The re-election of Prime Minister John Howard's Coalition government in the November 10 federal poll was the result of resurgence of anti-Arab racism and xenophobia, whipped up by the government and the corporate media. This has been used to justify Australia's involvement in the US-led "war on terrorism".
The challenge facing anti-war activists remains the same as it was before November 10: to build the biggest and most politically effective movement against the government's (and Labor's) support for the US war on Afghanistan.
The protests against the war on November 3-4 were the biggest yet, indicating that the consensus John Howard (and Kim Beazley) has built up in support of the war is beginning to weaken. Even in the United States, 28% of the population are against the US committing large numbers of troops to a ground war in Afghanistan.
In Australia, public sentiment against the war is much higher. This is indicated by the significant swing to the Greens in the federal election, widely perceived as the main "anti-war" party (although the Socialist Alliance is more clearly opposed to the US-led military attacks).
Tens of thousands of people have rallied against the war throughout Europe, and this must give us hope that we have a real chance of stopping this latest US-led atrocity.
The 1500 Australians involved in Operation Enduring Freedom are almost all in secondary or tertiary supporting roles. The symbolism of their participation is of more value to the US government than their practical support, which could be relatively easily replaced.
But this should not lead us to underestimate the importance of Australian support to the war.
Australian air force personnel will soon be refuelling US and British bombers and providing F/A-18 jet fighter protection during Anglo-American bombing raids on Afghanistan.
More importantly, the Australian government's support for the US war helps to provide legitimacy to the US claims that the bombing raids are the action of an international alliance seeking to secure the safety of the world's people, when they are acts of mass murder.
Howard must be forced to recall all the military personnel participating in any way in the conflict. With strong bipartisan support for the war, this will not happen through closed-door negotiations or lobbying. The troops will only be recalled if the government is forced by an anti-war movement that is broader and larger than the mobilisations that we have seen up to now.
Such a movement will take time to build. We need both a sense of urgency in doing this, and an understanding that it will be a long struggle to overcome the racist ideas about the Third World that many Australians take for granted.
In particular, this requires the trade unions, many of which formally oppose the war, to take real action to mobilise their members in opposition to the war. During the last two months, racist attacks in work places have increased. Unless the unions are prepared to take a clear and active stand in opposition to the war, these attacks will only get worse.
Prior to the November 10 election, many unions were reluctant to publicly condemn Labor's support for the war, hoping this would help the ALP win the election. With the election over, they now have no excuse not to implement their on-paper opposition to the war.
December 9 has been called as a day of action against the war. Green Left Weekly urges everyone to get involved in building the demonstrations. There are many ways to help — through attending meetings and holding information stalls, to giving money or simply taking a bundle of leaflets to hand out at your work place or school. Simple steps, but taken by enough people they will enable us to stop this brutal war.
From Green Left Weekly, November 14, 2001.
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