by Harry Throssell

Non-violence is a weapon of the strong
- Mohandas K. Gandhi

The moving documentary film Promises consists of conversations with Palestinian and Israeli children aged 9-13 years during1997-2000, a relatively quiet time in the deadly Middle East struggle. The children talk with young American journalist B.Z.Goldberg, who was raised in Jerusalem, speaks both Hebrew and Arabic, and is committed to reconciliation.

Both sets of children show deep animosity towards the enemy and justify their hatred by quoting the scriptures. 'BZ' tells each side their opponents can also justify their hatred. Some children express interest in the others' lives, eventually a Palestine boy phones two Israeli brothers on BZ's mobile phone, and the outcome is a day spent by the Israelis at the Palestine family's home, with BZ easing communications.

After warily getting to know each other the kids do what kids do - play indoor games, football, 'hunt' with catapults, before a final meal and talk. This ends in tears all round - including BZ and at least one member of the cinema audience - as they express pleasure in making new friends but sadness at the difficulty of continuing to meet, especially with BZ returning to America. The glimmmer of hope came as the youngsters saw their 'enemies' as people they would prefer as friends. The tragedy was this meeting turned out to be the only one.

An even greater tragedy was to see how children had been conditioned to hate people not because they know and disagree with them but because they belong to a whole group of 'others' defined by adult society as bad - as good a definition of racism as any. The absurdity of 'ordinary' people with much in common killing each other is striking.

Currently, military violence, of increasing severity, remains a dominant means of 'solving' conflicts round the world, but while the hardware is highly sophisticated the thinking is as primitive as ever - "kill them before they kill us". There are many countries, including Somalia, the Solomon Islands, Chechnya, where there is virtually no government, only warfare between well-armed gangs. Hatred of others, often irrational, begets violence which begets violence, producing - surprise surprise - huge profits for arms manufacturers.

Who bears the brunt of armed conflict? Rarely politicians who make the decisions, nor owners of capital who profit from more land, more oil, more trade. Economist Kenneth Galbraith pointed out that in the Vietnam tragedy Americans from poorer backgrounds were much more likely to be fighting for their lives than the more affluent, while Martin Luther King opposed the war when he realised most American victims were black To say nothing of Vietnamese peasants bombed and agent-oranged on their own land.

In recent wars the military have been less at risk than civilians. The World Bank reports 'More wars are now civil. During 1987-1997 more than 85 per cent of conflicts were fought within national borders…90 per cent of war deaths are not military. Nor are children exempt, for they are often recruited to fight. Wars cripple economies by destroying physical, human, and social capital…diverting public spending from productive activities, and driving highly skilled workers to emigrate'. A recent editorial in New Scientist reads 'Even as you read this, people are dying in at least 25 major conflicts, most of them in the poorest countries of Africa and Asia. In the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, 2.5 million people have been killed since 1998. That's thousands of people a day'. Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, locations of recent wars, have for a long time registered as two of the very poorest countries in the world.

In some close relationships there is a psychological mechanism by which the beam in your own eye is ignored while the mote in another's is attacked, producing such horrors as domestic violence. Psychoanalyst Ronald Laing described it as 'living vicariously by living through the lives of others'. For example, Alan may not recognise an internal demon such as a sense of inferiority, so remains unaware it's this that creates frustration and anger. In attempts to deal with it, perhaps after a few drinks have loosened emotional control, he projects the demon on to his partner Betty and then uses her as a verbal or physical punch-bag to let off steam and somehow 'prove' it is not he who has any problems. Betty, also, may have 'chosen' Alan to gratify (again unrecognised) needs of her own, which helps lock them both in a deeply emotional process. This doesn't justify the bashing as it would be braver and healthier for each to find ways of laying their own internal demons to rest instead of shifting them outwards - "it's all your fault" - and without this they may both serially select new partners with whom they share the same destructive mechanism.

On a larger scale, seeing 'badness' or demons in some other group in order to preserve the position and respectability of your own is as old as the hills. Through the ages people unwanted by a dominant class or powerful individual, because they are regarded as politically dangerous or personally embarrassing, have been rejected from society by the process of attaching stigmatising labels - 'loony', 'simpleton', 'crim', 'red', 'commo', 'tart', 'un-Australian' - and allocating them to appropriate sin-bins. It's then OK to deprive, neglect, insult them, both as personal punishment and as warnings to others to conform. The history of psychiatry is full of examples of 'medical' diagnoses, often legally binding, which are essentially about social control. Political dissidents in the Soviet Union were incarcerated in 'psychiatric hospitals'. A servant girl in the early 20th century would get a diagnostic label different from that of a rich girl for the same behaviour: one would be locked away in an asylum, the other would see a psychoanalyst. Even in the 1960s teenage Queensland girls, mostly working class and usually sexually active, were labelled 'in need of care and control' and confined in a barbed-wire fenced compound under the supervision of a male psychiatrist.

