Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

In Australia, after bin Laden

COMMENTARY | May 03, 2011

A generally low-key reaction to the jihadist's death. And, as in the U.S., a push in some quarters for more dialogue on pulling out of Afghanistan -- but not among the nation's top leaders. Aussies make up the largest non-NATO contingent in Afghanistan, about 1,500 troops.

By William Claiborne

The televised images of Americans exuberantly celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden at New York City’s Ground Zero struck a poignant chord for this transplanted American, who has lived in far away Australia for a decade. I was born in New York and grew up in and around that great city, so I felt as one with the wildly cheering celebrants. However, for understandable reasons, the scenes have not been replicated here in Australia, which for years has been called “the Lucky Country.”

That is not to say that Australians were unmoved by the news of Bin Laden’s demise.  But their reactions have been far more subdued and have carried far fewer undertones of strident patriotism for reasons that stem partly from the antipodes’ vast distance from New York and Washington and, relatively speaking, the far less victimization it has felt from al-Qaeda’s evil intents. Also contributing to the low-key reaction is a gradually growing ambivalence toward Australia’s nearly decade-long involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

Moreover, there has never been a jihadist attack on Australian soil, and while 10 Australians perished in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, there were 2,742 people of other nationalities—most of them Americans—who died in that attack.

Eighty-eight Australians were killed in an attack on a nightclub in Bali’s Kuta Beach on Oct. 12, 2002, and four more died in a similar bombing in Bali on Oct. 1, 2005. But doubts have lingered over whether al-Qaeda was involved in either of those attacks, which authorities attributed to the home-grown Indonesian group Jema’ah Islamiyah.

The closest Australia has come to a jihadist attack on home soil was a plot between 2004 and 2005 by five Australian Muslims who last year were sentenced to terms of up to 28 years in prison after being convicted of stockpiling weapons and chemicals intended for bombs.

A disconnect with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda was best expressed by Randal Lee, whose two brothers and a sister-in-law were killed in the 2002 Bali bombing. Speaking on Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio, Lee said he thought the world is a better place without Bin Laden.  But, he added, “The emotions aren’t as raw with someone like (Bin Laden) obviously. He was sort of a step removed in regards to Bali.”

Paul Gyulavary, whose twin brother, Peter, was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, said on ABC News that while a symbol of terrorism had been removed during the U.S. commando raid in Pakistan, Bin Laden’s death could escalate jihadist attacks. “I do understand why Americans are celebrating and rejoicing, but I’m not sure how I feel,” Gyulavary said.

There was no such ambiguity, however, from either Australia’s Labor Party Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, or the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, who in an uncharacteristic display of bipartisanship reiterated Australia’s commitment of military support in Afghanistan.

Gillard said on Monday, “Whilst al-Qaeda has been hurt today, al-Qaeda is not finished. Our war against terrorism must continue. We will continue the mission in Afghanistan.” Abbot, leader of the conservative Liberal Party, said the death of Bin Laden vindicated  Australia’s support for the coalition forces in Afghanistan and “provides grounds for optimism that the U.S. and its allies, including Australia, are making important progress” against jihadists.

However, Sen. Bob Brown, leader of the Green Party who holds a pivotal vote in the Senate, said that while there would be few tears shed over Bin Laden’s death, “It is an opportunity to get our troops safely home” from Afghanistan. With about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, Australia is the largest non-NATO military contributor to the war against the Taliban, and since 2001 23 Australian soldiers have been killed and 168 wounded in the conflict.
Since a recent spike in fatalities in Afghanistan, some politicians and the media have become increasingly vocal about the military commitment. The Greens, as a condition of joining the new coalition government formed by the Labor Party after last year’s inconclusive parliamentary elections, insisted on a full House of Representatives debate on the question of pulling Australian troops out of Afghanistan. It has not been held yet.
Andrew Wilkie, an independent member of parliament who holds a pivotal vote in Gillard’s fragile coalition in the House of Representatives, also is an outspoken opponent of the Australian military role in Afghanistan. Prior to the killing of Bin Laden, Wilkie had declared, “Both the Labor Party members and (conservative) coalition members continue to perpetuate this nonsense that we are only (in Afghanistan) to fight terrorists to prevent them coming to Australia.”

Surveys show that support for Australian involvement in Afghanistan is shrinking. A nationwide poll released by Essential Research in August found that 60 percent of respondents want Australia out of the war, compared to 25 percent who think the commitment should be maintained. This contrasts with a poll in October 2009, when Australian war deaths stood at half the current level. Then only 51 per cent of respondents surveyed opposed involvement, against 46 per cent supporters.


Little to Celebrate
Posted by Patrick Henrie
05/04/2011, 01:37 PM

"I do understand why Americans are celebrating and rejoicing, but I’m not sure how I feel,” Gyulavary said."

There isn't much celebration in the States as bin Laden is only dimly linked to terror these days and not to 9/11 (except at Langley.) Like all war, and assassination, it is ugly and unrewarding - it provides fetid ground for man's most regressive behavior, as Rolling Stone's sickening report shows us:
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-kill ...

Submit your comment
Your Name
(2500 characters left.)
  Leave this field empty
The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.