19 June 2007

Raimond Gaita attacked (and defended)

The Weekend Australian published a letter from Raimond Gaita "to protest its often distorted accounts of what Robert Manne had written, usually in other publications".

Gaita affirms that he and Manne are friends (and anyone who has read Romulus, My Father would know the value Gaita places on friendship), and continues

Manne has never supported intentional attacks on civilians, by suicide bombings or by any other means. Nor has he justified suicide attacks on coalition troops in Iraq. He claimed only that such attacks are not surprising, that the people who gave up their lives in those attacks were ``fanatically brave’’, that they should not be called terrorists and that ``Western moralising about the cowardly terrorism of such people’’ was hypocritical. Apart from that last claim, nothing Manne said strikes me as even seriously contentious. But even the addition of that last controversial (though I think true) claim won’t justify the suggestion that he supports terrorism in Iraq.

This provoked several strong responses among letter writers in yesterday's Australian , including this succinct one from John K Layton of Holt ACT :

Despite Raimond Gaita’s attempt to paper over Robert Manne’s remarks, they stand as a morale booster for terrorists.

Today the discussion continued with a letter from Todd Jorgensen of St Leonards NSW supporting Gaita's position in which he says:

Gaita spoke of those attacking coalition troops, think what we may of this action but it does not constitute terrorism. Nor was support or praise voiced for these militants by either Gaita or Manne, each merely highlighted the hypocrisy of us calling such bombers ``cowardly’’. This strikes me as a neutral statement, but in the hy[s]teria of patriotism even this appears taboo.

Too often simplistic slogans and labels are used in lieu of more reasoned and detailed arguments. While readers (and writers) of headlines and letters to the editor as well as, on occasion, bloggers and their commenters may feel that they can make their points effectively by keeping them simple, writers and thinkers like Gaita remind us that there is a deeper dimension to many issues. Terrorism is one of these, and while I don't agree with the extent to which Gaita distinguishes suicide attacks from terrorist acts, he certainly makes me think harder about this and other matters.

Update 21 June

On Wednesday The Australian published a further letter from Raimond Gaita which, given that he complains about his first letter being cut, deserves to be read in full.

All my intellectual life I have argued that no cause can justify the intentional killing of civilians. Now, along with Robert Manne, I am accused by Lew Bretz, Chris Oliver and John K. Layton (Letters, 18/6) of justifying or whitewashing terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, Bali and presumably elsewhere, in Tel Aviv, for example.

All this without one shred of evidence that I have ever written anything that could reasonably even be misinterpreted as this. I’m also accused, with Manne, of being partial to euphemisms that would hide the real character of terrorist attacks against civilians by calling them the acts of freedom fighters, for example. Well, some terrorists are also freedom fighters. It has always been muddled to think they could be only one or the other. But I have always held that terrorist attacks against civilians in the prosecution of the fight for freedom (when it is that) is an evil.

The Australian started all this off by asking rhetorically whether Manne would call ``terrorists those suicide bombers who later take the lives of children and UN staff’’. No one should have even the slightest doubt that he would, just as I would. Neither of us, however, would call a suicide bombing a terrorist act if it was directed solely at a military target. I made this point in my previous letter (Letters 16-17/6), but the letters editor cut that section, leaving me open to just the kind of accusations, as nasty as they are foolish, vented by Bretz, Oliver and Layton. Given that Manne and I have, all our adult lives, spoken against the evil that we are now accused of defending, I would ask again, as I did in my previous letter, for an apology from The Australian, but now to me as well as to Manne.

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