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Foreign Minister discusses the term 'Islamo Fascist'

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DATE: May 26 2004

TITLE: Interview with Paul Murray, Radio 6PR Perth

MURRAY: One of the big stories around Australia of course today has been the explosion of a car bomb in the vicinity of the Australian headquarters in Baghdad. There have been suggestions around the place that it was our headquarters that were the target of this blast. Alexander Downer, the Foreign Affairs Minister, joins me now. Alexander, what’s your view on that - were we the target?

DOWNER: Look, we just don’t know, and I wouldn’t imagine we ever will know. It’s impossible to tell. There’ve been of course a lot of these bombs going off in Baghdad and typically nobody finds out. The police, the Americans, they don’t find out what the targets really were. Look, it’s possible we’ll find out, but it seems very unlikely. It’s possible we were the target, we can’t rule that out, but again, we can’t be certain, and if they did target Australians, they were certainly very bad at it.

MURRAY: There was no intelligence beforehand, there often isn’t, I understand, in Iraq.

DOWNER: Well, there sometimes is, but there wasn’t in this case, no - no intelligence. It was a complete surprise.

MURRAY: See, the way this has been portrayed in a lot of the media today, and I’ve got the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the biggest selling morning paper in Australia today - it says the war in Iraq arrived on Australia’s doorstep yesterday.

DOWNER: Well, this bomb went off between 100 and 200 metres, as the crow flies, from the Australian Mission. The mission is down an alley way or small road, which comes off a dual carriageway, and this was up the dual carriageway somewhat from the Australian Mission, and the road, the small road going in the Australian Mission is heavily protected by concrete barriers, and by the Australian Defence personnel we have there to protect our Embassy.

MURRAY: So, the reason I raised the portrayal in the media with you is because many people will see this as a sort of an escalation of the arguments that we shouldn’t be there.

DOWNER: Well look, people will draw all sorts of conclusions and what I think about that is that if we and the Americans and others just got out of Iraq tomorrow, we’d leave the country

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in a state of complete chaos, in a state of anarchy. Terrorists would roam free and be able to use Iraq as a base for further operations. The important thing is to stick to the well-defined plan of having the United Nations set up the interim government, which will come into place on 30th June, gradually build-up the Iraqi police and the Iraqi military, so they can takeover responsibility for their own security, and gradually wind-down the international coalition there as the Iraqis takeover the security. I don’t think it’ll be easy to make the security situation there perfect, but once the Iraqis are able to handle it, you know, that’ll put people’s minds more at rest. But, to just get out now, just to abandon Iraq, will be the worst imaginable thing to do and I know it’s not very popular to say that, but sometimes you’ve just got to do what you think is right.

MURRAY: So, I think many people can understand the argument that there’s an expectation that the pressure is on in the lead-up to the handover, so those who don’t want this to be successful, or who want to influence the system, the progress towards democracy, will increase their attacks leading up to the 30th, but is there any justification for a belief that it’s going to get better after that?

DOWNER: I think it gradually will, but I don’t think it will quickly. Look there are obviously people such as the Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-style fundamentalists who want to turn Iraq into a fearocratic state, into sort of a Taliban-style regime, and they’ll fight for that and they won’t give up just because Iraqis themselves are running their own country again, because you know, they’re as much opposed to moderate Iraqis as they are to foreigners. There probably will continue to be some Baathists, of the Baath Party with Saddam Hussein’s party, some of those people who will still cause trouble, though we’re not 100% sure about that, but I would imagine so. But you’re not looking at a perfect situation here, you’re looking at what is the best thing to do in the circumstances, and the best thing to do is, I think, to follow the plan, of course to pull out at an appropriate time once the security situations there can be managed by the Iraqis and they can get their country up and going again. I mean, just to abandon the place would be one of the greatest foreign policy follies that any country could commit.

MURRAY: Alexander, reading the debate in American newspapers, in journals, I’m increasingly seeing the use of the term ‘Islamo Fascist’, to describe those Muslims who are using their religious beliefs, and the emphasis here is on using them, to get some sort of political agenda going. Do you understand, do you agree with the use of that term?

