Taking a break part two

PR for terrorists

Most terrorist organisations have fairly significant PR operations. Governments are responding – often not very effectively to this – but much of the response seems to be centred on trying to crack down on their use of social media to recruit more martyrs.

Yet the real problem might be that governments themselves are feeding the terrorist PR campaigns. According to the ABC “ a terrorism expert has warned that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is feeding Islamic State’s own propaganda machine by calling it a death cult”. The expert,  Abdul-Rehman Malik, was reported as saying: “I think to call [Islamic State] a death cult, as the Australian Prime Minister does, is a complete misnomer and it actually feeds in to IS propaganda. The propagandists of the Islamic State, when they hear themselves referred to as a death cult hell bent on global domination, are patting themselves on the back because you know what? You’ve bought in to their narrative.”

Tony Abbott also supports the narrative by exaggerating their importance. Apparently IS, according to our PM, threatens every person in every country. Given the world population is seven billion IS must be very pleased with this assessment of their power.

The Malik analysis echoes the thoughts of the FT columnist, Simon Kuper, who wrote a piece reflecting on his coverage of the Charlie Hebdo murders suggesting that he and other journalists were “acting as unpaid PRs for Salafist jihad. Terrorists control the narrative.” Kuper also said: “… our chief spokesmen are mostly unappealing, white middle-aged men sporting the politician’s anachronistic uniform of suit and tie (remind you of anyone in Australia?). TV images of our politicians are juxtaposed with images of young Muslims such as the London schoolgirls who flew off to join IS – a classic teenage runaway fantasy.” Perhaps, asks Kuper, we need a new strategy.

Meanwhile, you are not allowed to say in Australia – at risk of demonization by the Abbott government and the Murdoch media – that anything we have done in the Middle East might have contributed to radicalisation of the region, or Muslim youth, despite that being the view of both MI5 and the CIA. Equally the Republican Senator Bob Corker, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair, in April told a Rotary Club meeting in a speech about Iraq and Iran in his home town Chattanooga that in 2003 “we had taken a big stick and beat a hornets’ nest.”

Margaret Thatcher also had an approach to dealing with those she believed were terrorists – her strategy involved seeking to deny them oxygen and minimising publicity. But then Tony Abbott and other of his ilk would hate that. After all how on earth would you scare people by claiming that IS is a threat to every person in every country if you took a considered approach?


At a lunch the other day the blog was asked, for perhaps the several hundredth time this year, what should be done about Australian politics. The blog’s immediate response was some civility which was greeted with loud laughter. So on reflection a tentative list: no more three word slogans; no more relentlessly tactical statements which can’t make any point without including an attack on opponents; some – if only occasional for a start – reference to evidence and facts; no more denials of the obvious; some humility in the form of sometimes saying ‘We don’t know’; and, some demonstrable concern for all Australians rather than just the last focus group. But that’s unlikely and it’s sad that it would be regarded as hopelessly idealistic. But some civility is possible – in the right circumstances. After the recent British election David Cameron said Ed Miliband was a principled and decent man. But, advised by the Australian Lynton Crosby, he of course didn’t say it during the campaign. One can’t imagine Tony Abbott doing the same after any election campaign let alone during one. But then, just in case you think the Tories are shedding the nasty party-Crosby approach, you can’t imagine George Osborne doing it either.

The Anglosphere

Tony Abbott is fond of the phrase Anglosphere – that fine collection of UK royalists and US Republicans which is a bit of an odd collection but not presumably to someone sophisticated enough to deal with all uncertainty with three word slogans.

And indeed the Anglosphere – despite being composed of both British Tories and US Tea Partiers – does have a lot in common. What that seems to be is a deep commitment to increasing inequality. Anthony Atkinson’s new book Inequality: What Can be Done? contains a table which looks at changes in income inequality and top tax rates between 1960-64 and 2005-2009. The blog is indebted to the Economist (6 June 2015) for details of the table. The clear outliers are the US and Britain where top marginal income tax rates have been reduced by most and income inequality has increased by most. Australia came in behind Ireland, Canada and Italy although Ireland was probably a great improvement on a century ago and Australian’s situation is probably rapidly catching up with the US and Britain since the past couple of Federal Budgets. On the other hand awfully unsuccessful non-Anglosphere economies such as Germany, and even Switzerland, have managed to reduce (R.E.D.U.C.E) inequality.

The Greens Democrats’ moment

The new Greens Leader, Richard di Natale, has agreed to support pension changes in return for consideration of changes to superannuation. Gee whiz – the last time a third party came to a compromise on such things was over the GST and we all know what happened next. And after the pension changes are passed what guarantee does di Natale have? Does he really believe that Abbott would seriously consider changes he has already ruled out? Perhaps he might also consider a carbon price at the same time? The Greens are sometimes seen as inflexible but under their last two leaders they were never naïve. Now they seem to be naively on the same track as the Australian Democrats.