My Asian Century

In 1962 I looked at a map and made a choice. The lesson of the map was bleeding obvious even then.

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In its own way World War II, during which I was born, spoke the same message: YOU ARE HERE! Get used to it!

So I chose to study Asian History at Sydney University in 1962 with two quite brilliant lecturers, Dr Ian Nish and Marjorie Jacobs. We galloped through China and Japan in two terms (Dr Nish) and India in one (Marjorie Jacobs) and never quite got to South East Asia though I had bought the textbook – D G E Hall in those days. I read it anyway. I wrote essays on Ram Mohun Roy and on the Sian Incident 西安事变. Turned out to be the one and only time I topped a subject at Sydney U!

Then at Cronulla High teaching History, among other things, from 1965 (student teacher) through 1966 to 1969, I always Asianised the curriculum – that is I took time out to make time lines showing, or devote a lesson to, what was happening in India, China, Japan, S-E Asia at the same time as, say, Elizabeth I. Indeed my first history job in 1965 was teaching Indonesian history to a Year 10 class – or 4th Year as we called it then.  And of course in the 1960s Cronulla High was a pioneer Indonesian teaching school – the place where I first heard an anklung orchestra – the school had one – or tasted nasi goreng.

Yes, the 1960s, folks.

And then at TIGS from 1971 to 1974 I taught mainly English, but also for a while I was History coordinator and in addition (under the Social Sciences Department) taught Asian Studies. Yes, Asian Studies, and there were even actual published text books and a syllabus and everything. Even before Gough Whitlam, if only just! in 1970 there was even a NSW  HSC subject called Asian Social Studies with 919 candidates. I remember having my class cooking (allegedly) Japanese food from recipes in an Asian Studies text book. We ate it and also fed it to the staff. First time I had ever used soy sauce or cooked bamboo shoots.

Wollongong High had a thriving Indonesian language group in the 1970s.

And so it goes.

Then of course we had the Keating era where the “Asian century” idea was first floated, though I am not sure the expression was used. We were reminded that we are part of Asia, and the map makes that quite incontrovertible, I would think. We sure as hell are not part of Europe. On the other hand, culturally and institutionally we draw on Britain plus, which also distinguishes us and is in my view something extraordinarily valuable we have to offer the region and something also to be cherished as part of what Australian has come to be. This has never struck me as a terribly difficult balancing act, though we did sadly get plunged into Pauline Hanson going totally batshit about being “swamped by Asians” for a while there and John Howard made sometimes worrying gestures in that direction, knowing where his votes were coming from but also by nature uncomfortable with the Keating era vision and with anything that happened before 1959. On the other hand in the Howard era we (and he) were busily engaged with Asian countries just as much as ever, simply because that is where we are and what is bound to happen. And of course we intervened in East Timor, something I for one supported.

And Sydney High, where I worked most of the time from 1985 to 2005, offered Mandarin as well as Ancient Greek. I even wrote a cross-cultural text, based on some class work at SBHS, called From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt (Longman 1995).

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Now here we are again. I haven’t read the White Paper yet, just skimmed. It is fascinating. It is also, as I said yesterday, pretty much what anyone leading Australia now would envisage, but as others have pointed out it is also less substantial than it could be. I guess it gives a bit of a vision which may even lead to outcomes.  I wouldn’t hold my breath about some of it though.

See also Ben Eltham, No Cash For The Asian Century, Richard Tsukamasa Green, Asian languages are essential because they are essential, Bill Mitchell, The Asian Century White Paper – spin over substance. Now that is a pretty diverse bunch with rather similar messages.

And there is the sad story of the decline of past promise, when it comes to Asian languages. I don’t think either Cronulla High or Wollongong High has Indonesian any more, and that is typical. See a report last year in the Herald.

Just 9 per cent of 72,391 [NSW] HSC students studied a language this year. Of the 34 offered, French was the most popular with 1471, followed by Japanese with 1376.

For all the rhetoric on the need to move closer to Asia, Indonesian was studied by only 232, Chinese by 1091 and Hindi, the language of a future powerhouse, by just 42…

Just checked: Cronulla High offers Japanese in the HSC; Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts (as it now is)  offers introductory Korean in Years 7 and 8; Heathcote High in The Shire (where my grandnephews and grandniece went in recent years) has Indonesian in Years 7 and 8 and a 15 year long linkage to schools in the Hitachi-Omiya district in Japan.

