Monday, 19 September 2011
Statements on Indulgence
United States of America: Terrorist Attacks
Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper, when I was interrupted last week shortly following your remarks I was about to compliment you on the very fine account you gave of the scale of the attack and the consequences of it in New York. It was one of those extraordinary moments in world history. I have no doubt all people who were alive at the time can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news, just as many of us can remember quite precisely where we were and what we were doing at the moment we learned that John Kennedy had been assassinated.
On the occasion of the attack on the World Trade Centre my wife and I had come home. It was late in the evening. We were rung by her brother who told us that he had seen pictures on the television of one of the towers being hit. We were horrified. We were particularly anxious, not least because our own son had just recently travelled to the United States to go to college in Boston, and we were not sure whether he was still in New York or not. He had, in fact, left shortly before, so he was in Boston at the time, but we were not sure of that when her brother rang. So we turned on the television and saw one tower burning and smouldering, then saw the second plane hit. It was an extraordinary moment.
Those towers—probably more than any other buildings in the world—symbolised the triumph of American capitalism, the triumph of New York as the great global city. They were symbols of modernity, symbols of modern civilisation, and they were brought down before our eyes and the eyes of millions of other people watching at the time.
The tragedy of the attack is indescribable. Who will ever forget the pictures of people leaping out of the building? Why were they leaping? Were they leaping hoping for a miracle, hoping that perhaps they might fall on something that could save their lives or had they given up all hope and felt that anything was better than being burnt alive in that inferno? It is very hard to say. But it was a day of indescribable tragedy and a day also of great courage. Who will ever forget the heroism of the firefighters who battled their way into those buildings to bring people out, so many of them losing their lives in the process? Who will forget the courage of the passengers on United Airlines 93 which, so we believe, was headed for the US Capitol?
Those passengers, becoming aware of what was going on through their cell phones, took the self-sacrificing step, clearly, of breaking into the cockpit and overpowering the pilot with the consequence that it fell, crashing into a field in Pennsylvania and killing everybody on board but saving the US Capitol from that attack.
We can only imagine what the impact of 9-11 would have been if, in addition to bringing down the Twin Towers and attacking and destroying a wing of the Pentagon—the symbol of American military might—that the home, the symbol, the place of American parliamentary democracy in the United States were turned into a smouldering wreck like the Twin Towers by that plane. It would have been an even more extraordinary day than we witnessed. There were many things to be appalled by and there were many great things to remember. As always on these occasions these tragedies seem to bring out the worst but also the best of the human spirit.
On 11 September this year the US Consul-General in Sydney, Mr Niels Marquardt, and the former Australian Consul-General in New York, Ken Allen, and their wives, Judy Marquardt and Jill Allen, organised an interdenominational ecumenical memorial service, which was held in St Mary's Cathedral. There was present, of course, the host, Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. There were also present the Imam of the Zetland mosque, Sheik Dr Mohammed Anas, and many other clergyman and religious and community leaders.
Among the faith leaders there was the senior rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence. In the midst of that enormous congregation, and in the midst of some outstanding speeches by the two diplomats and by the other clergyman, Jeremy Lawrence gave a most remarkable speech. I want to read a portion of it into the record today. He asked:
How do we respond to the evil destruction of an iconic landmark and symbol, thousands dead, thousands more lives ruined?
This very question was posed by the rabbis of the Talmud writing of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the magnificent home of monotheistic belief.
