Brutality and the suppression of free speech are the order of the day in Michael Burrill’s weekly current affairs wrap – whether it be in Texas, the Middle East or care of our very own asylum seekers policy.


Two men were killed by police in Texas this week in what can be described as either an act of violent jihad or suicide by cop, depending on your perspective, as they attempted to shoot up a heavily guarded “draw the prophet” contest. The men, Elton Simpson (already known by the FBI in relation to Salafist jihadi sympathies) and Nadir Soofi were more Numan Haider than the Kouachi brothers; unaffiliated young men acting out of anger and impulse, rather than calculated planning with overseas jihadist training. However, IS has still attempted to claim responsibility for the act, describing the men as “soldiers of the caliphate.” In response, officials involved with the investigation have said it was likely IS’ role was more “inspirational” than “operational.” Pamela Geller, co-founder of the American Freedom Defense Institute (the group that organised the event targeted, who are opposed to the perceived “Islamification” of America), responded to the incident by declaring, “This is a war. This is war on free speech.” If such a war exists, then people like Pamela Geller are just as guilty of conjuring and nourishing it as Salafi jihadist organisations – a conflict which crushes most into a cramped no man’s land, as those that prosecute it constantly implore us to take sides, seemingly unaware that despite some slight variations they both believe that extremist Islamism is the only true Islam, and that Western Culture and Islam are incompatible. When it comes to the free speech angle, while I affirm their right to do so, the “draw the prophet” competition was not adding anything to the discussion. In fact it seems the purpose was to be childishly inflammatory, and bring about feelings of smug self satisfaction, an ideological circle jerk if you will. Imagine you have the misfortune to end up in an emporium of expensive drinks and bad music, being stared down by a predatory specimen that’s angry his dad didn’t love him enough, whose sole goal for the night is to “fuck someone’s face,” whether with his fists or his steroid-shrunken genitalia. The aroma of bad cologne and malice that surrounds him seems to be repelling women, and you can tell from the look in those cruel eyes that he’s seriously considering your face as the one he mashes into churned up luncheon meat. Maybe he even claims to be the Australian representative of US gang the Gangster Disciples. While there may be a certain nobility in being punched trying to walk away or diffuse the situation, if you decide to mockingly bring up his father’s cold demeanour or the rapid decline of his testes, you still deserve sympathy for getting punched in the head, but don’t expect to be praised as a hero of free speech. Occasional physical attacks by troubled individuals don’t count as systematic suppression of free speech.

In the Middle East, a place with actual wars and severe curbs on free speech (largely by Western allies), a number of more brutal incidents got a lot less coverage this week. In Syria, the regime of “sorta enemy, kinda ally” of the West, Bashar al-Assad, has been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Amnesty International for extensive use of barrel bombs on civilian areas. The US joined in as well, with airstrikes killing at least 52 civilians in the north of the country. Some may point out the difference in intent between the two, but I doubt the funerals in northern Syria were populated by diplomatic suggestions that, “Ah, you know it was an accident…sad, but no one’s fault – what can you do?” Elsewhere, surprisingly not tired out from their extensive involvement in the aforementioned Texas shooting, IS killed 300 Yazidis in Iraq. As the US train moderate Syrian rebels to combat them, and with Saudi Arabian ground operations in Yemen seemingly only a matter of time, things don’t look like they’ll be improving any time soon.

Much like US foreign policy, Israel gets it’s own special section away from the rest of the region this week. Amid allegations, based on testimonies of soldiers involved, that the IDF actively ignored their responsibility to avoid civilian casualties in last year’s conflict in Gaza – and amid heated protests by Ethiopian Israelis over police brutality and general discrimination – PM Benjamin Netanyahu implored Israelis to “stand together as one against the phenomenon of racism, to denounce it and eliminate it.” Bibi decided the best way for him to personally contribute to ending discrimination was to follow his campaign tactic of siding with the far right, forming a coalition government with nationalist and religious ultra-orthodox parties. Oh to live in Israel, “the Middle East’s only liberal democracy,” as some describe it. Somehow I doubt Palestinians, Ethiopian Israelis and other minorities feel the same way. With asylum seekers imprisoned and indigenous incarceration rates at record highs, I’m not sure it’s that much better here, nor indeed in the “land of the free,” who you may have heard are experiencing a bit of racial tension themselves

On the topic of imprisoned and/or drowned asylum seekers, Labor immigration spokesperson Richard Marles described our PM Tone’s triumphant reading of the deaths of 800 and the psychological and physical violence inflicted upon thousands, as “the low-rent act of a snake-oil merchant.” Rich was oddly silent when Short William seemed to make a equally triumphant reading of both those things, claiming his support of mandatory detention helped him “live a little better each day,” and invoking the aforementioned deaths when he refused to be party to policies which “drag people here to drown at sea.” The thing Bill seems to have missed here is that one of the factors in the recent Mediterranean tragedies was the suspension of search and rescue patrols as they were thought to encourage people to “hop on unsafe boats.”

It’s plain to me the true root causes of people smuggling is poverty, oppression, war and desperation. Despite all their grandstanding about stopping boats, both Tone and Short William seem only set to increase those root causes through their climate policy (yep it’s that time again! This week it’s brought to you by Dengue fever!). As the government and Labor finally came to an agreement over a minuscule RET, the Grattan Institute found that direct action’s “impact on reducing emissions is likely to be zero,” and went on to claim “it is not designed to achieve this goal.” While in the UK, economist Nicholas Stern reported that when it comes to dangerous climate change, “It seems likely that there will still be a significant gap between aggregate national intentions and a pathway that is consistent with avoiding.” With global carbon dioxide concentrations at levels never seen, it’s all pretty fucking depressing isn’t it? No wonder Christine Milne chucked in the towel. It’ll be interesting to see how long Richard Di Natale will last. As the probability of dangerous climate change accelerates from eventuality to reality, I wouldn’t be surprised to inherit the Greens leadership myself in a couple years, finding it discarded in an empty rolling tobacco pouch, at a warehouse party in Marrickville…


Share via