How different will things be in ten years time? Honestly, I wouldn’t hold my breath. See also Tim Lindsay Australia’s Asia literacy wipe-out.

Do also visit Dennis Wright and Maximos Russell Darnley – both extraordinary people who know much more than I do.

Meantime, enjoy the sight of an Illawarra Flame Tree in Figtree, just south of West Wollongong. They were taken yesterday.

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Seems like this is quite a week for remembering…

First there’s this one:

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But important as that is, no doubt most Australians and very many in Indonesia will be thinking of Bali.

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I can recall when and where I first heard of it – in The Forresters in Surry Hills while having Sunday Lunch with Ian “The Dowager Empress” Smith and others. My colleague at that time at SBHS, Russell Darnley, was considerably closer.  Read Russell’s own account on that link and also My First Visit to #Bali Since the October 2002 #Bombing (2010).

Violence and extremism are no more a recent phenomenon in Indonesia than in countries like the UK and the USA.  Both Indonesia and the USA fought wars of national liberation against colonial powers.  Both have constitutions and a sense of nationhood, grounded in such violent struggles. Many countries have their own uniquely violent histories and their own particular forms of extremism.  Attempting to make some historical sense of violence, extremism and associated acts of war and terror, requires some consideration of their context.  This is often a useful exercise because it helps to resolve a sense of perspective and scale.

The Bali Bombing was an horrific event that touched me personally, yet for me it’s difficult to distinguish between the madness of the suicide bomber and the madness that suffuses the actions of a nation state that, while understanding the imprecision of its technology, still persists with actions that euphemistically result in collateral damage, the death of innocents and destruction of their homes and infrastructure.  When I see images of white phosphorous raining down as people scatter in terror, I’m reminded that we live in a world where love for our fellow humans is held in scant regard by many.

Writing about the Bali Bombing of 12 October 2002 is a theme that recurs for me, but I’ve published only a small part of what I could say on this tragic event. Some of my work is far too graphic for accessible online publication, such material best lends itself to the print medium not the openness of the Internet. More is yet to be written but I’ve waited for a greater maturity of insight, which I hope might come, before writing further on this subject.  Part of the process has been a re-visiting of the places where I lived and worked before and during those tragic days…

See also Honours for carers of Bali wounded (2004).

There are some good items appearing at the moment in The Sydney Morning Herald. For example: Bali’s hidden bomb victims.

…"They all know I am a widow of a Bali bomb victim," Rencini says. "I’ve been coming here for more than two years. They don’t treat me special because of that, but they do treat me kindly. We are all here struggling. This is a man’s world; I am a woman. They protect me."

By the end of the night, Rencini has earned the equivalent of $4.50 after costs – less than half the price of a cocktail at a tourist hotel bar.

She is one of many widows, fatherless children and survivors who are the hidden victims of the Bali bombs. Each has dipped into a near unimaginable well of resilience to survive, often helped by the good hearts of strangers…

And while some direct their energy into a generalised hatred or fear of Islam – we all know the Islam=Terrorist mindset – we would do well to reflect on the many nuances we non-Muslims and non-Indonesians hardly ever grasp, thereby missing what could be parts at least of real solutions, solutions that are indeed appearing right now and deserve to be known and encouraged. For example: Turning away from radical doctrines.

The radical Islamist preacher who once helped establish terror group Jemaah Islamiyah in Australia admits he wanted to make the country a financial hub for the attempt to overthrow the Indonesian state.

Abdul Rahman Ayub was once one of Australia’s most wanted men, also believes a cell of 30 or more jihadists that he helped indoctrinate may remain active in Australia and that authorities know little about them.

Ayub, who was the deputy leader of JI in Australia to his twin brother, Abdul Rahim, has told The Sun-Herald they were sent by Indonesia’s godfather of terrorism, Abu Bakar Bashir, in 1997 to train young radicals in their form of Islam.

Abdul Rahman Ayub … once one of Australia’s most wanted men. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Both brothers stayed until 2002, the year of the Bali bombing. In his first interview with an Australian journalist, Ayub says the brothers taught perhaps 100 people about the violent form of jihad.

”When I came back from Australia in 2002, to my knowledge there were about 30 people [who were still radicals in Australia],” he says. ”I don’t know about their recent development, whether they’re still active or not, but I believe they are still there. Neither I nor ASIO know the exact figures, nor how active they are.”

