The Australian is normally a voice for sanity in this country’s political debate. But Editor-in-Chief Paul Whittaker really ought to take a look at what goes into the Review magazine inside The Weekend Australian – editor Michelle Gunn.
On the same day the paper hit the streets on Saturday, July 29, Sydney counter-terror operatives were arresting four Islamists over an alleged plot to bring down a domestic airliner with an explosive device. This alleged plot was the thirteenth thwarted in the past three years. Had it succeeded, hundreds of deaths would have traumatised the country .
Now turn to page 22 of Review (editor Tim Douglas, and Literary Editor Stephen Romei, who staff say selects the book reviewers)), in which fantasy novelist and journalist Claire Corbett reviews three books on counter-terror units, including Sons of God about the Victorian Special Operations Group and two about the US Navy SEALS, The Killing School and The Operator. She writes,
“As historian Yuval Noah Harari points out in his 2015 book Homo Deus terrorists have almost no capacity to threaten a functioning state. The danger comes most from our over-reactions.
‘Whereas in 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about three million people,’ Harari writes,’ terrorists killed a total of 7697 people across the globe , most of them in developing countries.’ He notes that for the average person in the affluent West, soft drinks pose a far deadlier threat than terrorists.” (My emphases).
Thanks for that, Claire Corbett, and thanks for your second-hand imbecility about soft drinks’ deadly threat. But no thanks, Review editors, for allowing Corbett/Harari to trash The Australian’s reputation for intellectual rigor, let alone common sense.
Let’s see what else Harari’s on about (not mentioned by Corbett) besides deadly soft drinks. He’s a history professor of repute and celebrity at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, “probably the most fashionable thinker on the planet right now,” according to the Daily Mail.
Writing only a month ago, after the Manchester slaughter, he claims that Britons need to accept that terrorists may kill a few people a year.
‘The most dangerous thing about terrorism is the over-reaction to it. I mean, the terrorist attacks themselves are of course horrific, and I don’t intend to minimise the tragedy of the people who are killed, but if you look at the big picture it’s a puny threat…
For every person who is killed by a terrorist in the UK there are at least 100 who die in car accidents. Nevertheless, terrorism manages to capture our imagination in a way that car accidents don’t. You kill 20 people and you have 60 million people frightened that there is a terrorist behind every tree. That causes them to over-react. To do things like persecute entire communities, invade countries, go to war, change our way of life in terms of human rights and privacy, because of a tiny threat…
We have to give up this idea that we can completely abolish terrorism and that even the tiniest attack is completely unacceptable. You have domestic violence or rape and we don’t say, “Let’s have a curfew: men are not allowed on the street after eight o’clock.” If we could have such an attitude towards terrorism – “OK, every year there are two, three or four incidents of terrorism, a couple of dozen people get killed, it’s terrible, but OK, we get on with our lives” – it will be a far more effective response.’
In 2015, he was saying “Most terrorist attacks kill only a handful of people.”
“In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel, when buses and restaurants were hit every few days, the yearly toll reached 451 dead Israelis. In the same year, 542 Israelis were killed in car accidents. A few terrorist attacks, such as the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, kill hundreds. The 9/11 attacks set a new record, killing nearly 3,000 people. Yet even this is dwarfed by conventional warfare: if you add all the people killed and wounded in Europe by terrorist attacks since 1945 – including victims of nationalist, religious, leftist and rightist groups – it will still represent many fewer casualties than in any number of obscure First World War battles…”
If in 2050 the world is full of nuclear and bio-terrorists, Harari wonders, their victims will look back at the Western world of today with longing tinged with disbelief: how could people who lived such secure lives nevertheless have felt so threatened?
A vegan, Harari considers “industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history” – an unusual claim by an Israeli. He lives with his husband, Itzik, in a co-op outside the city, is seriously into Vipassana meditation, and lacks a smart phone. He thinks superhuman cyborgs of the future will have the potential to live for ever – barring violent accidents, he says, but only the richest could afford the immortality treatment. People were happier in the Stone Age. Our biggest ever mistake was cultivating wheat, according to the professor.
Getting back to author Corbett’s page last weekend, Review arts content over the years has stuck in my craw for its relentless ABC-style green/Left slant and selections.
Corbett manages to fill her page with 32 paragraphs about “the secretive world of special ops” without once mentioning the “I” (Islam) word. But by para three she’s saying, “No matter how stressful, no training can truly prepare soldiers for combat or police for shootouts with neo-Nazis” (my emphasis). Well, it was news to me that neo-Nazis (undefined by Corbett) are a shootout problem, but has this woman ever compared the threat of our ‘neo-Nazis’ with, say, ISIS? I suppose she’s more concerned with soft drinks’ deadly threat.
