Last night Australians had a chance to watch an hour long ‘Q & A’ talkback program on ABC-TV featuring just one guest: former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
Tweeted before the show began: life imitates Twitter?
Twitter users had been circling the #qanda hashtag for days beforehand, like vultures in anticipation. Quite a few of these more-enthusiastic-than-usual-tweeters were in an ugly mood. I was one of them.
An hour or so before the program I tweeted a simple invitation: ‘Retweet if you agree John Howard is a War Criminal‘. That had roughly 20 takers. Things were warming up.
In the event, while more than half of the show was tedious dross, the carefully staged-managed simulacrum of open-access TV did throw up a couple of surprises.
One was planned. The other was not.
John Howard: enjoying himself
David Hicks – one of the two Australians incarcerated for years in Guantanamo Bay – called in with a pre-recorded question delivered in video format. He asked a fair question and received a characteristically slippery reply.
When you were Prime Minister, you left me in Guantanamo Bay for five and a half years. During that time I was detained without charge for a long time; I was denied a fair trial; I was tortured. Do you believe that I was treated humanely and that the military commission was a fair system?
I won’t repeat Howard’s evasive reply here (it’s in the program transcript), but his opening gambit encapsulates the smugness of the man: “isn’t it a great country that allows this kind of exchange to occur!”
The unexpected surprise was when Peter Gray, an member of the audience from Newcastle, stood up and flung both of his shoes at Howard after receiving an unsatisfactory response to his question about the Iraq War.
This is the second in a series of notable shoe-flinging incidents, as an irate global public expresses growing frustration that Howard, Blair and Bush still go unpunished. The first, of course, was the epic shoe-throwing of Muntadhar al-Zaidi which I reported on back in December 2008: Bush=Dog Slur Sparks World Outrage. Gray is following in al-Zaidi’s illustrious footprints.
Gray is clear about his motivations:
“I did it so there was a chance that thousands of people, tens of thousands of people, in the rest of the world, particularly in the Middle East, could see that not every Australian was behind the decision to invade and rule in the country of Iraq,” Gray told the ABC. “I did it for tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dead and those that are still living.“
He told a reporter from 9News: “I wanted to show them that the decision (to invade Iraq) was made by a small cabal of nasty men” and added “I think it’s rather ridiculous to call (shoethrowing) an act of violence when the real subject of the conversation should be Australia’s involvement in an illegal war and John Howard’s responsibility for that.”
Peter Gray: a better face of Australia
Mr Gray speaks for me on this – and for a lot of other Australians.
I bet his plucky action and well-chosen words, already reported overseas, do more for the safety of Australians travelling abroad than any of the bombastic, spook-inspired ‘initiatives’ of the Howard Government during its 11 sorry years. The odious policies of Howard and the people he works for have made the world more dangerous for Australians. Gray shows there’s a much better side to the Australian people.
Howard should be facing a war crimes tribunal – not grumbling that he hasn’t been handed his preferred sinecure in international cricket or satiating his ego at book launches.
Q & A Executive Producer Peter McEvoy said today this was the first ‘security’ incident in the history of the ABC TV program, which always involves audience participation. He noted extra security measures had been taken because Howard was considered ‘controversial’. But if people in the audience want to take off their shoes and fling them, McEnvoy explained, there’s nothing much to be done. Even George Bush got the shoe…
Shoe flinging incidents highlight, in microcosm, the vacuous approach to ‘security’ foisted on the western world in recent years by our courrupted leadership.
Iraq Body Count: low-end estimates
No one would think of flinging shoes at a television panel under normal circumstances. ‘Security’ is unecessary given the respect people normally accord their fellow human beings.
But war crimes are beyond ‘normal circumstances’. Many of us find it deeply offensive to have the likes of Blair and Howard paraded on our screens like elder statesmen. They are not. They lied – so others died (in vast numbers). Their behaviour was despicable in the most fundamental way. Yet to this day their appear unruffled and quite unapologetic. They even spruik for more illegal wars!
Howard was among a group of high-level political operatives tasked – at a crucial time in history – with selling their people the notion that security is found in overwhelming force and that ‘security’ is the best defense of ‘freedom’.
Both parts of the proposition are untrue.
But of course, the lies don’t end there. Related to the topic of Australia’s overseas wars are trigger events that justified them – notably 9-11. Hard questions about that topic have yet to be aired on Australia’s public television.
In that respect, the shoe-throwing incident may have been a relief to ABC management. At least no-one in the QandA audience asked a probing question about the “nothing to discuss” Origin Myth of the War on Terror!
No-one has, so far…