No Dancing with the Devil

Some rather foolish people are suggesting that Australia should ‘negotiate’ with the rag-tag terrorist outfit Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). I would not normally comment on such a suggestion, but 29% of SMH readers seem to think it is a good idea. It should of course be dismissed out of hand.

The first point I want to make is that Jemaah Islamiya are murdering criminals, and should be subject to prosecution, not ‘rewarded’ for their effort by being treated as anywhere near the sort of entity that should be negotiated with.

Secondly, dealing with them is properly the prerogative of the Indonesian government. I think that the likes of Brian Deegan plainly do not understand what is going on, or are making mischief. (Remember, Mr Deegan is running for parliament).

Mr Deegan’s remarks in the Sydney Morning Herald missed the point:

But Mr Deegan said the Bali blasts were directly linked to Iraq and called on the government to rethink its foreign policies.

“By that time (when the Bali blasts occurred), Australia had made it abundantly clear, through Mr Howard, that Australia was part of the coalition of the willing,” he said.

“The Bali bombings were a protest of western countries aligning themselves with the US against Iraq.

“The government must reconsider its foreign policies.

“It needs to rethink its policies on whether or not it accepts its role as, perhaps, a mediator in the Asian region.”

Mr Deegan denied negotiating with JI was akin to giving in to terrorism.

“This is not an organisation run by rabbits,” he said.

“This is a well-informed organisation, a political organisation, that’s run by very intelligent people.

“They’re not out to convince our country to become religious, although I do accept they are trying to convince Indonesia.

“They are fighting us because of our policies of improperly entering other countries.”

It seems to me that Mr Deegan is far too willing to give credit to JI. And he plainly misrepresents what they are about – the release from custody of Abu Bakar Bashir is at the top of the terrorists agenda.

Mr Deegan is also wilfully blind to the fact that the “Improper Entry” into other countries that JI is concerned about is of course Australia’s role in East Timor. Regardless of what your opinions were on that adventure into dynamic foreign policy is, it is done now.

But imagine if we heeded the counsels of the Deegans of this world – do we fail to do anything in this world that might upset terrorists? That is like saying that we should do absolutely nothing in the Sudan because it might upset terrorists. What about things like the Free-trade agreement with the US. Regardless of the actual merits of the deal, should we check with the terrorists before we sign it?

Of course not, but, if Mr Deegan’s advice should be heeded, that is indeed the signal that would be sent. It would set a ‘price’ on Australian foreign policy which is hardly befitting any sovereign nation.

It is hard for Mr Deegan, who lost a son to the criminals of JI. It is not fair, but we do not live in a fair world, either. We must do the best we can with what life deals us, and that applies to nations as much as individuals too.

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Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2024 years ago

From what one can see, Deegan held these sorts of airhead leftie views even before his son was slaughtered by the terrorists in Bali. That event just seems to have hardened his attitudes still further and provided him with an assured public platform on which to air them.

I must say I find it really quite peculiar that someone whose son was murdered by terrorists could feel so magnanimous towards them, and simultaneously so one-sidedly malevolent to our own leaders who can’t rationally be said to have done anything to provoke it (I know people like Alison Broinowski think otherwise, but I did use the qualifier “rationally”). It strikes me as a perverse inversion of the sort of reaction I would have expected.

After my wife’s mother was murdered some years ago, I went through a prolonged period of hating the killer, including imagining ways I might be able to terminate the bastard very painfully and with extreme prejudice myself, by way of payback. I even flirted briefly with the idea that the death penalty was a good idea. Eventually I managed to get it all back in perspective, and realised that hatred and vengeance are corrosive, destructive emotions that just consume you and make life miserable if you don’t transcend them.

But anyone I’ve known who’s experienced the violent loss of a loved one has at least gone through that stage of hate and bitterness, usually for quite some time. Deegan doesn’t seem to have experienced any such psychic process: he went into “I hate Howard” mode almost instantly, and has stayed there ever since. I wonder why? Could it be some sort of distance-learning Stockholm syndrome, like a latter day Patty Hearst?

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2024 years ago

I don’t think that Brian Deegan is a particularly worldly guy. I seem to remember that his trip to Bali after the bombing was the first time he’d left Australia. While travel doesn’t necessarily broaden the mind it does offer the potential for a more nuanced view of humanity, a facility that I would have thought a pretty vital pre-requisite for a Magistrate…..

Whatever, his grief-stricken insistence on holding the government primarily responsible for his son’s death has been a godsend for those more interested in inflicting political damage on Downer et al than in helping Brian Deegan come to terms with his loss.

As an exercise in crass political opportunism, the continued use and misuse of Brian Deegan is pretty instructive.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2024 years ago

BTW It still has quite an impact to suddenly notice that date “September 11” over in the left column, doesn’t it? On this day three years ago I (along with just about everyone else in Australia) was sitting in my loungeroom numb and transfixed, as we watched thos planes smashing into the buildings again and again and again in replay, and the buildings come tumbling down over and over with all those unseen people still inside. And the world really has been a very different place ever since.

2024 years ago

I’m perfectly willing to accept that many of those involved in Jemaah Islamiah may be intelligent and rational people. But I’m not willing to accept that this is a reason to negotiate with them or somehow excuse them for their actions.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
2024 years ago

It is Scott who is making mischief.

Nowhere in my post did I say negotiate with J1.The post argued against the neo-con view of malelovent terrorists (the devil) hating us for our values in favour of the blowback view that JI attacks Australia because of its actions in Iraq.

It then went on to say that JI’s terrorists tactics would undermine JI’s goal of creating an Islamic state in Indonesia, since terrorist tactics would alienate moderate Islamic support.

