Tim Blair


New Criterion



Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Thanks to John Martinkus, kidnaped in Baghdad while freelancing for SBS television, Auntie has a new word for terrorists in Iraq. They are now "nationalists" or "nationalist insurgents". The expressions were used both on ABC news and Radio National Breakfast today, so we can assume ABC policy stands behind them.

What interesting political thinkers work for Auntie!

When does an 'insurgent' become a 'nationalist insurgent'?

We know from well-established Auntie practice that what you and I might call a 'terrorist' is, in Auntie lingo, an 'insurgent'. That is, someone who chooses to use violence against innocents, civilians not organised for military action, as a means of advancing, or at least publicising, his cause - a serviceable definition of a terrorist in my view - should be called a kind of rebel, for that is what the word insurgent means, according to my OED.

This might have seemed satisfactory to the left during the time of direct US rule of Iraq, since some at least of the 'insurgents' were Iraqis and their targets were Coalition forces, or those working with Coalition forces, or collateral damage. Let's not bother here with questions like, what constituency's interests does the 'insurgent' violence serve, since it would be hard to prove that a majority of Iraqis would not be worse off if the 'insurgents'' achieved their goals.

But clearly foreigners like Zarqawi the throat-cutter can not be labelled 'insurgents' since they have no claim to have a say in the way Iraq should be governed. The government against which they might be said to be rebelling is not their government, and no substitute for it would be either.

In any case, Zarqawi has made it clear that he owes allegiance to bin Laden, and his doctrines define Shia and Sunni alike as apostates to Islam and therefore equally liable to slaughtering.

From early reports it appears that Martinkus's kidnapers were Iraqis. They are described as 'former members of the Iraqi army', a title that could be given to a large proportion of the adult male population of Iraq. So perhaps here we have some genuine 'insurgents'.

But why are they 'nationalists'? They are opposing an indigenous Iraqi government working under a pro-tem constitution drafted by Iraqis, and both the consitution and government are subject to popular election in three months time. How can they be more nationalist than the interim Iraqi government, or any other Iraqi for that matter?

It is true that the interim Iraqi government relies on US power for its survival, as did the post WWII German and Japanese governments. It seems likely that nationalism is the least of the factors motivating the Martinkus kidnapers. Are they Baathist? Sunnis against Shia control? Shia against sharing power with Sunni?

We can't blame Martinkus for not exploring the politics of his captors. A gun to the head concentrates the mind, but not on the intricacies of Iraqi politics.

Surely the most reasonable answer in the circumstances is to define the kidnapers by their methods - the killing of innocent people for political purposes. That is, terrorists.

Or does Auntie believe that killing only Americans and people working for them promotes a terrorist to the ranks of Garibaldi, George Washington and Alfred Deakin? Perhaps old Biffer Balding will provide for us shareholders some information on the way his staff have come to their remarkable conclusions. I'm sure it would be informative, at least about the nature of Auntie's politics, if not about the nature of nationalism.