The War on Terror and Democracy’s Faustian Bargain

The War on Terror and Democracy’s Faustian Bargain Australia, News, Pacific, West Papua
October 11, 2012

From Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus

FAUSTUS: Ah, Faustus.
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live, And then thou must be damn’d perpetually!
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come;
Fair Nature’s eye, rise, rise again, and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
O lente, lente currite, noctis equi![1]
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn’d.
O, I’ll leap up to my God!–Who pulls me down?– See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah, my Christ!—
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ!
Yet will I call on him: O, spare me, Lucifer!–
Where is it now? tis gone: and see, where God
Stretcheth out his arm, and bends his ireful brows!
Mountains and hills, come, come, and fall on me,
And hide me from the heavy wrath of God!
No, no!
Then will I headlong run into the earth:
Earth, gape! O, no, it will not harbour me!
You stars that reign’d at my nativity,
Whose influence hath alotted death and hell,
Now draw up Faustus, like a foggy mist,
Into the entrails of yon labouring clouds,
That, when you vomit forth into the air,
My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,
So that my soul may but ascend to heaven!
[The clock strikes the half-hour.]
Ah, half the hour is past! ’twill all be past anon.
O God,
If thou wilt not have mercy on my soul,
Yet for Christ’s sake, whose blood hath ransom’d me,
Impose some end to my incessant pain;
Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years,
A hundred thousand, and at last be sav’d!
O, no end is limited to damned souls!
Why wert thou not a creature wanting soul?
Or why is this immortal that thou hast?
Ah, Pythagoras’ metempsychosis, were that true,
This soul should fly from me, and I be chang’d
Unto some brutish beast! all beasts are happy,
For, when they die,
Their souls are soon dissolv’d in elements;
But mine must live still to be plagu’d in hell.
Curs’d be the parents that engender’d me!
No, Faustus, curse thyself, curse Lucifer
That hath depriv’d thee of the joys of heaven.
[The clock strikes twelve.]
O, it strikes, it strikes! Now, body, turn to air,
Or Lucifer will bear thee quick to hell!
[Thunder and lightning.]
O soul, be chang’d into little water-drops,
And fall into the ocean, ne’er be found!
[Enter Devils.]
My God, my God, look not so fierce on me!
Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while!
Ugly hell, gape not! come not, Lucifer!
I’ll burn my books! – Ah Mephistopheles!
Exeunt with him
– Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus Final scene

We’ve probably all heard the term faustian bargain referring to a cultural motif widespread in the West, best exemplified by the legend of Faustus and the Devil Mephistopheles. According to traditional Christian belief in witchcraft, the pact is between a person and Satan or any other demon (or demons); the person offers his or her soul in exchange for diabolical favours. Those favours vary by the tale, but tend to include sex, money, power, knowledge, love – we all want what we don’t have. What wouldn’t you trade for all that and more? At its heart the faustian bargain asks a timeless question – what is our self really worth?

What is our self really worth?

An obvious element in any evaluation of self-worth is what is important to us as an individual and how successful have we been in attaining those things which we deem to be important. What is important to us as individuals, only we as individuals can answer, likewise, how far we as individuals are prepared to go to obtain those things we deem important is a question that only the individual can answer. That being said, there are some things that are universally desired, while hollow in themselves, they are for the majority what stokes the all-important ‘fire in the belly’. As Mephistopheles well knows these universal wants tend to include sex, money, power, knowledge and love. Unfortunately for Western democracy, Mephistopheles and his minions have finally grasped what is important in the 21st Century – national security, border control and injustice. These are what the denizens of the West have been prepared to sell their souls for; these are what self-worth in the 21st Century comes down to.

Unlike the Mephistopheles who tempted Faustus, our Mephistopheles can appear to all of us simultaneously via a television or a computer screen. Rather than appearing resplendent in horns and tail, wearing red and smelling of sulphur, our Mephistopheles appears in Armani or Prada, smelling of Channel surrounded by a throng of minor demons cloaked in the veils of respectable spin-doctors, lawyers, security consultants and mining magnates. What these demons tempt us with is security. Security from what you might ask and that would be a bloody good question to posit to Mephistopheles.

Once such a question is posited to Mephistopheles, the response is likely to be one or all of Muslim extremists, refugees, al-Qaeda (whoever or whatever that is), environmental activists aka greenies, etc… If the question were posited to Australia’s Mephistopheles, the list would most probably extend to Indigenous Australians, Kebab Shop owners, young girls dating Muslim boyfriends and god forbid anyone who might question a politician or police officer’s right to lie!

Since the events of 9/11 and keeping to his side of the faustian bargain Australia’s, Mephistopheles aka the Australian Government, has passed 54 pieces of ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation. In the absence of a federal charter of rights, these laws have not been adequately assessed against, or counterbalanced by human rights. Provisions that permit or enable prolonged solitary confinement and incommunicado detention — including orders that may prohibit and prevent a detainee from contacting anyone at any time while in custody — raise serious concerns under the prohibition against torture and ill-treatment.