Stigmatising and punishment of whole groups was taken to the extreme by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Workers' Party (Nazis) in the 1930s and 40s. Adolf's irrational bid was to solve economic and social problems through 'creating a super-race by selective breeding and the elimination of the unfit' (Eric Hobsbawm), without distractions like democracy and human rights. Jobs, education, training, healthy pastimes were provided for the 'pure' race, while the rejected - Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, the disabled - were seen as Untermensch ('less than human') to boost the self-image of the chosen people, and considered worthy only of humiliation, torture, experimentation and ultimately death by starvation, murder, genocide. A Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust described how it became clear he was "no longer considered a human being" when he was crammed into an overcrowded railway cattle truck without food, water or toilet facilities. Nazi soldiers were allowed to shoot Untermensch on sight for any slight misdemeanour.

Demonising baddies to keep them at the mercy of the goodies has a very long history. In Christian versus non-Christian stoushes around the year 1000, 'producing better cohesion and fighting spirit involved defining who the true Christians were, a process assisted by saying who they were not', writes history professor Robert Thurston. 'Any campaign to bolster solidarity can benefit from the notion that a vast anti-human conspiracy is operating within the community'. [My italics]. In pursuit of this theory heretics were executed, Jews slaughtered, homosexual acts punished by death, lepers lost all legal rights. 'The Devil was increasingly linked to the new enemies within and without…Satan's presence answered both political and psychological needs in a time of acute danger'. Later, in the 16th and 17th centuries thousands of unwanted women were slaughtered, once it was 'proved' they were 'witches' by the use of bizarre diagnostic tools, for being 'in league with the Devil'.

Racial discrimination has been explained as the projection of 'badness' by one set of people on to another group in order to justify social distance, taking land or using them as slaves, made easier when the groups have noticeable differences like skin colour or shape of eye, lifestyle, political or military power. Academic Cassi Plate argues there has been a pattern of rejection in Australia, linking the oppression of Aborigines since original colonisation, the White Australia policy cemented in law in the 20th century, and the current rejection of asylum seekers.

In today's world, the most potent demonising label to define the new Untermensch is 'terrorist'. It is pinned on a person dominant authorities want to take out of circulation on the grounds s/he has carried out violent acts, seems to be planning them, might do so in the future, or might have known some such person.

But there are already laws against violence, while the fear caused by the 'war on terrorism' is used, along with simple notions of patriotism, nationalism, 'border protection' and other tribal instincts, to persuade 'ordinary' people to be prepared to destroy other ordinary people. It is a convenient device to bolster national self-image and oppose political or economic competitors, replacing, for the USA and its allies, communism and the Soviet Union. US President George W. Bush's definition 'Those not with us are against us' is parallel to defining Christians and non-Christians in the Middle Ages, and recalls the McCarthyite 'reds under the beds' paranoia of the 1950s. It has become common to observe 'When these people are on our side we call them heroes and martyrs; when they are not, we label them terrorists'.

Commenting on the 'demonising and thought-deadening power' of the word 'terrorism', international lawyer John Whitbeck regards the label as itself a great threat to world peace. 'The word itself is dangerous because many people apply it to whatever they hate as a way of avoiding and discouraging and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral behaviour…"terrorism" is fundamentally…a term of abuse…with the US relying on the word to assert an absolute right to attack any country it dislikes, (so) many people around the world feel a sense of terror'.

Harvard lecturer Jessica Stern defines terrorism as 'deliberately targeting non-combatants with the aim of instilling fear'. According to this definition, terrorism has been carried out as much by governments as non-state forces in the past half-century. Stern quotes the US's dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as 'terrorising the Japanese population (in) a very deliberate strategy'. US involvement in the overthrow of Chile's elected President Salvador Allende in 1973 is another version of state terrorism.