DOWNER: It’s not a bad term, ‘Islamo’ as in Islamic, and ‘Fascist’, you know, to remind you of people like Mussolini and Hitler, that these people believe in totalitarianism, they don’t believe in democracy or freedom of speech and expression. They don’t even believe in girls going to school. These are people who want to impose some sort of 14th Century Islamic totalitarianism on all Islamic countries, even our neighbours, Indonesia and Malaysia. That’s their dream, that’s what these types of terrorists, like Osama bin Laden, are fundamentally about. So, what they don’t want is moderate, fairly liberal outward looking Muslims running countries in the Islamic world. They want themselves to takeover these countries. I mean, that is what you’re up against with Jemaah Islamiah and Indonesia, it’s what you’re up against with Al Qaeda, and a lot of those people are very active in Iraq because they don’t want to see

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Iraq become a liberal democracy, they want Iraq to become, you know, an Islamo Fascist, as you put it, an Islamo Fascist state.

MURRAY: It does tend to delineate, I think, that term between, as you say, those Muslims who just want to follow their religion and get on in a peaceful world, as those who don’t.

DOWNER: Absolutely. I mean, who would be, in our country, opposed to a Muslim who just wants to get on with his or her life, and people are entitled to their own religion, but no, these people are out-there fanatics, they really are, I mean, of course that’s what we’re dealing with. And, at the end of the day, I’m just…whether it’s popular or not, is a secondary thing for me. Ultimately, I just don’t think we should ever cave into these types of people. If we’re weak with these people, we’ll empower them, and goodness knows where it will all end then.

MURRAY: Well, I suppose being popular or not is an issue on the Government’s mind at the moment, cause you’re got an election looming and the Prime Minister conceded yesterday that the war in Iraq had damaged your Government.

DOWNER: Well, I certainly think over the last two or three weeks it’s been damaging to all of the Coalition there, not because of what Australians have been doing, or the Australian Government has done, but the Abu Ghraib revelation, the abuse in the prisons, has, you know, really made people, even in my own house, raise an eyebrow and, you know, express outrage at what those American reservists were doing to those prisoners…

MURRAY: …is that Nicky or the kids?

DOWNER: (Inaudible) Nicky and the kids are not in favour of the Abu Ghraib abuse. No, absolutely not, and you know it obviously makes people concerned. Now, I mean, my answer to that is that it’s appalling what those American reservists were doing I Abu Ghraib, and the Americans have got to be absolutely decisive in bringing those people to justice. Look, they may have been a bit slow at it, but I don’t think they’re doing too bad a job, but then I have to think through something else, I have to think through, well what should be do here, and really you’re only faced with two choices - one is to implement the plan, get the regime transferred to the Iraqis on 30th June, get the UN Security Council resolution through, get the UN to set-up the interim government and build-up the Iraqi security forces so they can takeover security themselves. Now, that is a plan that I think will work, but I don’t think it will be easy to implement and I think that is a better way to go than just to cut and run and leave the place in a state of anarchy.

MURRAY: Yeah. I think, just finally here, I think the problem the public have got with the war on terror, it’s a bit like kids on a long car trip, you know, they keep on saying - are we nearly there yet, you know, I mean, they want some sort of idea at least of, well when is the world going to return to something relatively safe again.

DOWNER: Yeah. I know they think that and I can only answer that question in all honesty by saying that I think this struggle against Al Qaeda, against those people we were talking about earlier, the Islamo Fascists, as some Americans call them, the struggle against them is going to be a long-term struggle, it’s going to take a long time and if there was an easy way

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out of it, we would have taken the easy way out, but the problem for all of us is we just can’t hide, we can’t run away. Okay, you can disassociate yourself from the Americans, but countries that have on the issue of Iraq, like the French and the Canadians, their people have been attacked. I mean, these are people who are opposed to our whole civilization. So, you know, I think we just have to sort of face up to the fact that we’re in this for the, whether we like it or not, and I think the answer is we don’t like it, we’re in this for the long haul as a country and as a civilization. We found that through the Bali bombing and we still have problems up in Indonesia with Al Qaeda, we shouldn’t underestimate that. We just have to keep working at it with a lot of courage.

MURRAY: Thanks for talking to us today.

ENDS………………………………………………………………………….May 26 2004