The conditions of detention of a number of individuals charged with various offences under Australia’s counter-terrorism laws raise serious issues with respect to humane treatment in detention. Of particular concern are the restrictiveness and austerity of the conditions of detention of terrorist accused, the reversed burden of proof in bail applications and the very limited circumstances in which bail can be granted.

The realities of the threat that Australia has sold its soul to guard against

No Australians have died from a terrorist attack since 2005, when a Melbourne man died in the London bombing. The last person to die on Australian soil as a result of a terrorist attack was Hagop Levonian who was killed on 23 November 1986 in the Turkish consulate car-bombing in Melbourne. Levonian was also the bomber! It’s also worth remembering that on October 12 this year, it will be a decade since 88 Australians, along with 114 others, died in the Bali bombings.

While the death of even one innocent is to be mourned, the opportunistic way in which Australia and its so-called allies in Washington and London have responded to the events of 9/11 should be mourned even more. Since 9/11 Australia, yes OUR Australia has used 9/11 as an excuse to strip away many of the limited rights we as Australian citizens enjoyed prior to that rogue attack on the exclamation marks of Western Capitalism. As importantly, under the guise of bringing stability to the arc of instability, Australia, using the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”) International Deployment Group (“IDG”) as its spearhead has ‘invaded’ and occupied a number of small, previously independent and sovereign states in the Pacific to the benefit of Australian capital.

While preaching the moral high ground in the Pacific, Australia at the same time has ignored the ongoing genocide of the West Papuan people, a people who have been sold to the highest bidder on more than one occasion to the benefit of Western capital. If there are a people in the Pacific who live in fear and terror every day of their lives, and after all that’s what terrorists aim to achieve, it’s the West Papuan’s. What has Australia and its allies done to assist the West Papuan people? Well we train, equip, fund and provide logistical support to their oppressors. We provide capital to their oppressors businesses and buy the output of stolen mines and forests. How these not are acts of terrorism in and of themselves, I do not know.

How interesting it is that Australia via the AFP and IDG can glibly kidnap the lawfully appointed Attorney-General of the sovereign state of the Solomon Islands, Mr Julian Moti QC and arrest, fit-up and incarcerate an innocent Australian citizen Captain Fred Martens, living in Port Moresby, the principle city of another sovereign Pacific state, PNG, all to further Australia’s neo-colonial ambitions in the Pacific, but we can’t offer a helping hand to the real victims of terror, the indigenous people of West Papua.

Mephistopheles has certainly extracted a high price from Australia’s citizens, in exchange for ‘security’ from a seemingly non-existent or at best ephemeral terrorist threat!

Schoolboy Faustus finds a naughty magic book and signs away his soul…

Marlow’s Faustus has experienced many a revival over the years, one of the more original came out of Oxford in 2007. In the Oxford 2007 revival, the basic conceit went thus: Faustus is a schoolboy obsessed with the pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to achieve both greatness and immortality, preferably equal to that of God. The playground bully and his gang tempt Faustus over to the dark side, and struggle against the goody-goody school prefect for the possession of his soul. Unlike the Star Wars/Lord of the Rings bad-against-good fables of today, there is no certainty that the good will win.

I throw this snippet in, only because it has parallels with Australia in the Pacific. Like the school-yard bullies of our youth, Australia is prepared to throw its weight around against those who are smaller, slower or otherwise make easy targets. When it comes to serious, grown-up issues like genocide, moral responsibility or accountability, Australia like all good school-yard bullies attempts to lurk in the shadows until easier prey happens past.

While Doctor Faustus was Marlowe’s last play, he left us with a number of other hero-villains to ponder on prior to his ‘assassination’ in a London tavern, supposedly in a dispute about the reckoning. I use the word ‘assassination’ since the three killers present were all secret agents; it is a fair assumption that the 29 year old Marlowe was terminated with maximum prejudice for knowing too much. You see, as well as being a poet-dramatist, Marlowe pursued a career as an Elizabethan MI6 agent – well at least for one of MI6’s ancestors.

The point about Marlowe’s other hero-villains – Tamburlaine, the Guise, Edward II, and Barabas the Jew of Malta – the magician-scholar Faustus is an ‘overreacher’ and pays with his soul. Perhaps the moral is that we in Australia and elsewhere in the West have overreached in our search for security and we are about to pay with the soul of our democracy.

Originally published on Blak and Black.

[1] For my regular readers in the Australian Federal Police who keep my stats up in times when I’m suffering from writers’ malaise or otherwise occupied, I offer the following translation and explanation of the Latin line. “O run slowly, slowly, horses of the night”; the lover who say this in Ovid, Amores I.xiii.40, wants to prolong the night in his mistress’s arms – an understandable want, depending of course on who one’s mistress is!


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