Thursday, June 23, 2005

Compassion - Just So Twentieth Century

After being captured by terrorists, beaten, having his life held to ransom over a period of several weeks, and witnessing the deaths of several of his fellow captives, Douglas Woods is free. Free! And not only that, but he seems relatively healthy. He entered the press conference in Canberra on Tuesday singing, he made jokes, and on leaving, shouted "Go on the Cats - eat them alive!"

Astonishingly, some Australians have reacted to this news with sneers, glib ideological responses, and even insults.

Journalist Tracee Hutchinson writes:

The hostage revealed himself to have none of the grace or dignity dished out to his brothers and looked like a blustering buffoon at his airport news conference ...

Remember, this is about a man who had a week ago still been held captive by terrorists. I think ordinary people would be prepared to forgive Woods for the supposed lack of 'grace' or 'dignity'.

The Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party have tried to impose a price on Woods' freedom:

THE Federal Opposition last night called on freed Australian hostage Douglas Wood to consider repaying taxpayers for his rescue mission from proceeds of thesale of his story to a television network. The Greens said he should donate the proceeds to Iraqi charities such as those looking after war orphans.

Woods is under no such obligation. He is a free man, in a free country, and can do what he likes with the money that he earns. End of story.

Dennis Whelan, writing in to The Age, strikes a similar note:
Wouldn't it be nice if Douglas Wood donated the reputedly large sum of money he is being paid for telling his story to Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, a man given little credit but who tried to negotiate the release of other hostages in Iraq? I have no doubt that their families are experiencing just as much pain, fear and suffering as the Wood family. But then again, that isn't the American way, is it?

Actually, letter writers to The SMH and The Age have used the news of Woods' freedom largely as an excuse to make bad puns and bad arguments about their usual ideological hobby-horses.

The Sheik himself - mentioned in the letter above - has continued to seek publicity and adulation for his role in the whole affair.

When the Australian team in Baghdad received an electronic data “memorystick” on May 29 intended to prove that Douglas Wood was still alive, they believed it contained important clues to his whereabouts. “Hello,” it began,“This is Douglas Wood in Baghdad.” Wood related contemporary accounts of Middle East news, including the decision by Muslim Sunnis to close their main mosque in Baghdad. “The Sunni Mosque,” Wood emphasised.

The Sunni Mosque is a landmark in the Al-Adhamiya district of Baghdad. Was this a veiled pointer to where he was being held? The Australian diplomatic, police and military team decided to keep the message secret.

But within a few days, the mufti Sheik el-Din Al Hilaly, spiritual leader to some of Australia’s Muslims, who had travelled to Baghdad with great fanfare declaring he would try to obtain the release of Wood, claimed he had seen Wood “eye-to-eye”. A day later, he clarified that he had seen him only on a video. The Australian team at the Baghdad embassy was furious. The mufti had blown their secret.

Moreover, he claimed he had passed the video on to the embassy. Considering the team at the embassy had shown it to him in the first place, it seemed evidence of grandstanding, and dangerous grandstanding at that. He had lost their trust.

Woods' response when asked of the Sheik's involvement? "Never heard of him".

Woods' accurate and concise description of his captors - as 'arseholes' - prompted the following response from occasional blog commentator Glen Condell, who seems to resent the fact that Woods is a businessman who doesn't offer his services for free:

Douglas Wood seems a right arsehole.

Ten Douglas Woods aren’t worth just one innocent Iraqi child murdered by the shock and awe designed to make Iraq safe for the Woods of this world, the bignoting skimmers and main chancers and spivs, profiteering from the exploitation of an expendable population, the untermenschen.’

I’ll bet his captors regret not clipping him when they had the chance.


Australians are constantly reminded to give aid to those people who are most vulnerable, and to help them into a better, more secure life.

Who could be more vulnerable than a sixty year old man captured by terrorists? But some people seem to have missed this.

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