the home of the Abrahamic faiths, the three largest faiths in the world: the original Jewish religion and then the two faiths derived from it, Christianity and Islam. Of the three remarkable faiths, two, Christianity and Islam, are the largest faith communities in the world. He said:
When the Rabbis of the Talmud posed the question after the fall of the Temple, one school, the Mourners of Zion decreed that there could be no further happiness. Jerusalem should remain without music and celebration until it was blessed with messianic redemption. In Hebrew, the expression “Zecher LeChurban” means remembrance of destruction. Within Jewish practice today every home is supposed to have a “Zecher LeChurban” a remembrance of the destruction with a prominent area left unpainted or undecorated. We should have a constant reminder that our lives have lost some of their lustre. At every Jewish wedding we shatter a glass, Zecher LeChurban. However great our joy at the occasion, we remember the Temple with solemnity and sadness. All joy is incomplete and fragmented in the remembrance of what has been lost. Another school—
Rabbi Lawrence notes—
remembered the Temple with a different slant. "Zecher LeMikdash" means a remembrance of the sanctuary. Every Passover we eat unleavened bread in a sandwich that the sage Hillel recalled as a Temple practice. On the feast of Tabernacles today we process for seven days with the palm, which used to be done only in the Temple. "Zecher LeMikdash" exhort the rabbis. We should celebrate and honour the buildings and the lives lost by incorporating their memories, their virtues and their values into our ongoing lives.
How must we respond to tragedy? Do we focus on the churban, the destruction or the mikdash, the sanctuary and its vibrancy. For sure, we do not forget. We do not abandon. Nor do we lose ourselves and augment the ruin.
With twin responses we confront the ambivalence of our psyche expressing on the one hand our profound grief that our world is damaged and that we are bereft. But we express on the other, defiance and ongoing struggle; a striving to renew and rebuild. The physical may crumble but the spirit endures.
We must not let ourselves be defeated by acts of destruction; nor may we lose hope that we shall see reconstruction and redemption; nor ought we dishonour those who showed faith and resilience in the face of adversity through our own hesitation. We respond by living better lives, through celebrating life and imbuing it with meaning.
Rabbi Lawrence there, reaching back to the destruction of another great building, beautifully describes the two emotions, the two approaches that we have to the destruction of the World Trade Centre. We remember the disaster but we also remember the values for which those towers stood—values of freedom—and our commitment to defend those values now and in all the years to come.
And a very costly battle it has been. The wars that 9-11 spawned have spanned the world. There is a war that goes on in our own midst: the war against Islamist fundamentalist terrorism. It is a war that is being fought by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. It is a war that has been fought by Australian soldiers in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands have died in the course of these battles, and they are not yet over.
Are we winning in Afghanistan? We believe we are winning, but it is a war, as General Petraeus said, that cannot be won in the sense of a complete military victory. Any victory inevitably will be a negotiated one; any outcome will be one negotiated with the Taliban. Already, we can see that there are considerable steps being taken by the Americans towards achieving that.
In the battle in Afghanistan, the counterinsurgency has been undermined or weakened by the fact that the Afghan government itself, the official government headed by President Karzai, is, in many parts of the country, corrupt and inefficient. So persuading the local people that they should abandon their ties with the Taliban and cleave instead to the new government will be unconvincing if that government itself lacks appeal, legitimacy and authority or is seen as not acting in their interests.
The whole objective of counterinsurgency of course is to suppress the insurgents for long enough for the legitimate government to take charge, but if that government we regard as legitimate is not an appealing and attractive one, a government that can obtain and secure the support of the people, then all of the counterinsurgency efforts will be for nought. So, while there are many people who criticise the business of nation building and disregard it, the fact is that without effective nation building the counterinsurgency cannot succeed.
We are also faced in that arena with a very dangerous combination of elements in Pakistan. We have there a country which is unstable, which has nuclear weapons, and which has, or has through the operation of certain individuals in Pakistan, in the past shared nuclear weapons secrets with other states, notably North Korea. We have a situation in Pakistan, if you note Anatol Lieven's recent, excellent book Pakistan: A Hard Country, where a majority of the population, in Mr Lieven's view, regard the 9/11 attacks as having been an event staged by the Americans to justify their invasion of Iraq. That seems incredible. If someone stopped you on a bus or a train, as people have occasionally stopped me, and told you that 9/11 was essentially a fraud perpetrated by the Americans to justify an attack on the Islamic world you would regard that almost as the utterings of a madman, but it has very wide currency in Pakistan.
