Don’t mention the war causation (the thoughts of Annabel Crabb)

The Twittersphere was abuzz with pointless debate a couple of weeks ago when Annabel Crabb had a televisual meal with Coalition hardman Scott Morrison on her perniciously vacuous program Kitchen Cabinet.  My own views about that controversy are well encapsulated by Jennifer “No Place for Sheep” Wilson.

However I also acknowledged at least to myself that compering a vacuous TV program does not mean its host is equally intellectually shallow.  Plenty of deeply thoughtful journalists have found themselves assigned by their editors to writing Agony Aunt and gossip columns or even horoscopes.

Nevertheless, it’s reasonable to conclude that what a journalist writes about in a newspaper op-ed column does accurately reflect her real opinions and the quality of her intellectual and analytical powers.  By that standard Crabb’s column over the weekend doesn’t reflect well on her, suggesting that the shallow frippery of Kitchen Cabinet may be just about the right depth for her talents.  Here is what appears to be the sum total of Crabb’s understanding of the ISIS terrorism phenomenon:

What does IS want?

IS wants more hate. It is a movement built on a kind of human anti-matter, a deep nihilism parading as ideology.

However you don’t need to look very far to find more penetrating analyses that explain ISIS’s ideology, aims and strategies in a much more thoughtful and useful way.  This succinct article by Kamel Daoud, for example.

Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hand.s, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. That translates into an obsessive hatred of imagery and representation and therefore art, but also of the body, nakedness and freedom. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.

To be sure it’s a bizarre and twisted (albeit rational) ideology and deeply alien to western minds, but it’s an ideology just the same, not just “deep nihilism parading as ideology”.  If we glibly dismiss it as Crabb does then we’re unlikely to be in a position either to understand or combat that ideology effectively over time.  And yet dismissing ISIS as a possessor of a genuine ideology, grounded in both current and historical colonial experiences, is exactly what Ms Crabb and assorted Murdoch minions demand that we must do.  Especially Muslim leaders who must repeatedly and publicly demonstrate their loyalty to Australia by condemning ISIS without any shadow of qualification or search for causation, while simultaneously swearing fealty to the Murdoch/Crabb/neocon world view.

The Grand Mufti of Australia’s prepared public statement – in which he encouraged governments worldwide to revisit “causative factors” like Islamophobia, racism, flawed foreign policy and so on – was a serious bum note.

Victim blaming is never a very good look, and the unpleasant implication that Parisians could on some level expect to be murdered on account of their nation’s foreign policy is in the same ballpark as “Dressed like that, she was asking for it”, in my view.

On the other hand, there is an alternative theory of causation: that terrorist attacks are made possible by soft-headed immigration policies in Europe, porous borders, and a culture of political correctness that does not engage appropriately with the reality of Islamic extremism in European ghettoes.

Which is another way of saying that France brought these attacks on itself. Only the culprits are different in this version.

Crabb’s argument that the Grand Mufti’s initial inadequate formal response to last week’s Paris attacks should be seen as comparable to blokes who take scanty female attire as a licence to rape especially reveals the shallowness of her thought.  Women however they may dress do not inflict hurt, suffering or oppression on the male of the species.  The same can’t be said of the actions of Western powers including France either in colonial times or more recently.  Those actions in no sense justify bloodthirsty attacks on unarmed, unsuspecting civilians in the West or elsewhere as a “military” tactic, behaviour that is rightly condemned (including by the Grand Mufti).  Nevertheless, that history and the world view it engenders need to be discussed, analysed and understood if we are to have any chance of defeating the undoubted menace of ISIS.

This excellent and much longer article by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books contains much material that Annabel would no doubt instantly dismiss as mere odious “victim blaming”.  It also contains a larger quantity of deeply thoughtful analysis than you’d find in a hundred Annabel Crabb columns or a thousand episodes of Kitchen Cabinet, ending with this pearler:

In an earlier era, these conflicts might have remained separate, but they are now linked thanks to the very devices that are the symbol of globalisation, our phones and laptops. It no longer makes sense to speak of near and far, or even of ‘blowback’: the theatre of conflict has no clear borders, and its causes are multiple, overlapping and deeply rooted in histories of postcolonial rage and Western-assisted state collapse. The attacks in Paris don’t reflect a clash of civilisations but rather the fact that we really do live in a single, if unequal world, where the torments in one region inevitably spill over into another, where everything connects, sometimes with lethal consequences. For all its medieval airs, the caliphate holds up a mirror to the world we have made, not only in Raqqa and Mosul, but in Paris, Moscow and Washington.