Ayub was trained in Afghanistan between 1986 and 1992 to fight as a mujahid, or holy warrior. He was an expert in unarmed combat and became a confidant of the Bali bombers Hambali (whose wedding he helped pay for) and Mukhlas. He says at one time he respected Bashir ”more than I respected my parents”.

However, he denies he had any advance knowledge of the Bali attack and insists he never wanted an attack on Australian soil.

”My mission was to preach Islam … Bashir told us not to commit any violence in Australia – we treated Australia as a country for taking political asylum,” he says.

”But we did teach jihad against Indonesia, against Suharto at the time. We taught about forming an Islamic state, but in Indonesia, not in Australia.”…

Ayub says the attack of September 11, 2001, Bali and Roche’s plot were errors that had changed how Islam was regarded and had damaged his own faith in violent jihad. ”I was furious. I was very against those attacks because it hurts Muslims themselves … It hurts humanity and it hurts our principles,” Ayub says now.

Over a number of years he abandoned his former belief in the overthrow of the Indonesian state. He says he believes now that Muslims should fight only as soldiers in a war zone.

Ayub hoped Indonesia might become an Islamist state but now believes it cannot be rushed: ”It’s God’s decision. If Allah wants to give it to us, it will happen.”

He works around Jakarta as a freelance theologian, preaching Islam. His brother, who left Australia three days after the Bali bombing, runs two schools. Abdul Rahim declined to be interviewed but, according to Abdul Rahman, has also given up belief in violent jihad.

With about 35 other former mujahideen, Abdul Rahman is working through the ”Afghan Alumni Forum” to de-radicalise some of Indonesia’s young jihadists and inoculate Indonesians against the radical doctrine.

You might prefer that people like this all became Christians/Atheists/Agnostics/Dudists and forgot all about Islam, but it isn’t ever going to happen. On the other hand, this is now someone that no longer reoresents any kind of threat to us – and isn’t that the outcome we really desire as well as the outcome we can actually have, it appears. Bless the “Afghan Alumni Forum”, I say.

See also Indonesia’s jihad factories: uncovering nurseries of terrorism’s next generation.

I see that at the time I tangled, so to speak, yet also almost agreed with Piers Akerman, whose bon mots on Alan Jones we can no doubt look forward to on QandA tonight. Let’s replay 2002:

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Piers Akerman has really done a fine job on Osama bin Laden in today’s Daily Telegraph (Sydney). Now it so happens that I do not disagree with much of what he says: Osama bin Laden is a frightening creep with a very deep hatred of the West and is undoubtedly a ruthless, dangerous, fanatical and murderous opponent of tolerance, particularly for "any who may be interested in fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling or trading with interest" — all of which, incidentally, are frowned on by the Bible and, traditionally, by the Catholic Church and to this day by the Anglican Church in Sydney — not to mention my own (or erstwhile own) Presbyterian Church**. There is a certain irony in Akerman here, as gay-friendliness (to select one aspect of interest to me) is not really the thing one associates with Akerman, though intoxicants is possibly another matter. Or so I am told.

Nor do I disagree that bin Laden and his like (that sad and murderous young man in Indonesia comes to mind, the human bomb that it is now thought blew up Paddy’s Bar in Bali) are "perverting the tenets of Islam", to quote Akerman’s headline. Well, they are at least perverting what the majority of the practitioners of Islam actually believe, though the Good Book (the Islamic one) is just as embarrassing as its Jewish and Christian cousins in this respect. All the Big Three Sacred Books have things in them that are anti-civilisation.

The best thing to do with such books, in my view and also in the view of many others, is to grant their historicity, their contexts of origin, and to jettison what is in them that reflects their age and keep what is still of value, or what still offers guidance for living, as much in all of them does. Islam is in a difficult position here as it has been even more bibliolatrous than Christianity, and proper critical study of the Koran, while not unknown in the Islamic world, encounters difficulties. But so does proper critical study of the Bible in ultra-Orthodox Jewish circles, where the age of the planet equals the current Jewish year (did you know the Jews count from the Creation?), or in Bible Belt America where the seven-day creation still has its supporters, along with nutters who believe the 1611 Bible is itself the very Word of God, and so on. We will consign them to Landover Baptist Church where they belong.

