Letters to the Editor

by Dennis Altman, Matthew Castle, and Andrew Broertjes
March 2020, no. 419

Letters to the Editor

by Dennis Altman, Matthew Castle, and Andrew Broertjes
March 2020, no. 419

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A disturbing omission

Dear Editor,

I read Sophie Knezic’s review of the Haring/Basquiat exhibition with admiration but also a sense that it avoided the tragedy of these artists’ lives. Jean-Michel Basquiat died aged twenty-eight of a heroin overdose; Keith Haring died at thirty-two from AIDS, years before effective therapies existed. Both men lived through an extraordinary period of transition in New York City, which ended prematurely for so many. This is reflected in their work, most obviously in Haring’s safe-sex messages. To review their work without acknowledging this is a disturbing omission.

Dennis Altman, Clifton Hill, Vic.


Blowback and 9/11

Dear Editor,

While Andrew Broertjes’s review of Daniel Immerwahr’s How to Hide an Empire is mostly considered in its analysis, I consider the couple of paragraphs dealing with the 9/11 terrorist attacks to be disingenuous at best and egregiously partisan at worst. To characterise the murder of almost 3,000 people as ‘blowback’ against some perceived injustice is wilfully inaccurate. Al Qaeda was quite open about the role of 9/11 in prosecuting an expansionist Islamist agenda – conveniently ignored in the article – and prior to 2003 the United States was not a colonial power in the Arab world, notwithstanding the positioning of military bases in friendly territory, unlike, for example, the French, British, and Turks. I am surprised and disappointed that ABR allowed the unamended publication of that part of the article.

Matthew Castle (online comment)


Andrew Broertjes replies:

Thank you for your response. Your issues with my review are twofold: the claim that the United States ‘prior to 2003’ was a colonial power in the Arab world, and that the 9/11 attacks were ‘blowback’ to ‘perceived injustice’ against the Arab world/the Middle East. You allege that I made these claims across ‘a couple of paragraphs’, although ‘a couple of sentences’ may be nearer the mark. But to address these points in turn:

At no point in the review did I claim that the United States acted as a colonial power in the Middle East prior to 2003. The closest I came was in the following: ‘A new international order had been formed, as former European colonial empires collapsed and transformed into the proxy battlefields of the Cold War. America’s imperialism would be as much cultural and economic as martial during what was dubbed as “the short American century”. Terms like “coca-colonisation” were coined to describe the spread of American culture and ideals around the globe.’ In case it wasn’t clear in the review, ‘coca-colonisation’ is a term that Daniel Immerwahr has borrowed to describe the use of soft power by the United States. Neither I nor, presumably, Immerwahr uses the term to mean colonialism in the classical sense of the word.

As I stated in the review, I borrowed the term ‘blowback’ from the Chalmers Johnson book of the same name. In the first edition of that book, published prior to the events of 9/11, Johnson wrote, astutely in my opinion: ‘World politics in the twenty-first century will in all likelihood be driven primarily by blowback from the second half of the twentieth century – that is, from the unintended consequences of the Cold War and the crucial American decision to maintain a Cold War posture in a post-Cold War world.’

Little has happened since then to prove Johnson wrong. Osama bin Laden had a list of grievances, including the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia (and therefore the proximity of the infidel to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, as expressed in his 1996 manifesto), the sanctions on Iraq post-Desert Storm that had resulted in ‘a million children dying’, and the Israeli occupation of historic Palestine. To pretend that these grievances did not exist, or that Islamic terrorism (or indeed any terrorism) exists in some sort of historical vacuum, is far closer to a position that is ‘disingenuous at best and egregiously partisan at worst’ than anything contained within my review.

From the New Issue

Comment (1)

  • Thank you, Andrew, for your detailed response. In retrospect, the wording in my original comment was unnecessarily strong, and accordingly was unhelpful. I retract and apologise for any wording of mine that might have caused offence. The point I was trying to make at the time, albeit clumsily, was that some words acknowledging (notwithstanding the historical context) that there was no intent to imply that the USA was somehow culpable for the 9/11 attacks would have been beneficial. Although having re-read just now your review, perhaps I was overly sensitive in my original reaction. In any event, I shall now seek out a copy of Immerwahr's book and read it - your review and subsequent comments have been of service to me in highlighting certain gaps in my historical knowledge, and for that I thank you.
    Posted by Matthew Castle
    03 March 2020

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