The whole article is recommended.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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23 Responses to Don’t mention the war causation (the thoughts of Annabel Crabb)

  1. John walker says:

    This ( fairly well known ) piece from the Atlantic is worth a read.

    While things like the invasion of Iraq etc obviously made the rise of Isis possible, that line of thought gives little insight the ,distinct mind , and origins of isis.

  2. Paul H says:

    One way in which ISIS does seem to merit the description of nihilism is in their negotiating style — or lack thereof. They make no demands. Although pretending to be a State, they have no diplomats, no liaison office, no lines of communication, and no apparent interest in communicating with any government.

    Terrorists of the 1970s, like the IRA for example, had a political wing, and were open to dialogue with the British government through various channels. They could be seen as a rational actor, using terrorism as a strategy to achieve plausible political goals. ISIS isn’t like that.

    Also, if you read Wood’s excellent article that John linked to, it appears that ISIS has high hopes for an imminent Armageddon in which almost all of them will perish, and civilization will collapse, until finally Jesus appears and leads the few survivors to victory. That might not meet the perfect philosophical definition of nihilism, but it’s pretty damn close, if you ask me.

    • Ken Parish says:

      Yes, the article by Wood is very interesting, as is the one by Adam Shatz that I linked and recommended. He makes the point re nihilism in the following terms:

      There has been a lot of magical thinking about IS. Liberal hawks, like Roger Cohen in the New York Times, have called for a ground offensive in the usual Churchillian terms – something no Western leader has any appetite (or sizeable constituency) for after Afghanistan and Iraq. Leftists have demanded an end to the drone war, a breaking of ties with Saudi Arabia and the creation of a Palestinian state. According to a writer in the online magazine Jadaliyya, only ‘hallucinating’ neoconservatives could argue that the attacks target the West or France for what they are, rather than for what they do. But IS says very clearly in its communiqué that it’s attacking Paris both for ‘the crusader campaign’ and as ‘the capital of prostitution and vice’ – and it seems obtuse not to take it at its word. To be sure, anger over Western policies is among the drivers of recruitment for groups like IS, but IS is not a purely reactive organisation: it is a millenarian movement with a distinctly apocalyptic agenda. As Elias Sanbar, a Palestinian diplomat in Paris, points out, ‘One of the most striking things about Islamic State is that it has no demands. All the movements we’ve known, from the Vietcong to the FLN to the Palestinians, had demands: if the occupation ends, if we get independence, the war ends. But Daesh’s project is to eliminate the frontiers of Sykes-Picot. It’s like the Biblical revisionism of the settlers, who invent a history that never existed.’ The creation of a Palestinian state is a necessity, above all for Palestinians, but it’s not likely to make much of an impression on IS, which rejects the Middle Eastern state system entirely.

    • John walker says:

      When I first read Woods piece there was one aspect of his portrait of Isis that was strangely familiar , to a mainstream ‘ orthodox ‘ Christian : the ahistorical quality that seems to be at the heart their belief system.

      Christian fringe groups that have a founding belief along the lines of ‘it all went wrong’, at some date, are not uncommon -a common date is about 337AD when the faith became the official roman religion.

      In such a belief system all the theology , wisdom and interpretation of the word that has grown in the centuries since that date , becomes automatically suspect or even, godless.

      Apart from being heresy (and incoherent) it’s a belief system that can at times be very attractive to people who have a unhealthy love of power , have resentment that they do not have power, have spent too much time in narrow groups reading without wisdom and who sincerely believe that they have the answer.

      Though that is not automatically so , it can also result in a move to quietism .

      • Paul H says:


        If you haven’t already seen it, you might be interested in this piece in the NYT featuring interviews with three young Syrian women who worked for ISIS, but quickly became disillusioned and fled to Turkey.

        It suggests that ISIS is quite flexible when it comes to the dictates of Islamic law, if they happen to be inconvenient.

        There’s apparently a strict requirement in Islam that a widow wait at least three months after the death of her husband before remarrying. But ISIS threw this overboard, pressuring young widows to remarry almost immediately.

        It doesn’t surprise me — I’ve always been very cynical about organised religion of all varieties. I think religions choose the principles that are most convenient for the hierarchy, and then try to find theological justifications for them.

        • John walker says:

          Thanks. Think lawlesness is implicit in the ahistorical mind set I.e just about anything is possible, in practice.

