As you might’ve heard, the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other embassy staff were killed in Benghazi. Angry crowds had descended on the embassy, apparently after hearing a vile video about Islam produced by an Israeli-American filmmaker.
There’s all sorts of issues here: about hate speech, about religious overreaction, about the wave of protest and violence in the Middle East. What do you reckon?
It’s Friday. What’s on your mind?
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Back in early June deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop was pumping up the troops at a Coalition meeting by portraying Foreign Minister Bob Carr as the Government clown.
Ms Bishop, shadow foreign affairs minister, likened him to the character played by Peter Sellers in “The Party”, a 1968 film about an actor who bumbles and stumbles around a social event.
So like Carr, Ms Bishop said. She saw him as an accidental arrival in foreign affairs, who doesn’t know his way around the place, and keeps putting a less-than-diplomatic foot into affairs best left to the professionals.
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It can be hard to fathom how a lawyer can stand up for a person who’s obviously a pedophile or a murderer. Even harder when that client is accused of mass murder.
It requires grace, toughness, dignity and resolve, qualities that Melinda Taylor, the Australian who was detained by the Zintan Martyrs Brigade in Libya, seems to have in great store.
Taylor, 36, a lawyer for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, who was released last week in part due to Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s initiatives, gave an impressive account of herself when making a statement on Friday, Europe time, from The Hague.
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It’s not the first thing you’d expect to hear from a woman who’s endured three weeks under arrest in Libya, but Melinda Taylor’s mother this morning said her “foodie” daughter had enjoyed the meals provided by her jailers.
Libyan delights like chipotle, olives and hummus might seem like a strange thing to be so front-of-mind when you’re stuck in the middle of a full-blown crisis, but at least Taylor was looking on the bright side of life.
It’s also a heartening, practical and sensible reaction to what’s been an incredible situation for the Australian lawyer and her family, and they should be commended for the way they’ve dealt with everything.
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An Arab Spring first sprung late last year, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire to protest the humiliation heaped upon him by government officials.
Protests flared across Tunisia afterwards, toppling the local tinpot dictator and inspiring people in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and many other countries to take to the streets against their governments.
While there were several Big Moments from the Arab Spring this year - think the Egyptians occupying Tahrir Square and Hosni Mubarak finally giving in to protesters - the moment The Punch believes said the most about the promise, pitfalls and pragmatism of the Arab Spring was the ousting and killing of the “Mad Dog of the Middle East”, Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
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The Presidents of Tunisia and Egypt have gone, the President of Yemen is going. The dictator of Libya has lost control of half of his country and is being bombed out of the other half.
But the revolutionary tidal wave of the Arab Spring has now come up against a tougher opponent – the 40-year-old dictatorship of the Assad family in Syria.
It’s clear that President Bashar al-Assad and his security forces have no intention of giving up power, and are now engaged in a violent and bloody crackdown on dissent.
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The situation in Libya is constantly changing. For the latest updates see news.com.au.
It is hard to agree with the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on many things these days, but his efforts to effect a no-fly zone over Libya three weeks ago struck a controversial, but important, note. A pity, then, that the usual international politics surrounding the Western alliance and the United Nations bogged down the process to the point that the rebels in Libya were on their last legs when the UN Security Council vote was taken on the matter.
Centre after centre of opposition were lost to Gaddafi’s reorganised forces, and his family-led offensives bit into what seemed like a promising revolutionary movement late last month.
The Colonel is a seasoned campaigner both within Libya itself, and in global politics. Ronald Reagan tried to take him out by a surprise missile attack on his palace in 1986. The missiles didn’t harm him, but were said to have killed an adopted daughter and some other members of his extended household. He reportedly took to spending his nights in shifting tents from then on, blending traditional culture (he was born in a tent) with forms of security which have been most effective.
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What next in Libya? The initial demonstration of strength we saw yesterday is really just the beginning. (Follow live updates here.)
As US Defence Secretary Gates has rightly observed “a no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences”. This underscores the inevitability of escalation for which a no-fly zone has set the scene, one way or another.
Even if Gaddafi, out of character, orders his aircraft or ground installations not to engage the foreign forces from here on, or they revolt out of fear or relief, that is not the end of it.
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So Kevin Rudd reckons he’s a better bet to captain the Brisbane Broncos than run for Prime Minister again.
Julia Gillard, who once laughed off her Lodge aspirations by claiming she was more chance to play for the Western Bulldogs, could be forgiven for taking that as a declaration of war.
From earthquakes and tsunamis to violent insurrection in the Middle East, 2011 has borne witness to enormous devastation – which, while tragic for those involved – has certainly enabled Rudd as Foreign Minister to suddenly become more ubiquitous on Australian television than the Daddo brothers.
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One step forward, one step back. Elation, tempered by frustration.
These are the yin and yang senses in the Gillard camp as the PM flies back to Australia today following what should have been an unqualified triumph: a full White House reception extending to a schools visit, an address to a joint sitting of the US Congress, and meetings with all the key figures including the United Nations, General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon.
But for the still new-at-the-job Julia Gillard, struggling to stamp her authority on the prime ministership at home and abroad, Kevin Rudd, the man she displaced last June, remains a fly in the ointment.
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Most of us at some stage or another have received an invitation to a school reunion. Although I would hate to admit how long it has been since I left high school.
Even more sobering was an email I received inviting me to a reunion for the class of 1981 diplomatic cadets joining the Department of Foreign Affairs.
It is worth thinking about how much the world has turned on its head over the last 30 years.
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Like every other family values-oriented Australian I have been deeply impressed this week by Charlie Sheen’s commitment to his children and his efforts to avenge their removal from his custody by removing their mother’s teeth.
You rarely get that sort of passionate parenting these days.
As many people will know, Sheen’s two-year-old twins were placed in the care of his ex-wife Brooke Mueller and taken away from the house he shares with two porn stars.
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Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, visiting Egypt this week, tweeted that it was “inspiring standing in Tahrir Square with young people who stood up for democracy in Egypt”.
Mr Rudd’s sentiments are shared across the world. It’s very hard not to be inspired by the way in which the Egyptian people have claimed control of their own future. Just a month ago, even as pressure on Hosni Mubarak mounted, very few people would have predicted such a speedy and relatively smooth transition of power.
Certainly the Egyptian example has inspired similar uprisings against neighbouring dictators, most notably Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. However, those who expect a similarly speedy and successful resolution of the conflict in that country are likely to be shocked by what is about to unfold in Libya.
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So now the bastard bombs his own people to cling to power. But who didn’t already know that Libya’s Moamar Gaddafi was a terrorist and a despot?
The United States sure did.
US sanctions - and its toppling of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein - so terrified Gaddafi in 2003 that he surrendered his secret nuclear weapons program to avoid being America’s next target.
But what did the United Nations do about this man whose regime has sponsored terrorists, blown up a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, bombed a Berlin disco, armed the IRA, looted Libya’s national wealth, rewarded Holocaust-deniers, jailed dissenters and ruled by fear since Gaddafi, a colonel, seized power in a coup more than 41 years go?
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First it was Tunisia’s leader, then Egypt’s. Now the protests in the Middle East seem to have spread to riots in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere, including to the point where the Libyan leader, Mu’amar Qadhafi, is close to being overthrown.
But how valid is the ‘domino theory’ of popular protest? Are we seeing the start of a region-wide collapse of leaders and regimes?
Probably not. One or two more leaders might go: Qadhafi is truly in trouble, as is Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. However real revolutions are rare, and for good reasons.
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