The label has quickly spread, both geographically and in meaning. In February the European Union president presented to the EU Working Party on Terrorism a draft decision calling for exchange of information about protesters between law enforcement and intelligence agencies 'to protect EU summits and other international meetings'. Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan commented: 'To link protest groups to terrorism under the EU Framework Decision defining terrorism confirms the worst fears of civil society…Protest groups are not terrorist organisations. There is no evidence whatsoever that groups protesting, for example, against the effects of globalisation, have any links with real terrorist groups'.

Even governments of smaller powers, often with poor records on human rights, are eradicating opposition by calling it 'terrorist', sometimes thereby gaining economic support from the rich world, especially when the latter is given access to oil or strategic military position.

Natalie Nougayrede described the horrific situation in Chechnya. 'Every day men are arrested, taken away and vanish without trace…bodies of men are found tortured, mutilated or blown apart by explosives. They are not always identifiable…The remains of a young man who had been blown up by explosives had been gathered together…"Just you wait", said a women from that district, "in the course of the day, the Russians will announce that a terrorist blew himself up…That's how they disguise their crimes…They dragged the young man here, tied explosives to his body, and blew him up"…That evening the Russian state television channel, ORT, did not refer to the young dead man. However, it announced that "two acts of terrorism were committed in Grozny" '. Nougayrede quoted other examples of young 'terrorists' having explosives tied to their bodies and exploded. 'Why? "To terrorise us", said a young Chechen, "In their eyes a Chechen is not a human being, he's a dog you kill and throw on the rubbish dump" '. In other words Untermensch. In 1989 there were one million Chechens, now there are 400,000, with some 150,000 killed since October 1999.

In Uzbekistan's 'war against terrorism' Marcel Theroux found people are executed, or imprisoned for as long as 15 years, for 'terrorist' actions such as attending religious meetings or handing out leaflets. A human rights activist published a book called Human Rights in Uzbekistan consisting of blank pages, while Amnesty International said there is no longer any terrorism, only repression.

In Australia casualties of the federal government's proposed 'war on terrorism' legislation seem likely to include long-held and cherished fundamental human rights. Government thinking is revealed in six 'anti-terrorism' Bills to come before parliament in the session beginning mid-June 2002. While some changes are certain, having already been negotiated or strongly recommended by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Parliamentary Committee, Federal Government philosophy is revealed by the wording of the original Bills. Sections include:

· A terrorist act defined as an action or threat intended to advance a political, religious or ideological cause involving serious harm to person or property. The onus on an accused person to prove innocence, the punishment life imprisonment.

· ASIO to have the power to detain a person of any age [my italics], without notifying family, lawyer, employer, or friend, with access only to ASIO officials and police officers.

· Detention on a 48-hour warrant, which could be preceded by a period of days or weeks in custody, and which can be renewed for further periods of 48 hours.

· ASIO and the police to have power to strip-search detainees over age 10 if approved and with certain safeguards.

· Detainees would not have to be suspected of terrorism themselves, only of having relevant information, which could include journalists, politicians, human rights workers. People could be questioned because of activities of a family friend or a group of which they were once members.

· Failure to give information, lie or refuse to hand something over during investigation could result in five years imprisonment.

· The Attorney-General could ban an organisation considered to have committed terrorist acts or endangered the security of the Commonwealth or other country [my italics].

· Intelligence agencies to be able to intercept private email, voice mail and SMS messages without obtaining an intercept warrant.

· The Government able to freeze the assets of bodies supporting organisations on the UN Security Council's list of terrorist entities

One proposed change is to have the new terrorism legislation in force for only three years, but some fear that once freedom of speech and association are lost they could be difficult to regain. The Australian Civil Liberties Union and the Greens Party believe there are sufficient laws already in place, as does social justice activist Joan Coxsedge who also wrote 'these proposals constitute the most dangerous legislation ever to come before an Australian parliament…this nation is being pushed towards becoming a fully-fledged police state'. The ALP has signalled it is opposed to any form of proscription of an organisation. Amnesty International's Nicole Bieske wrote antiglobalisation protesters could find their activities fall within the proposed definition.. Law professor George Williams: "initially I thought it was some sort of hoax (because) this legislation contains the essential apparatus of a police state". Rodney Lewis of the International Commission of Jurists: "the legislation overthrew a core democratic principle in existence since 1629". I.C.J. Council chairman Steve Mark: "it obliterates the building blocks of the very basis on which we live".

The end result of this legislation could be the creation of more groups of Untermensch who are entirely innocent but tarred by the brush of suspicion and therefore to be avoided or dumped. Once a derogatory label is applied it tends to stick.