          As for organised religion , every now and then, after one too many committee meetings, about ‘toilet blocks’ , ‘fetes ‘and rules of procedure for Synod, I am tempted to agree with you.

          However when Anne and I sit down and silently meditate , mindfully focus on ,” Maranatha ” it is different.

  3. Gee. I didn’t realise it was controversial to like Annabel, and consider her Kitchen Cabinet as a interesting enough attempt at humanising politicians. (A career choice which can well do with that, given the way people routinely bag politicians of all persuasions.) It’s primarily a human interest show, that’s all.

    • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

      You are right Steve.

      Rather ironic

      • Alan says:

        To be fair, the OP questions taking Annabel Crabb seriously, rather than liking her.

        • Well, I think the description of Kitchen Cabinet as “perniciously vacuous” is unfair, as it misses the point of the show. I come away from nearly every episode with a better human understanding of the politician (usually for the better, sometimes for the worse, of my regard for them) and it’s not as if her questions are dumb.

        • Ken Parish says:

          We’ll have to agree to disagree Steve. I’m sure Kitchen Cabinet is quite amiable in many ways, as no doubt is Annabel Crabb. Nevertheless, IMO the ABC should not be calculatedly facilitating politicians’ PR efforts to make themselves out to be good blokes/sheilas for electoral benefit (which is clearly what it’s all about). The proposition that most politicians are reasonably pleasant people in a social context is neither enlightening nor useful information in my view, but if you like watching that sort of thing then good luck to you.

          In any event, the post was mostly about the fact that Crabb seemingly subscribes to the current Right Wing Death Beast propaganda on ISIS and Syria, and the utter stupidity of such a position. I don’t really give a rat’s arse about Kitchen Cabinet, because I generally assiduously avoid watching it.

        • Ken, I know this isn’t the main point of your post, but if I may: I would argue that populist generic cynicism of all politicians is not that good for public engagement in a democracy, and I would say that Kitchen Cabinet serves a purpose of countering that. Mind you, the people who would probably benefit from watching it for that reason probably don’t. Besides, it allows me to be condescending when I see a middle aged man who is completely useless and incompetent in the kitchen beyond putting a steak in the pan/barbie. (Usually they’re a Liberal, too.)

  4. John walker says:

    A bleg, about thirty years ago I read a novel by, I think a Middle eastern journalist, about the rise and fall of the assassin cult, have a feeling that it might be worth a read, but for the life of me I cannot remember it’s title or author. Can anybody help?

  5. John Walker says:

    From memory it was Ingolf who pointed me to the article by Wood, Ingolf are you around?

  6. Alan says:

    Do not forget the way climate change effects the conflict in Syria. Chiliastic ideologies don’t just drop from the sky without cause.

    The calm, rational, and benevolent West has a history which is itself not entirely free of chiliastic rebellions such as Munster.

  7. Makhno says:

    There is yet another historical analo analogy here. That of the Bolsheviks in 1917. ISIS et al, like the Bolsheviks started with an inkstain of territory, and kept rolling, using much the same kind of terror as ISIS. And the wars the Bolsheviks then fought had the same “all against everyone” character, with crusading allied armies making a half hearted contribution. Perhaps, the lesson learned that can be appliwf to ISIS is that you’ve got to crush hard and completely.

    A Bolshevik lesson no doubt absorbed by Putin, as he awaits the fate of Nicholas II at home.

  8. Paul H says:


    Yesterday you linked to an article from concerning gas pipelines and Syria. Argghh! Please never do that again! :)

    “Global Research” is a conspiracy website that frames international politics in terms of secret plots to control oil and gas deposits. If you dig about in their archives, you’ll see they’re 9/11 “truthers”. They’re also MH17 truthers: they suggest that it was actually shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet, and the EU, Dutch, Malaysians, and everybody else are engaged in a dastardly plot to cover up the truth, in order to slap sanctions on poor innocent Russia, bring down Putin, and steal Russia’s oil and gas! (Tony Abbott was presumably also party to this conspiracy, the villain!)

    Your other link, to the CFR on the Sunni-Shia divide, is excellent and informative. But “Global Research” should never be linked to by anyone, except for the purpose of mockery.

  9. John walker says:

    Ken the article on the Sunni Shia divide is very informative, and long , thanks.

  10. John walker says:

    One more for the reading list.
    In 1990 VS Niapaul gave a speech ” our Universal Civilisation “

    Naipaul spent many years traveling and observering in a number of Islamic countries and he is an amazing ‘eye’.

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