Australia must fight in global struggle for freedom

Sydney Morning Herald
October 04, 2006
By John Howard

WITH the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism, it became all too easy to pretend that the outcome of the Cold War was an inevitable result of large-scale, impersonal forces that ultimately left totalitarianism exhausted and democratic capitalism triumphant.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This was a struggle fought by individuals on behalf of the individual spirit.

It's worth recalling just some of the philo-communism that was once common in Australia in the 1950s and '60s:

- Manning Clark's book Meeting Soviet Man likened the ideals of Vladimir Lenin to Jesus Christ;

- John Burton, the former head of the External Affairs Department, argued Mao's China provided a model for the transformation of Australia;

- All those who did not simply oppose Australia's commitment in Vietnam but who actively supported the other side and fed the delusion that Ho Chi Minh was some sort of Jeffersonian Democrat intent on spreading liberty in Asia.

To quote George Orwell: One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.

There is a view that the pro-communist left in Australia in decades past was no more than a bunch of naive idealists, rather than what they were - ideological barrackers for regimes of oppression opposed to Australia and its interests.

In taking on the communist left and their fellow-travellers, people like Richard Krygier, James McAuley, Peter Coleman, Bob Santamaria, Heinz Arndt and Frank Knopfelmacher were not only right in practice. They were right in principle and part of a noble and moral cause.

In the eyes of the new left, the Cold War became a struggle defined by moral equivalence where the Soviet bloc and the American-led West were equally to blame, each possessing their own dominating ideologies.

It became the height of intellectual sophistication to believe that people in the West were no less oppressed than people under communist dictatorship.

In time, the world would luckily see the emergence of three remarkable individuals whose moral clarity punctured such nonsense: Ronald Reagan; Margaret Thatcher; and Pope John Paul II.

Of the causes Quadrant has taken up that are close to my heart none is more important to me than the role it has played as counterforce to the black armband view of Australian history.

Until recent times, it had become almost de rigueur in intellectual circles to regard Australian history as little more than a litany of sexism, racism and class warfare.

Again, it would take the brave voices of a few individuals to take a stand against the orthodoxies of the day. And again Quadrant has been an outpost of lively non-conformity in its willingness to defend Geoffrey Blainey and Keith Windschuttle against the posses of political correctness.

Nowhere were the fangs of the left so visibly on display in a campaign based on character assassination and intellectual dishonesty than in their efforts to trash the name and reputation of Blainey.

Despite a more diverse and lively intellectual environment in Australia compared with past decades, we should not underestimate the degree to which the soft left still holds sway, especially in Australia's universities.

Early this year I called for a root and branch renewal of Australian history in our schools, with a restoration of narrative instead of what I labelled the fragmented stew of themes and issues.

Armed with clear evidence of the decline of Australian history in our schools, the Government has made a start in our quest to ensure that the nation's history is an essential component of every Australian child's education, no longer an afterthought or an optional extra.

Having spoken earlier about Quadrant's role in the defining global struggle of the second half of the 20th century, let me say a few words about the global struggle we now face at the start of the 21st century.

Let me repeat what I have said before. This is not a struggle against Islam. It is a struggle against a perverted interpretation of Islam.

To those who want to portray the West as anti-Muslim I would say that it was not the Arab League who went to war in the 1990s on behalf of Muslim minorities in the Balkans. It was the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and their NATO allies.

Let me also remind people who now talk as if Iraq was some island of pro-Islamic tranquillity before 2003 that the person who probably killed more Muslims in history is Saddam Hussein.

There are, as Owen Harries reminds us, people who legitimately opposed the original action to oust Saddam Hussein, but it remains (to borrow a phrase) an inconvenient truth that if countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia simply abandon the people of Iraq this would be an enormous victory for the forces of terror and extremism around the world.

The fact is we are part of a global campaign for the very ideals that some people wistfully dreamed were unchallengeable after the Cold War.

No less than in that long, twilight struggle, this too will be a generational struggle for ideals of democratic freedom and liberty under law.

This is an extract from the Prime Minister's speech to Quadrant magazine's 50th anniversary dinner last night.

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