David Hicks and why people can't debate

Miranda Devine: Australian prisoners also wait years for day in court
I was reading Miranda Devine’s column in The Sun-Herald recently (see link above) and something struck me about it. I read Devine’s column when I can and though I rarely agree with what she says, I still find it interesting; she makes her points well, usually without personally attacking people for their views.

But apparently that’s something few can do. Devine listed some of the correspondence she’d received over a column about David Hicks and it was atrocious. One email started “Birdbrain Devine”, another “Dear Miranda – vacant brain and political whore!”. Worse was the anti-Semitism beneath many of the emails. One said “when you write such rubbish about Hicks it is a giveaway that you are Jewish. Only the Jews support what the United States does in the Middle East, because the Jews are an awful race that don’t give a damn about anyone but the ‘Chosen People’.”

This kind of response amazes me. What do they think they are going to achieve by attacking Devine’s character? It has absolutely nothing to do with her article or the facts of David Hicks’s detention at Guantánamo Bay, and I don’t see an equivalent in Devine’s column itself; it is simply a personal attack and does not engage anyone on a serious level. And so much of it is happening these days. Here readers were responsible, but they have learnt it from sections of the media, sections who, when they see a person whose message they disagree with, rather than challenge their point of view, slander them so no-one will listen. Just think of what’s happened between Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell, and more. It’s become common place to attack the messenger rather than the message and I’m getting sick of it. When someone does that, they’re not engaging anyone; they’re attacking purely on a base level and lose any credibility they might have had.

It’s almost as if the idea of debating an issue has disappeared from the public discourse. But then why should it have ever survived? We live in an age of 24 hour news, where ratings and money determine the content more than whether it is newsworthy. People enjoy conflict and personality in their news sources now, as well as the news itself; pitting opposing ideologies against each other, strong egos telling us what’s happening and what we should think and feel about it. There’s nothing in that environment which is conducive to legitimate debate, or at least a debate beyond a shouting match, so of course it’s a skill we’re losing. But it’s something we were always going to lose, with the age we live in. It was inevitable.

As for why Devine’s article sparked such a fierce reaction, that didn’t surprise me. The feeling over Hicks’s detention is powerful, and if you add the current flavour of anti-Americanism to it, and anti-Semitism, and the feelings that Australians have towards anti-authority figures, then it’s easy to see how Hicks could appear as a hero. The thing is, he’s not. Don’t get me wrong: I do not like Guantánamo Bay and I think that Hicks was not charged for 5 years is atrocious; but he was in Afghanistan and aided the Taliban, for whatever reasons. He should have been given a fair go and put on trial years ago, but Hicks is not a hero in this. The bigger issue for me is that the Australian government allowed the treatment of one of its citizens to continue when it could have done more, and that’s something we should all remember.

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