How do you get negotiate with JI out of that?

You cannot. It is a grotesque distortion.

In the above post Scott shows that he belongs to the Tim Blair school of journalism. You take a phrase out of context, use it to undermine the credibility of the opponent,and then smear by guilt of association. It is all about the politics of war.Truth has nothing to do with it.

Did Scott actually read my post? Or did he just read Tim Blair’s smirk and sneer?

What this attack dog school of journalism does not do is represent the views of its opponents fairly; nor does it engage with the issues raised through a consideration of the arguments presented.

All Scott does is reaffirm the neo-con view with his heading–calling JI the devil–rather than consider/engage with the blowback thesis.

I expect something better from Troppo Armadillo, given its public commitment to the academic ethos of public debate, and its statements that this ethos is crucial to the blogging world’s contribution to the formation of public opinion in a liberal democracy.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2024 years ago


I just read your post and I must say I agree. Nowhere did you say or imply that we should negotiate with the terrorists. Hopefully Scott can also clear the air. I don’t think it’s fair to compare Scott in any way with Tim Blair, but I certainly think he’s characterised your argument unfairly on this occasion (which is not to say I agree with you, just that you didn’t advocate negotiating with terrorists). But Scott can speak for himself. Troppo is an anarchic collective. I don’t speak for or control Scott, nor vice versa.

Scott Wickstein
2024 years ago

I have re-read Gary’s post and I accept that he is not actually calling for ‘negotiations’ with JI. I think his notion that we should engage with the ‘blowback’ thesis is entirely wrong-headed, but that is a separate issue. I apologize for misrepresenting Gary’s views, and I have deleted the link to Gary’s post.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
2024 years ago


Clearly Scott does not belong to the Tim Blair school of journalism of the witty sneer and smear.

So I take back my claim that Scott was a card caring member (fellow traveller?) of that school was with all due apology.

Agreement is not the issue nor should consensus reign in our public culture.There is plenty of disagreement around the important issues to do with national security, and that is healthy in a democracy.

What is at issue is how we debate the issues between us:how we do so is important for our liberal democracy, and a sign of how good that democracy is.

Blowback is a contentious position, as is the neo-con one of evil terrorists hating us freedom loving people living a prosperous life.

But we should be capable of showing, and debating, the flaws in the arguments for both of these positions.

That is what I understand the collective that constitute Troppo Armadillo stands for. It is good to see this ethos being re-affirmed.

I look forward to seeing some arguments (objections) that show why the blowback thesis is considered to be flawed.

Scott Wickstein
2024 years ago

Gary, I have presented here in this post my view as to why we should not negotiate with terrorists nor should we allow ‘blowback’ to affect our foreign policy. You are welcome to ‘engage’ in that argument if you like- please, point out the flaws in my argument.

2024 years ago

That’s alright.

My post on Deegan and JI, which in essence said what you said – no negotiation possible, I got linked by little tim with a line taken out of context, completely ignoring my next line: ‘I continue to have reservations about the government’s approach towards Asia particularly with regards to national security, by reverting to the “Americans will save us no matter what”

2024 years ago

What on earth are you talking about Graham? I read tim’s post that linked to you. The reference to your post in it’s entirety reads:

Update: Deegan has lost the whining noodlehead vote.

Basically all I read into this is that tim found your phrase “whining noodlehead” to be humourous, and that you broadly disapprove of what Deegan said.

How is that taking you out of context? Tim didn’t suggest you were considering voting liberal or any such thing, he just left a link to your site so people could read the text for themselves.

It seems that your blind hatred of tim is clouding your judgement in this case.

2024 years ago

What I was irked by, was that in linking to my comment about Deegan being hopelessly naive, it appeared to discount the next para after the “whining noodlehead” statement, (which was obviously a self-deprecating one) was essentially a clarification that my general view of geopolitics was not typical of the Right.

I made the post because the Deegan idea just struck me as absurd. Since I’m obviously not one of his usual sources and since I’m probably pretty low on the “List of Enemies” (below Wil Anderson, the world’s most tedious comedian, and the singer of Frenzal Rhomb), I never seriously imagined that ol’ Tim would bother to drop by, read it, and decide to cite it. Checking the stats this fine morning and finding a long list of referrers from spleenville usually invokes the thought “oh shit, there goes the planet”.

Though I guess I could getting a bit precious, since a lot of bloggers tend to cite only those links that support their particular stance. It’s a funny thing, blind hatred…

Back to the topic, frankly, lefties that suggest that all you need to bring about global peace is to give everyone a nice bunch of tulips shit me as much as those on the right that suggest that all you need to bring about global peace is to turn the Middle East into glass.

(Strangely enough, I actually wrote earlier in the week I would be voting for the local Liberal member, if only to jinx them on a wider scale.)

L.F. Brown
2024 years ago

If Australia was to directly negotiate with JI, as Mr Deegan suggests, surely that would put up the backs of the Indonesians who, according to what I’ve read, don’t want to negotiate with JI? What effect would that have on Australia’s ability to be a mediator in the region?

2024 years ago

You’re definitely getting a bit precious here, Graham. But then, so is Sam. “Blind hatred”? What a crock of shit!

Scott: I believe Cheney disagrees with you about terrorism being a crime. What an age we live in!

2024 years ago

Clive Williams of the ANU has suggested that the Malayan Emergency gives us an insight to deal with JI and terrorists. The US approach is not going to work in the long run. If we remove the reasons for terrorism and sympathy/support for terrorists then we have a long term solution. It won’t be easy but it seems the logical solution in between the rantings of the RWDBs and Brian Deegan’s strange utterings.