OK, so what is my complaint then, since so far it appears I agree with Akerman essentially? It is this: he is such an prat that he leaps into the theology of Islam with a show of knowledge without even checking his well-thumbed Children’s Encyclopaedia, let alone the Koran, and therefore commits a series of howlers that would have a Muslim kindergartener cacking himself with laughter, except that in the current climate such pig-ignorance is both stupid and dangerous. One recalls what George Orwell said, quoted a couple of entries back. Akerman represents the nadir (a good Arabic word) of opinion journalism; if advertising is brainrot of a particularly pernicious kind, Akerman’s attitude towards accuracy is brainrot of an even more insidious kind, since his opinions become the opinions of thousands of loyal readers. His worldview, God help us, becomes theirs. He is their surrogate brain, as it were.

Had he done his homework, Akerman would have known that the Koran itself, and subsequently Islam, has from the beginning counted Moses and Jesus as prophets. He would know that Islam has no quarrel with the fact that Judaism and Christianity predate it, as it in turn predates Presbyterianism. He would know that at times in Islamic history this has led to policies of toleration for other "people of the Book"– Jews and Christians. For example, the persecuted Jews of Spain found refuge under Islam. It is true that Osama bin Laden does not represent this more benign stream of Islam, of course — Akbar the Great or Suleyman the Magnificent he definitely ain’t. But Osama did not invent the Islamic interpretation of Moses, or the Abrahamic origins of the religion, or its connection with Jerusalem (for what that is worth, which is no more or no less than the Jewish and Christian connections — in other words, best forgotten for the sake of everyone else in the world.) You would think Osama had, to read Akerman.

Then Akerman is so unreflectively Eurocentric (as he almost always is) that you would think Osama had invented Islamic (and Third World) disquiet with Western/American culture and power (the Crusades and all that subsequent Imperialism and the current mess in Israel/Palestine). Yes, Osama exploits these issues, no doubt; but he is not insane in pointing out that they are issues, and the West has been very remiss in coming to terms with them. He is Hitler-like in the way he uses the issues for his own ends, but just as Hitler did not have to invent the ruinous state of the German economy in the 1920s and the injustice of Versailles, so Osama does not have to invent the postcolonial legacy. All this is much better argued by others, so I will not continue, but refer you, for example, to the site the Empress sent last weekend.

Finally: although, as Akerman points out at the end, Christ did say vague things about "rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s", the separation of Church and State is in fact a very recent beast indeed. Ask a Catholic or Presbyterian in early nineteenth century England about that — if you could. Further, it is something the anticlerical Enlightenment won for some of the West (Ireland took longer, Russia under the Tsars never succeeded) not something which the Church willingly granted. It is, further, something the USA still has not really learned — in God We Trust and all those arguments about prayer in schools. Which is not to say that the USA is not a million times more desirable than a Taliban-style (or Cromwell-style) theocracy; it is. And it is true that such liberal values are very much threatened.

But then so is good journalism by the likes of Akerman. His grasp of Church History and Western Intellectual History is little better than his grasp of Islam. The trouble is, people will think I am a smart-arse and Akerman is a good bloke, as ignorance tends to go down well with the mob. Ask any commercial radio talkback jock or station owner. The more meretricious the product the more likely it is to attract the ratings, and advertising dollars just come rolling in.

Slightly ironic today, that last point!

** It’s ten years too late, but I should point out that as far as I know no Christian church currently condemns “trading with interest”. Indeed most of them practise this!

Asylum seekers and policy in sinking condition — 2

If you read yesterday’s post at all carefully you will have seen that I am re-examining the issue in the light of recent events. The critical line was this: “Even if we accepted all boats and abolished Christmas Island and the dodgy excision of bits of Australia for immigration purposes, wouldn’t the very fact of boats still have led to those drownings?”

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Back in June I was impressed by the arguments of my SBHS Class of 59 classmate Clive Kessler in The Sydney Morning Herald. A longer version of the article appeared in Malaysia. A parallel post is on Online Opinion with, as one might expect, much discussion.

JUNE 26 — And now another hundred souls lost. Another hundred souls on all our consciences.

Responsibility for this latest terrible loss is widely shared. By refugees themselves who risked this recourse, and by the people smugglers. By the Indonesian government. A government that prefers to see overloaded, unseaworthy boats head south and reach, as soon as possible, some place on the open seas where they will effectively become Australia’s responsibility, not their own. Here the commercial interest of the smugglers — who want to show that they have a “product” that they can sell, a service that they can deliver — is reinforced by the Indonesian preference to see the “refugee burden” passed on to Australia.For all their talk about “Islamic solidarity”, the Indonesian and Malaysian governments prefer to see themselves, and to serve, as transit points, not destinations, for Muslim refugees from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

And then, also on the responsibility list, comes Australia. Perhaps all, or most, or many of us. Those to whom our populist politicians defer, whom they wish to placate. But especially upon those politicians, of whatever stripe, who seek to mobilise fear and resentment, and to ride to power by inflaming them further.

