Be Alarmed, Be Very Very Alarmed (2003)

Reflections on anti-terrorism kit send by Commonwealth Government of Australia

By Ivana Milojević

Written 5th February 2003

I still remember vividly the short feature presentation I watched several times during my schooling. It was called “Yellow Mini Morris” and it went like this: a couple, a blond beautiful woman and a tall handsome stranger arrive to the (former) Yugoslavia from western Europe. They pretend to be ‘tourists’ admiring ‘our’ beautiful scenery. They drive around in their lovely yellow car apparently taking pictures of themselves. But all along, they were in fact taking picture of our airports, bridges and other vital infrastructure. The message was: never trust foreigners, no matter how beautiful or well dressed they are. Be aware of anybody acting suspiciously. This especially includes anyone taking photographs. Also watch out for those travelling in a small yellow car. Driving past bridges, factories, electricity and gas companies. Being beautiful, blond or tall. Wearing designer outfits. And, especially, be aware and be suspicious of western Europeans!

In retrospective, and in the light of the fact that NATO did bomb my native town and destroyed all its three bridges over Danube some twenty years later, the Yellow Mini Morris story might not be as ludicrous as it seems. In fact, one could go as far as to suggest that xenophobic communist regime was right to teach us about all the treats coming from outside and endangering our then way of life. After all, many parts of former Yugoslavia will for many more years to come have to deal with not so nice remains of NATO liberation from ethnic cleansing and totalitarian regimes, such as depleted uranium polluted soil, diseases brought by foreign soldiers and the newly formed American military bases.

Were xenophobes, totalitarian dictators and nationalists thus right when warning about the treat from ‘the Other’? Or was it that the discourse they created in itself helped create an environment conducive of suspicion, therefore fear, therefore obsession with protecting oneself, therefore bad diplomacy, therefore ‘pre emptive defence’, therefore reactive response, therefore various military operations, therefore several full blown wars?

Yet again I find myself in a country where the government warns us to be alert (but not alarmed!) so as to help protect ‘our’ way of life. It is as if I never really left a society based on suspicion and fear and never really came to supposedly democratic, multicultural and ‘open’ one. Not surprisingly, apart from experiencing some strange déjà vu that started a couple of months earlier when I was asked for my I.D. for (acting suspicious by) sending a parcel overseas, I have in addition started experiencing a serious case of Post Traumatic Suspicion Disorder and am in a desperate need of consulting ‘a health professional’. But perhaps the need for counselling could be averted if only our Prime Minister could take his time to reassure me over several things.

First, that I should not be suspicious of his desire to maintain peace. That the $1.4 billion spent to strengthen Australia’s counter-terrorist capability, part of which includes some of my tax money, is NOT going to be used for destroying someone else’s lives, soils, bridges and places of residence. That the timing of sending this kit so as to correspond with preparations to attack Iraq IS coincidental.

Second, that upgraded resources for the ‘Australian Secret Intelligence Service’, ‘new state-of-the-art surveillance systems’, possibility for the Prime Minister to ‘take strategic control in a national emergency’ and people being encouraged to spy on and dobb in each other, are NOT the tell signs of Australia becoming a totalitarian state.

Third, that ‘television, radio, newspapers and the internet’ will NOT be used by government to control the public opinion.

Fourth, that additional money WILL be given to the national and state Anti-Discrimination and Equal opportunity commissions so to better respond to increased harassment of ‘certain’ community and/or religion that has already been happening since the horrific events of September 11th.

Fifth, that the government WILL say sorry to the Indigenous population of Australia so as to stop projecting forward what had been done backward (physical violence and murders, destruction of one’s way of life).

Sixth, that xenophobes and racists individuals calling themselves Australians WILL be deported to an isolated island in the Pacific, as they clearly do not fit the profile of ‘friendly, decent, democratic’ Australians’ who ‘embrace people, religions and languages from every corner of the world’.

Seventh, that Australian children are NOT going to suffer from living in an environment where an overly dangerous and threatening view of the world is being communicated to them. Alternatively, that in addition to the increased availability of free counselling, he WILL provide stockpiles of herbal, homoeopathic and allopathic anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications for many more generations to come.

Eight, that he WILL insist on disarming ALL nations from dangerous weapons of mass destruction, including the most powerful ones as well as those that have already used them on a defenceless civilians and nature.

Ninth, that he WILL send us yet another kit, with another budget outlined so as to address pollution, global warming, chemical spills, climate change and other serious treats to our current way of life.

Basically, what I am looking for is for prime minister to reassure me that the suspicion of ‘the Other’ won’t yet again lead to fear, therefore to bad diplomacy, therefore to pre emptive strikes, therefore to a full blown war. That a history won’t repeat itself. That we will resolve our (actual, perceived and/or potential) conflicts and suspicions of each other through trust, cooperation, dialogue and most importantly, by peaceful means. That we will work towards letting go of our personal and communal desire to control everything and everybody. That we will get our priorities right.

I sincerely look forward to the prime minister finding time in his busy schedule to address some of my concerns. But if he stays numb and counselling fails to respond I believe I would still have several options to improve my mental health. First, quickly consult my new fridge magnet. Then go and look for the location of our electricity switchboard. If that fails to reassure me, I can call the Energex. Or the local Vet. Check myself into nearest hospital. Inundate my kids school’s administration with calls. Harass my neighbours. Stalk our local council members. And, last but not least, I can always go and hang out by the gas meter. So, no worries mate, I’ll feel safe again.