The war without end?

Another awful week in the war on terror. The anniversary of the London bombings was quickly followed by another terrible attack on random commuters in Mumbai, and then Israel yet again made the somewhat mistaken assumption that a massive overreaction in Lebanon would somehow reduce its risk of terrorism. As ever, Australia seems a long way away from it, but as ever, we can’t help but reflect on whether Mumbai/London/Madrid could happen here.

Of course it could. And probably will. The sting in the tail of that SMH article is that yet another expert has agreed that John Howard’s policies have made us more susceptible to terrorism. Like “Iraq is a complete disaster with no end in sight,” It’s a point so obvious that it would be hardly worth repeating if our government hadn’t refused to acknowledge it.

Israel is now effectively at war with Lebanon, having bombed the airport and imposed a blockade. Do they really think that bombing Hezbollah is going to prevent, rather than increase, terrorist attacks against Israeli troops? And of course, the flow-on effects will be that more young Muslims hate Israel, and its Western allies, so our own streets become unsafe as well. Like the bombing of Baghdad, these kinds of victories are inevitably Pyrrhic.

The bottom line is that if someone is willing to blow themselves up, there’s not much you can do about it. And while we can certainly try to make our train system as safe as possible, with pop-out roofs and windows that lessen the impact of a blast, there’s only so much you can do. It’s kind of like arguing over what size baseball mitt you need to catch a meteorite.

Put it this way – if the Israelis, with all their vast experience, can’t stop terrorist bombings, then Sydney hasn’t got much of a chance. The only way of genuinely preventing train bombings is to scan every single person entering the network, which is what London’s been experimenting with. But how on earth would that work in Sydney, with its network stretching far out into the suburbs, with many stations unstaffed; or at best staffed by one person?

So what can we do? Stop catching the train? Hardly. And removing rubbish bins in stations is only going to do so much – both the London and Mumbai bombers used backpacks. The only truly effective counter-measures that can prevent terrorism in Sydney lie in effective surveillance and intelligence-gathering efforts, like the raid at the end of last year. Or hoping that we’re so far down Al Qaeda’s list that Osama bin Laden can’t be bothered with us.

The real challenge is to minimise extremism. We need to make sure that clerics preaching hate can’t recruit followers in Sydney. And that’s not just about deporting inflammatory preachers, but it’s about winning the battle for the minds of young people who, under other circumstances, would be willing to die for the cause. That’s much harder than redesigning our train network.

Sorry for this somewhat depressing Friday post – it’s supposed to be lighter-side-of day, right? – but it’s hard to feel upbeat in light of what’s been in the news this week. I don’t think even tomorrow’s Paris Hilton interview (so helpfully plugged in this “story“) will cheer me up.

Ah, yeah it will. At least until the next bombing. Did you read she’s given up sex for a year? I’m predicting three weeks. But why wouldn’t you be fascinated by trashy celebrities when the other news is like this?

Dominic Knight

Photo: Reuters

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