By putting Zaky Mallah to air the ABC made a category mistake. They categorised an existential threat to Australia as being just an ideological disagreement.
They are not the only ones making category mistakes about terrorism and terrorist organisations, and until we sort them out our response to Islamic State, and it’s certain successors, will be ineffective.
IS is not, as the Prime Minister claims, a “death cult”. It is a quasi-state actor using an historically successful method, to build a real state, if not an empire, in Asia Minor.
For millenia bands of unprincipled men have become kings and emperors and their nobles, by brutalising their neighbours. In the first degree they do it by seizing land, raping women, and killing all the men. In the second degree they use terror and standover tactics to extort obedience and taxes without the need for genocide and direct theft.
Our upper house is named the Senate, after the upper house of the Roman legislature. When it comes to barbarism and theft IS cannot hold a candle to the Romans, yet it is from the Romans that we take much of our civilisation.
Rome shows how successful the method can be.
IS needs to be treated as the equivalent of a state, and its adherents as allies or members of a foreign power.
That moves Mallah from the status of dissident or criminal to enemy combatant at best, and traitor at worst. In this case his right to free speech is, and should be, severely curtailed.
While it is generally reasonable to represent all sides in a domestic political debate, that does not apply when the spokesman stands for a foreign power.
If it were WWII would the ABC consider it reasonable to do live crosses to the Japanese High Command to correct the record, or get the other side of the story?
In today’s confused world they just might.
It’s not that long ago that Paul McGeough from the SMH allowed himself to be used by Saddam Hussein, broadcasting live from Iraq during Operation Shock and Awe.
I was always surprised that his career survived his infamous broadcast when he claimed from Baghdad Airport that the US was lying because they weren’t at the airport.
So we’ve been making these category mistakes for a while and it’s about time they stopped. Certainly heads should roll at the ABC in a display, less brutal than IS, that this is war, and you really do have to decide which side you are on.
Originally published on Ambit Gambit June 25 2015