of free counselling, the government WILL provide stockpiles of herbal, homoeopathic and allopathic anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications for many more generations to come.

Eighth, that they WILL insist on disarming ALL nations from dangerous weapons of mass destruction, including the most powerful ones as well as those that have already used them on defenceless civilians and nature.

Ninth, that they WILL send us yet another kit, with another budget outlined so as to address pollution, global warming, chemical spills, climate change and other serious treats to our current way of life. 

Basically, I am looking for the Australian prime minister and the government to reassure me that the suspicion of ‘the Other’ won’t yet again lead to fear, therefore to bad diplomacy, therefore to pre-emptive strikes, therefore to a full blown war. That history won’t repeat itself. That we will resolve our (actual, perceived and/or potential) conflicts and suspicions of each other through trust, cooperation, dialogue and most importantly, by peaceful means. That we will work towards letting go of our personal and communal desire to control everything and everybody. That we will get our priorities right.

 I sincerely believe that it is only through measures like these that our long-term global security could be improved. It certainly beats measures such as knowing the location of our electricity switchboards and gas meters. Or by knowing the numbers of the electricity company, local Vets, nearest hospitals, school administration, our neighbours and local council members. As was the case in the socialist country of my origin, not only are these measures shifting our attention to irrelevant issues, they also serve the purpose of diverting people from asking why are we in a need of increased security in the first place. 

Ivana Milojevic is a Doctoral Candidate at the Graduate School of Education, the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. She can be reached via www.metafuture.org


This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 12, No. 2  Posted on the web on November 10, 2006