She ticks all the boxes: Abbott derangement syndrome, feminist, environmentalist, and drowning-city catastrophist (coached by one of Al Gore’s myrmidons/ambassadors).
Corbett says she had been a policy adviser to a NSW Premier – cross-checking dates indicates this was under Bob Carr, circa 2003. She’s dabbled in film-crew work, published two well-received novels and many short stories and done four or five long-form features for Morry Schwartz’s The Monthly, the last in mid-2015.
Her first book When We Have Wings (2011) is yet another future dystopia where a malign regime has everyone under surveillance (maybe it’s a parable about Obama, who sooled the most advanced surveillance agencies onto his harmless opponents, even sympathetic journalists).
Corbett’s plot twist is that elite people can acquire wings and fly like birds. But ominously, “only the rich and powerful can afford the surgery, drugs, and gene manipulation to become fliers.” The down-trodden poor people remain non-fliers. No wonder Bill Shorten is campaigning on inequality. Naturally the book was hailed by the literary set, and was even named “Highlight of the Year” by writer Lisa Jacobsen. 
In my office career, I was in plenty of flaps but not of Corbett’s literal kind. She starts with heroine Peri doing circuits over Salt Grass Bay in a future climate-changed world. My first thought was that Peri was scavenging for discarded fish and chips. But instead she spies her shot-down winged pal Luisa dead in the surf. Peri lands and makes sure her own feathers don’t get wet. “No time to dry them, not now,” Peri thinks, bringing cormorants to my mind.
However, Peri’s take-off technique seems more pelican-like. “She starts her run along the sand, gulping air. It takes all her strength to run fast enough to get off the ground… Peri’s flying now… Peri flies higher, banks, turning for home.”
Peri should wear aviators’ L-plates. On landing on a clifftop house platform she bangs into the rock wall and beats her wings and rattles her feathers to recover. Once she’s inside the house, in a welcome touch of realism, her wings tend to knock stuff over when she turns around.
I’d tell you more but I only got a free read of Chapter One. With a bit of further cribbing I found the nearest city was Sydney-like but rather taken over by Buddhists. I couldn’t discover if these monks were also blowing up airliners and scheming to inflict megadeath on Grand Final crowds.
Corbett’s avian expertise would suit her for Review book reviews on the RAAF. But how has she has morphed into Weekend Australian’s special-ops expert who thinks soft drinks are far deadlier than terrorists?
Turns out that from 2014-15 she did four features in The Monthly on the RAN, the last in mid-2015. Three were about what was then the ‘which-submarine’ choice. Like some other fiction-writers, she can bring original touches. Her public service experience helped her winkle out some information. And she commendably sat through two high level open conferences on the choice. Her features on subs are reasonable, although hindsight does not treat them kindly.
Her overview on perceptions of the RAN starts well and degenerates into an ABC/Fairfax-style rant about the Abbott iniquities of (successful) Operation Sovereign Borders and how navy people tortured African asylum seekers during tow-back by forcing their hands onto hot engine pipes. I could find on-line in The Monthly no later clarification that the torture claims were fake, not even after the ABC’s then-boss Mark Scott said, “We regret if our reporting led anyone to mistakenly assume that the ABC supported the asylum seekers’ claims.”
Corbett also managed to condemn our intelligence people’s listening-in on the Indonesian President’s wife’s mobile, without mentioning it was done in the Rudd-Gillard era. “Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s handling of the fallout rubs salt into the wound,” she grouched.
None of this makes her much of a choice on special ops expertise, and she writes some really strange stuff – deadly soft drink consumption included. As the details emerge daily about the alleged horrific airliner bombing plot, the Australian’s Review standards look increasingly tawdry. What’s up, Whittaker?
Tony Thomas, who has a UWA Master of Arts in Australian literature, has a book of essays That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, available here
 For example, she quotes a tweet, “Climate Change Could Lead to Disappearance of 1500 Indonesian Islands”
 Her name is on a 2003 NSW Health document
 See NYT best seller Stonewalled by Sharyl Attkinson, ex-CBS investigative reporter.
 Corbett short stories also made Best Australian Stories 2014 and ditto, 2015.
 Her latest novel is Watch Over Me (2017), which is yet another fantasy yarn about people under oppression by a malign regime.