We also recognise that the Taliban in Afghanistan are now regarded in Pakistan as a group worthy of support because, firstly, they are seen as the group that will be there after the Americans inevitably leave. Of course, after the Americans leave, the Pakistanis will still be in Pakistan. The Americans and Australians may have gone but the inhabitants of the countries in that region will still be there. Secondly, the Taliban are seen as being a counterweight to the power of India asserting itself in Afghanistan. From a Pakistani point of view, focused always on the rivalry with India, more strength is given to the Pashtun Taliban in Afghanistan as that counterweight.
There are no easy solutions in sight, nor is there an easy end in sight to the wars that 9/11 began. Nonetheless, we have no choice but to continue waging them, perhaps in different ways and perhaps more effectively—we should always aim to do that. But the thread that ties all of our efforts—some more successful than others—together is the thread of freedom. It is the thread of those values of economic freedom, political freedom, modernity and liberalism, in the truest sense of the word, that were symbolised by the World Trade Centre, which was attacked by al-Qaeda because of the values it symbolised just as the Capitol would have been attacked, had it not been for the heroism of the passengers of United Airlines 93, because of what it symbolised.
We mourn the events of 9/11. We honour those who lost their lives on that day and those who have lost their lives defending freedom ever since. The words of the rabbi were profound, reminding us that in the midst of grieving we must also celebrate the values which we have stood for and which were represented by the structures we have lost. In conclusion, I seek leave to table the speech of the senior rabbi.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. A decade has passed since the September 11 attacks on the US, yet for me the images of planes flying into the Twin Towers, the attacks on the Pentagon and the panicked rescue scenes immediately after remain vivid in my mind. The scenes of aircraft flying into the Twin Towers and the towers crumbling were surreal—it was like watching fiction. But they were real and they heralded the dawn of a new era in global affairs. Sadly, it was not a turn for the better, and 10 years later, for all our efforts, insecurity caused by those events still haunts people around the world. The way we go about daily life is no longer the same, and the additional costs associated with the way we now live are probably unquantifiable. Those additional costs have in my view contributed to the global financial crisis. In the light of the ongoing global financial insecurity, some would say that the September 11 attacks, therefore, were successful in bringing down the USA and the Western world. There is little doubt that the counterterrorism efforts and security costs incurred by governments around the world since September 11, 2001 have skyrocketed. In addition, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have each had their own human and financial tolls.
The harsh reality is that, as is the case with all crime, as detection prevention techniques become more sophisticated, so too do the methods of the terrorists. Furthermore, as with all criminal behaviour, new individuals and new cells emerge as others are contained or eliminated. It is a never-ending problem. The changes to airport security alone have been profound, yet I for one hardly feel safer because of them. The killings in Norway in July this year showed just how quickly and how easily it is still possible to bring about the mass killings of innocent lives. The prevention of terrorist acts in all places at all times is simply not possible. The most effective strategy would be to address the underlying motive for such attacks, but even then that would not rule out the actions of fanatics such as those of the recent extremist in Norway.
For me September 11, 2001 has a very personal relevance. Andrew Knox, who was killed in the Twin Towers attack and whom I have spoken about in this place on previous occasions, was a Labor Party colleague and a friend. I recall that in my last telephone conversation with him before he left for New York he spoke optimistically of my election to federal parliament as the member for Makin. As it turned out, it was not to be until some years later. For me, however, Andrew Knox's death is a constant reminder of September 11, as is the death of Angela Golotta, whom I have also spoken about in this place and who was subsequently killed in the Bali bombings. Andrew and Angela were both young people with their lives ahead of them. Both were taken without warning as they went about their lives as any of us do each and every day. They had done nothing wrong and had not provoked in any way the attacks on them. It is that senseless killing of innocent lives that makes the attacks even more abhorrent.
