A book on radical Pacifism

Bernard Lane | July 09, 2008

UNIVERSITY departments dominated by so-called critical terror studies are consigning themselves to ever greater irrelevance, according to security analyst Carl Ungerer.

Dr Ungerer, who left the University of Queensland in January to join the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said security agencies were open to outside advice and “deeply interested in engaging with the academic community”.

But he said policymakers could see no value in critical terror studies, which in its hostility to sovereign states implied a moral equivalence between terror and counter-terror and even blamed open societies for the rise of religious extremists.

“So, the traditional policy analysis work is now being done by ASPI and the Lowy Institute and the Kokoda Foundation and others,” Dr Ungerer said.

“If any point comes across strongly since I’ve been here (in Canberra), it’s the way in which the gap between academe and the policy community has widened, which is interesting because the Rudd Government is tapping a wide range of voices.

“(But) in the security field they’re just not interested in these critical theory ideas. It offers them absolutely nothing to be told that we need to rethink sovereignty or that (terror is) our fault.”

In 2006 Dr Ungerer and UQ colleague David Martin Jones first spoke out against the rise of critical terror studies. They said the policy implication of this emerging discipline was “radical pacifism”. This week Dr Ungerer described as “eyebrow raising” the February appointment of critical theorist Anthony Burke to the University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

“The lecturers at ADFA are teaching the next generation of military leaders,” Dr Ungerer said.

Speaking from Israel, Dr Burke, the author of Beyond Security Ethics and Violence: War Against The Other, said he did not oppose “controlled and measured” use of military force.

He said nation states were ambiguous since they could provide citizens with security as well as subject them to abuse.

Some state actions — such as Israel’s approach in the “occupied territories” and possibly the sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — were similar to terrorism in that they targeted civilians and sought to inflict suffering and fear for a political purpose, he said.

Dr Burke said critical terror studies was a new discipline with lively internal debate. To say it dominated academe was “a neoconservative, highly culture wars-type argument”.

Soon after the September 11 attacks, Dr Burke wrote: “These events have brought enormous levels of organised military violence — intensifying Israeli Defence Force operations in Palestine, the war on Afghanistan and sabre-rattling against Iraq — but also quasi-military, normalised patterns of violence and coercion in the form of domestic security, surveillance, and the ‘deterrence’ of asylum-seekers.”


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