Occasional Address for Graduation Ceremony
Murdoch University - 17 September 2002
We are only two years into this new century. It began on a note of hope and optimism. The Cold War had ended. American scholars had been audacious enough to write about the end of history as though all the great issues of the time and of the future had already been solved. It was a period of unlimited faith by many in the justice of democracy, in the expansion of human rights, and in the practice and development of international law, especially of international humanitarian law. Europe had, over fifty years, set an example of the way in which centuries-old divisions would be set aside and new relationships forged, creating a unity of purpose and common objectives for the future.
There was a belief also in the effectiveness of American democracy and of the constructive role that the United States could play in advancing these objectives. There was a belief that, since the Cold War was over, expenditure on arms could be restricted, that there would be a dividend for the Third World and that greater efforts would be made to overcome poverty and disadvantage. There was faith in the expanding influence of modern-day globalisation, there was belief that all people in all countries would benefit from its advancement.
What is today's reality?
The Cold War has been replaced by a War Against Terror. This occurred because, for the first time in modern history, violence was visited on the United States by outside forces. Nothing could ever justify the horror and tragedy of those attacks on civilian targets. But the use of terror as an instrument of policy was not new. It is as old as history itself.
When the Normans conquered Britain, the first three villages they marched through were raped, pillaged and every individual killed. It was to send a message to all of Britain: we are dominant, we are your masters.
The crusade of Christian knights against Muslims in the Middle Ages was an act of terror. The use of the Inquisition by the Catholic Church was an act of terror, sanctioned by both church and state.
We don't have to go far into the past to find modern examples. As Communism took over in the Soviet Union, the exercise of terror was a major instrument of national policy. Nazi and Fascist regimes in the middle of the last century exercised terror against civilians in the maintenance and expansion of state power.
On the other hand, people without arms, without resources, have often used terror as a means of exercising influence against the powerful. That was practised in South Africa under Apartheid. Terror has been used with terrible constancy in Ireland, by both sides of the conflict and generally against civilians.
In the decolonisation period there are many groups in many countries who were branded terrorists by their colonial masters and who later became freedom fighters. While it was much debated, the United States State Department made that transition for the KLA during recent conflicts over Kosovo.
The destruction of the Twin Towers and the attack on the Pentagon did however introduce a significant new element. Those attacks were a warning to the world that there would be no limit on what terrorists may or may not do. Terrorism was placed on a new plateau of horror and of destruction against civilians.
The Coalition Against Terror is also new. There are countries worldwide that now understand that terrorism can act against them, in unpredictable and unforeseeable ways. It is important that that Coalition be maintained. It will only be maintained if there is collective responsibility and decision making in prosecution of the War Against Terror.
This makes the debate in the United Nations concerning Iraq important. Generally the United Nations is as good or as bad as the major states that formulate and attract support for its policies. If the United Nations fails the test or passes a resolution which it has no intention of fulfilling, it will do grave disservice to us all and we will face an unpredictable future. It is critical therefore that those who believe that the cause is adequate and just, make sure that the United Nations is successful and does not fail the challenge.
If the evidence is insufficient to persuade the Security Council that action must be taken, it is probable that the United States alone will act. That will create grave and serious difficulties because the Coalition Against Terror would fall apart and it would become a United States or a Western war against Islam, with untold adverse consequences for this century.
Wars generally have an end. In a very real sense, the War Against Terror is wrongly named. Wars are conducted between nations or between armies and both sides know when victory is achieved. But the fight against terrorism is quite different. It is not an act against a state, it is a fight for justice, a fight for the rule of law, a fight for a stable world. We need to understand the ingredients involved.
When terrorism was practiced by a state, the state could be destroyed. Today's concern is with terrorism that owns no state, with terrorism that has perverted its own ideology or its own religion. Unlike earlier occasions, armies and bombs alone will not be successful in winning a war against modern terrorism.
It is often believed that the exercise of terror is an exercise in hatred. That it is an unreasoned attack on those who are free, on the democratic system, on the United States because the United States is powerful, and on the very ideals for which the United States stands. In these terms terror and those who practice it, do not have their own positive cause, it has only the need to destroy.
This is an inadequate analysis. Through history, there have been reasons for terrorism. It has been an exercise of power. It has been in pursuit of an ideology.
We may understand terrorism better if we remind ourselves of the reasons for a system of law and of justice. It is not because we believe we can establish an ideal world, it is because we know there have to be rules. The need for those rules will not disappear. I suspect, perhaps I fear, the need to oppose terrorism will not disappear. Terrorism is an international crime which we must combat, as we work and pursue a more stable and a more peaceful world.
To be successful, we must understand there can be reasons for terrorism and those reasons can be related to policy. Terrorism can be caused by injustice, by deprivation, by inequality. None of this creates a justification for acts of terrorism, especially against civilians but if we wish to achieve a more peaceful world, we must understand motivation and cause. We need to be prepared to ask ourselves: does justice require a change of policy?
Many people would believe that the apparent inequality of American policies in relation to the Middle East is itself a cause for terrorism. One of today's tragedies is that, at the very time when an American President was starting to talk about the need for an independent Palestinian state, suicide bombers lost all sympathy in America for such an objective.
The consequence of this has been to undermine any resolve that there may have been to prevent Israel continuing to pursue settlements in the occupied territories – a policy which itself is seen to prove the inequality of Western or American policy.
When there are issues which many people believe to be seriously inequitable, which deprive people or countries of an opportunity to prosper or to take charge of their own lives, whether that perception is justified or not, it can become a cause for terrorism. It does not become a justification but, if we wish to rid the world of serious terrorism or at least to reduce it substantially and effectively, we must be prepared to ask ourselves difficult questions and to face difficult answers.
Terrorism will never be overcome by armies, by bombs, by military power alone. It can be suppressed and driven further underground. As currently conducted , the War Against Terror is a war without end. If we were to search our hearts and ask what are the deeper motivations, what are the injustices that people perceive or the causes of their hatred, we may be able to do something to redress the balance and to create a more just world. Such actions would also exemplify the standards and ideals that we proclaim.