I recall being called by Tabitha Lean, a mutual friend who had remained in regular contact with Andrew after he relocated to New York, to be told that Andrew had been killed in the Twin Towers attack. I was told that Andrew had been on his mobile phone relaying what was happening when he had to abruptly end the conversation. I can only imagine what it must be like for Andrew's mother, father and brother or for Angela's mother, father and brother. Of course we focus on September 11 or the Bali bombings, but the reality is that all too often innocent lives are lost in terrorist attacks. For many of those losses there is no public recognition, no public memorials, no public sympathy, yet each of those lives was just as precious.
Extreme views in society are nothing new. There have always been people who have held extreme views on matters. We are seeing it right now in relation to the climate change debate. The problem arises when those views culminate in acts of violence against those with opposing views or, more often than not, opposing interests. In today's world violent reactions initiated by extreme views can result in catastrophes because of the range of tools and opportunities available to anyone driven to an extreme act of violence. It does not take much to provoke an extremist or deranged person—nor does it take much to provoke a person filled with hate and revenge. It is therefore of concern—and should be of concern—to all responsible people to see the level of provocation and incitement that is creeping into civic life in recent times. Community leaders should remain cognisant of the language and tone they use. They can fuel the fires of hate just as they can calm troubled waters. It troubles me that in recent times I have observed in both public and private discourse a level of hatred between opposing views on a range of matters, including immigration policy, refugee matters, religious and even environmental matters that is neither appropriate nor healthy. Incidents such as the shooting and bombing in Norway and the shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in January this year occurred at a time when extremist views were becoming regular utterances of community leaders.
Likewise the level of hate mail, malicious statements and sexist attacks on Australia's Prime Minister should be and would be of concern to all decent, fair-minded people. The derogatory way in which the Prime Minister is treated by some says far more about them than it does about the Prime Minister. Regrettably some of the instigators of that behaviour are public people in civic leadership positions. Of course, it is not unusual for political leaders to be the target of politically motivated acts of violence against them. History is littered with such acts. In 1605 Guy Fawkes unsuccessfully tried to blow up everyone in the British House of Commons. In Australia, on 21 June 1966, Labor leader Arthur Calwell was shot and wounded by Peter Kocan as he was leaving a public function at the Mosman Town Hall. Nineteen-year-old Kocan is quoted as saying that he shot Mr Calwell 'because I do not like his politics'.
It is my hope, and I believe the hope of most people, to lead a peaceful existence in this world with family and friends. My view is that life is much too short for acts of hatred and extremism. All people wherever they are feel the pain, heartache and emotions that we do. I have seen the tears in the eyes of the Bosnian people, the African people and the Sri Lankans as they talk of the atrocities committed in their homelands. I have followed the strain of the families in Chile, China and New Zealand when miners were trapped underground and the elation of their rescue. It was an experience we were familiar with in Australia. I can only begin to imagine the fear in the eyes of the September 11 victims, and the pain and anguish in the hearts of the families and friends of those who lost their lives. For those who survived and for the families and friends of those killed, their lives were deeply scarred and will never be as they could have been. The annual public remembrance of September 11 and other public reminders will not allow them to put the events behind them even if they want to.
I therefore hope that 11 September becomes a salutary reminder of the devastation that extreme acts of hatred and violence can bring. I also hope that those who are inclined to perpetrate such acts see the futility of such acts in the long term. There may be some temporary gratification from such acts, but ultimately they will amount to very little other than considerable grief, suffering and loss of life for innocent people who are neither the problem nor the solution to the fanaticism of the perpetrators. On the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks we remember those who were killed or injured, the grief and heartache of the families and friends and colleagues of those killed or injured and the rescue efforts of all those associated with rescue efforts on the day, as well as the ongoing support that they continue to provide to the victims. We also should take a moment to acknowledge the ongoing daily efforts of our police and security organisations in this country and around the world that do an extraordinary job in helping to keep us safe. Perhaps it is only fitting that today in this place we discussed a motion in recognition of the current serving police officers in Australia.
In closing, it is appropriate that we remember September 11 for all the reasons that I and all other speakers have referred to. As I said in the course of my speech, I hope we and people around the world can learn from September 11 in a way that ensures that we go into the future in a better world.