Monday, September 10, 2007

Australia as a Police State

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has instituted one short-sighted, divisive and counterproductive tactic in the fight against terror groups. You can't walk down a street in Melbourne or Syndey and miss the posters. You can't turn on the TV and miss the commercials. This video shows what I am talking about:

Austalia has something called a National Security Hotline, or anti-terrorism hotline. I shot this video both to illustrate this, and to make a point. Not only does the "National Security Hotline" concept embrace a totalitarian methodology -- encouraging neighbor to inform/spy on neighbor, it serves the aims of the terrorists by dividing Australians into two camps: us and them.

While I shot the video, a white male busker performed with a guitar nearby. After a song, I asked him what he thought of the poster. He replied,"Look the government has done a lot of fucked up things, but that" -- he pointed to the poster -- "that doesn't fucking concern me." He said "me" so loud that the word echoed up and down the tunnel.

Me. They (the word "they" jumps off the poster at you, it is so ubiquitous). Us and them. The anti-terrorism hotline risks alienating the very Australians whose cooperation is most critical in thwarting terror. David Wright-Neville made this critical observation at a conference in Madrid. Money quote:
I work quite closely with the state police in my own state in an attempt to try and overcome this. We have, for instance, in Australia whats called the terrorism hotline and if you see a terrorist, you phone the terrorism hotline. Forty thousand phone calls, no arrests. Most of those phone calls have been tied with a particular community. The police are obliged to follow up all of these phone calls. The police say that the fact that they are constantly called out to go visit Muslim households who are celebrating Eid il-Fitr [?] or some other feasts because of a bigoted neighbour is effectively undermining their relationship with the Islamic community. And so I see very real dangers even in my own society stemming from this tendency to politicize terrorism, the instinctive urge that some politicians have to turn it to their own electoral advantage.
Democracies have strong inherent advantages against terrorist networks. That's because a truly open society is super-networked, with all types of people sharing information freely. A terror network is extremely vulnerable operating in such a super-networked environment. But if anti-terrorism tactics alienate a vital social constituency, this natural advantage is lost. And so goes your open society.

Note: Apparently someone recently called the hotline to report that Bush was in Australia.