At the head of the list come those who have obstructed all progress towards implementation of the “Malaysia solution”. That means especially Tony Abbott and his shadow immigration minister, the “hard man” in this awful passion play, and also the holier-than-thou Greens.

Wrapping themselves in the mantle of high virtue, the Greens have opposed the Malaysia solution on the grounds that Malaysia is not a paragon of human right practice. That it fails to measure up to ideal standards. Standards by which even Australia itself must be deemed a failure.

So, if Malaysia is for them not a fit place for the refugees, neither is Australia. Why then do the Greens urge open, unrestricted entry here to all comers and claimants?  On what basis can they do so? A workable set of arrangements has been negotiated by Australia with the Malaysian government. These arrangements are not perfect, neither is Malaysia. Nor are we.  But those arrangements have been agreed upon. They are workable. So why resist implementing them?

Tony Abbott’s reasons and strategy are clear. They are rational if hardly attractive. On immigration, as on all other matters, he wants, by a chosen strategy of finely targeted obstructionism to all government initiatives (in other words, of “maximum possible nay-saying and mischief-making”), to make the country ungovernable. That is half of his strategy. The other half is then to spend the rest of his time sneering and jeering that the government is demonstrably hopeless, that it simply cannot govern. Whose doing is that? Abbott is on a sure winner. But at least his strategy makes sense for him.

Less fathomable are the Greens and the other “human rights purists” who will not have a bar of the “Malaysia solution” because of Malaysia’s defects and shortcomings. Having spent a scholarly life, over half a century, studying Malaysian society, culture and politics — and many years living there — I know those shortcomings far better than most. Even so, there is a good case to be made for the Malaysian solution.

I am not naïve about Malaysia. But the hitherto obstructed and rejected “Malaysia solution” is about the best available option that is now to be had to the problem we face. It provides the most workable, humane, long-term sustainable approach now on offer. It offers one that, more than all others, is sensitive to human rights issues and capable of promoting a principled concern for them. It is a policy that stands somewhere between saying no to everybody and yes to everybody who shows up here — or who tries to and, facing terrible “peril on the sea”, gets less than half-way from Java to Ashmore or Christmas Island…

I find this very hard to disagree with.

The issue really is how to make the drowning tragedies less likely. At the same time I cannot disagree with the tenor of this either: Turning back the boats not quite so simple, Tony.

…It’s good politics to be seen to be ‘tough on people smugglers’ but it’s even tougher to acknowledge that we are locking up the wrong people.

Mr. Abbott has sought to exploit the mess that our Government have created by saying he will ‘turn back the boats’. This is simplistic thinking in the extreme, insensitive to our Indonesian neighbours and ignores the very privileged position we as Australians enjoy as a sophisticated and advanced nation.

With the live cattle fiasco; the US marines being based in Darwin; the PM’s ill-considered interference in case of the Australian boy on drug charges in Bali, and the jailing of Indonesian children in Australian maximum security prisons, the current Australian Government has done enough already to leave our northern neighbour worried about where we are heading on regional foreign policy issues.

They certainly don’t need the opposition leader to add to these worries. (May 2012)

In all this, however, keep the big picture in mind. We so easily lack a sense of proportion when it comes to Asylum Seekers, especially “Boat People”.

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WikiLeaks shock: Australian intel outfit sane!

According to today’s Sydney Morning Herald the US Ambassador cabled Washington relaying a very cool assessment of the terrorism situation from our Office of National Assessments:

A SECRET Australian intelligence assessment has declared the al-Qaeda terrorist network a failure and claims its regional offshoot, Jemaah Islamiyah, has been broken in Indonesia.

The head of Australia’s top intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments, told American diplomats in October 2008 that al-Qaeda “ultimately has failed to achieve the strategic leadership role it sought within the Islamic world".

The assessment undercuts a key argument of the Gillard government to justify Australia’s continued commitment to the war in Afghanistan — that al-Qaeda could return to use the country as a terrorist training ground. Australian intelligence officers instead blamed Taliban success in Afghanistan on the failings of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and on the murky involvement of Pakistan’s intelligence and security services.