Referring to George W. Bush's 'axis of evil' theme, Thurston asks 'Is it possible that… Western governments would recreate something akin to the ghettos and restrictions of the High Middle Ages but with a new target? Evil for evil's sake, the Devil's motive, is already identified regularly in our culture'. The supreme paradox of the 'war on terrorism' is that it purports to defend the very freedoms it seems bent on destroying.

On Nurse Edith Cavell's statue in London are inscribed some of her final words before she was executed in 1915 for alleged spying and helping troops escape slaughter: 'Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone'.


Sources 1. M.K.Gandhi, Non-violent resistance (Satyagraha), Phoenix Press 1949.
2. Promises, by Justine Shapiro, B.Z.Goldberg, & Carlos Bolado returns to the Schonell Theatre, Queensland University, Brisbane, in August 2002.
3. Juliana Ruhfus, The Last Haven, The Unreported World, SBS 16 May 2002.
4. Liz Jackson, Guns and Money, Four Corners, ABC TV, 20 May 2002.
5. AFP, Solomon Islands massacre rumours, The Australian, 14 June 2002.
6. J.K.Galbraith, The Culture of Contentment, Penguin 1992.
7. John Shelby Spong, Here I Stand, HarperCollins 2000.
8. World Bank, World Development Report 2000 / 2001, Attacking Poverty, Oxford UP 2000.
9. Editorial, Making sense of a world in conflict, New Scientist, 11 May 2002.
10. All for the love of God, New Scientist 11 May 2002.
11 St Matthew, Ch 7, Verse 5, 'First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye'.
12. R.D.Laing, Self and Others, Pelican Books 1961.
13. Thomas Szasz, The Manufacture of Madness, Harper & Row 1970.
14. Erving Goffman, Stigma, Penguin Books 1963.
15. Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes, Michael Joseph 1994.
16. Eugen Weber, A Modern History of Europe, WW Norton 1971.
17. Rick Holz (former German soldier), Too Young to be a Hero, Harper Collins 2000.
18. SBS TV, Hitler's Holocaust, 24, 28, 31 January 2002.
19. Robert W. Thurston, The Spawning of Satan, BBC History Magazine May 2002.
20. Anthony H. Richmond, The Color Problem, Pelican Books 1955.
21. Veronica Brady, Caught in the Draught, Angus & Robertson 1994.
22 Cassi Plate, Millennial Fever, Federation and Nationalism: White Australia's Fear of Aliens Within and Without, Ockham's Razor, ABC Radio National, 10 March 2002,
23. Colin Tudge, Natural Born Killers, New Scientist, 11 May 2002.
24. John Whitbeck, A new terrorism danger emerges, Los Angeles Times / The Age 18 March 2002.
25. Jessica Stern, The Ultimate Terrorists, Harvard University Press 1999, quoted in Todd S. Purdum, What do you mean, 'Terrorist'? New York Times 7 April 2002 / Social Justice Monitor, April 2002,
26. Christopher Hitchens , The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Verso, London & NY 2001. Phillip Adams, Uncle Sam, he'll slay ya, The Weekend Australian, 8-9 June 2002
27. Tony Bunyan, EU Presidency presents draft Council Decision to target protestors as "terrorists", Statewatch News Online, 15 Feb 2002, reported in Social Justice Monitor March 2002.
28. Natalie Nougayrede, Grozny mourns for its disappeared, Le Monde / The Guardian Weekly, 9-15 May 2002.
29. Marcel Theroux, The Unreported World, SBS TV, 9 May 2002.
30. For ASIO Terrorism Bills go to then Library - Legislation
- Current bills by title - Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002.
31. For summary of Terrorism Bills, discussion and recommendations of Parliamentary Inquiry Committee, see Margo Kingston, ASIO: Right beats might, again! at
32. Cynthia Banham, Williams's ASIO laws 'an erosion of civil liberties', Sydney Morning Herald 6 June 2002.
33. Nicole Bieske, Australia, human rights and the proposed anti-terrorist legislation, The Human Rights Defender, Amnesty International February-March 2002.
34. The UN Security Council's list of terrorist entities includes the Basque group ETA, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eclam, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the National Liberation Army of Colombia, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
35. W.F.Deedes, My Hero Edith Cavell, BBC History Magazine, May 2002.
Harry Throssell,
11 June 2002.
The author is a former child welfare officer, psychiatric social worker, university lecturer, and newspaper journalist. The Levellers Essays on social justice issues, directed to the general public rather than specialist groups, are freely available for copying, distribution or publication, and are collected on website