Pressed by the US diplomats for an overall assessment of Islamist terrorist threats, then Office of National Assessments director-general Peter Varghese gave a strongly up-beat view. He told the visiting head of the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Randall Fort, that terrorism was “a good news story that is getting better, with the violent Islamist threat receding".

The US embassy in Canberra reported Mr Varghese “commented that in personal meetings and intelligence exchanges with ONA and other Australian services, Pakistani [defence chief] General [Ashfaq] Kayani continually comes across as ambivalent on the issues of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, reiterating that India remains the core mission and priority of the Pakistan defence and intelligence establishment. “ONA assesses that Pakistan’s military and security elite view this as ‘an American war’, which, combined with a very hard sense of anti-Americanism, combines into a very dangerous cocktail," Mr Varghese was reported to have told his American colleagues. Mr Varghese said developments were especially positive in Australia’s region, where “the growth of Islamic extremism-based movements is constrained, thanks in part to ongoing successes in combined counter-terrorism efforts, but more because of societal factors in south-east Asia that reject the Middle Eastern jihadist model."

But the secret US embassy cable, leaked to WikiLeaks and provided exclusively to The Age, warned that the southern Philippines was emerging as a new terrorist haven.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told Parliament on October 19, during the debate on Australia’s military deployment, that it was a vital “to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for al-Qaeda" and that Osama bin Laden’s group remained “a resilient and persistent network". Ms Gillard also warned of past links between al-Qaeda and extremists in Indonesia.

But the US record of the high-level intelligence exchange states: “Varghese and his analysts assessed that Indonesia Islam was ‘returning to its main course following a detour’ driven by personal linkages to the global jihad that were formed in Afghanistan in the 1980s."

“ONA analysts assess ‘the tide has turned’ on Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Indonesia, noting that its leadership has been devastated — with most seniors killed, captured, or on the run-and that it has lost its local support networks and funding," the US embassy reported to Washington. “ONA judged JI was shifting near-term goals to its local, vice global/anti-western interests while otherwise ‘creeping back to the shadows’ and focusing on survival."

Australian intelligence analysts proffered the view that JI could “endure and regenerate over the long term", but that it would be “a more localised terrorist threat", one cable said.

This latest disclosure comes after former JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir was yesterday committed for trial in Indonesia on terrorism charges. Bashir, convicted of conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bombing but acquitted on appeal, has been charged as the alleged inspiration of, and fund-raiser for, an Islamic militant training camp in Aceh that was broken up in February. The leaked US cables also reveal that ONA considered Indonesia’s counter-terrorism successes to be “a study in contrast” to “the ongoing downward slide in the Philippines, where the collapse of the peace process in the south threatened to make this area ‘the new regional incubator of terrorist jihadis’." The US embassy reported that “ONA terrorism specialists noted signals and human intelligence that JI ‘structuralists’ embedded with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were rethinking plans to return to Indonesia, while JI ‘freelancers’ were becoming more active and better linked with Abu Sayyaf Group operatives."

According to the US diplomatic reporting, the Office of National Assessments believed the southern Philippines increasingly contained "all the ingredients" of al-Qaeda’s "favoured tilling ground".

All very interesting, but despite the source this is after all one assessment among many.

However, I am happy to see it coincides with much from the Office of Ninglun’s Assessments: here, here and here. Winking smile

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The ONA, incidentally, was one voice pooh-poohing Saddam’s WMD phantom prior to the 2003 invasion, as former ONA analyst Andrew Wilkie (now in parliament) noted at the time.

‘Intelligence" was how the Americans described the material accumulating on Iraq from their super-sophisticated spy systems. But to analysts at the Office of National Assessments in Canberra, a decent chunk of the growing pile looked like rubbish. In their offices on the top floor of the drab ASIO building, ONA experts found much of the US material worthy only of the delete button or the classified waste chute to the truck-sized shredder in the basement.

Australian spooks aren’t much like the spies in the James Bond movies. Not many drink vodka martinis. But most are smart – certainly smart enough to understand how US intelligence on Iraq was badly skewed by political pressure, worst-case analysis and a stream of garbage-grade intelligence concocted by Iraqis desperate for US intervention in Iraq.

It wasn’t just the Australians who were mystified by the accumulating US trash. The French, Germans and Russians had long before refused to be persuaded by Washington’s line. British intelligence agencies were still inclined to take a more conservative position. And the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, even went so far as to say during a late April interview that "much of the intelligence on which the capitals built their case seemed to have been shaky"…

Stop the presses! Too much information already!

So, Kevin Rudd is a control freak. Oh my! That US ambassador guy really noticed something there.

Memory lane time:

Mind you, it seems Beazley and Rudd after him were much less diplomatic about some future China threat than Howard and Downer — a bit of a surprise that. See the ongoing WikiLeaks collection by Irfan Yusuf: MEDIA: WikiLeaks hysteria … Hysteria? Well things like “Assange has threatened America with the cyber equivalent of thermonuclear war.” I do doubt that.

Heaps of posts out there on the subject. Like Jim Belshaw I do wonder about the man: Musings on blogging & the Assange case and Mr Assange’s ego.

But I really do think we are being treated to too much information. How can we really assess its significance, amusing as much of it may well be? The real moral: don’t trust technology so much, America, especially when millions of people apparently have the keys to the cookie cupboard.

Far more useful: My friend, the terrorist. Noor Huda Ismail on Slow TV.

Spotted three thought provokers this morning

1. On Indonesia

Rob Bainton reports something that does not instantly come to mind when one thinks “Indonesia”. Looks as if we need to think again.

Indonesia sent a rather accomplished team of secondary students to Zagreb, Croatia, to participate in the 41st Physics Olympiad. The team: Christian George Emor from North Sulawesi, David Giovanni from Tangerang, Banten, Kevin Soedyatmiko from Jakarta, Muhammad Sohibul Maromi from East Java, and Ahmad Ataka Awwalur Rizqi from Yogyakarta took the competition by storm and scooped four gold medals and a silver medal. Awesome effort considering there were 376 participants from 82 countries!

In a country that is knocking on the door of 250 million people the odds must be in favour of there being a good number of incredibly gifted people living in the midst of that burgeoning sprawl of humanity. This goes to show that some of them have been uncovered…

2. On marriage, gay or otherwise.

Read this article, keeping your irony detector turned on.

In recent decades, the issue of gay marriage has been widely debated.  Should two men in a committed relationship enjoy the same benefits as a man and a woman in the same domestic arrangement?  If it were simply an issue of basic human rights and equality, then the answer is clear – gays and lesbians are human, so human rights should apply.  But gay marriage violates tradition, and tradition is important to many people. 

Traditions are part of our history, part of our culture, and part of who we are.  The degree to which we suffer to maintain traditions reflects their great importance.  Maintaining tradition has been worth the pain of genital mutilation, ceremonial scarring, and foot binding.  Nevertheless, traditional practices have been disappearing steadily.  For example, in many places, women are now considered full persons.  They’re allowed to work outside the home, to wear pants, and to vote.  For those who value tradition, this is a trend that must stop. 

One might argue that traditional practices should be abandoned when they no longer make sense.  But as French mathematician Blaise Pascal recognized, the heart has its reasons that reason doesn’t understand.  Some things are simply more important than reason, and for many, tradition is one of them…

3. On Africa

Tolu Ogunlesi writes of 5 things we didn’t know about Africa.

…Ledgard goes on to declare: “We are all Africans. We originated in Africa. That is proved by the continent’s rich genetic inheritance. Africans are more diverse than the rest of humanity put together, because they are drawn from the pool of humans who did not leave…”

Africa is indeed the world’s past. In its darkest recesses lies overwhelming shame – the shame of slavery, of colonialism, of neocolonialism –  fuelling the guilt of the world.

But Africa is also the future. Ask China. (PDF)

Ask Europe in a few decades, when its streets will teem with pensioners, beneath whose combined weight economies will totter; when it’d be easier to find a mosquito in Germany, than a teenage German.

55 percent of the world’s cobalt is in Africa, as are 15 percent of the world’s arable land, 16 percent of its gold, 89 percent of its platinum, and a sixth of its population. Add China and India and Western Europe, the resulting landmass would still be smaller than Africa.

There is an invasion of fibre-optic cabling across huge swatches of the continent, that is certain to smash much of the invisible ceiling that has kept Africa on the ground floor while the world inches towards the penthouse.

It is a fact that it is now much harder than ever before to be a dictator on the continent. Vicious wars have ended in Liberia and Sierra Leone and Angola.

Africa, the scar of yesterday (In 2001 Tony Blair called the African situation “a scar on the conscience of the world”) is also the potential star of tomorrow. It is where the guilt of the world will be assuaged.