Plenty of smoke but little fire in Tony Abbott’s concerns over Muslim radicals

2 Sep

Published in The Age, 2 September 2014

The Islamic State is emerging as a political movement.


The Prime Minister should be a beacon leading us out of the terrorism smoke, not fanning the flames.

Mr Abbott’s announcement that $13.4 million will be earmarked to “support community efforts to prevent young Australians being radicalised” is fraught with contradictions.

How can one allocate money to a “community” solution before we have any evidence-based research on the cause? There is no singular definable career path or pathology for the radicalised terrorist. Some are educated professionals who are drawn to ideology of a pure Islamic caliphate. Others are disenfranchised and unemployed, angry at their lack of belonging. Whether it is the pull or push factor, the allure of power and making history is a magnet for some.

The compounding factors may be idiosyncratic to the individual, compounded by their selected peers or by their selected social media. There is no evidence that the family or the “community” sanctions or supports this pathway to violent extremism. When discovered, these individuals appear to be leading a double life.

If “community” refers to Islamic organisations and mosques, they are rarely on the radar or habitat of these recluses. When was a radicalised jihadist recognised as a regular at a youth centre? These marginalised individuals appear to shy away from these “mainstream” professional agencies that encourage education and employment. Throwing the solution at the feet of Muslim community leaders implies that they are part of the problem.

While Mr Abbott is at pains to point out that his measures “are not directed against any particular community or religion”, this is refuted by his recent round of Muslim meetings. The leaders that the Prime Minister “consulted” last week while trying to sell his anti-terror reforms are the respectable officials and unlikely to be “consulted” by the radicalised jihadists.

The Attorney-General’s Living Safe Together website affirms that “there is not just one path to violent extremism”, and that “extremists exploit social and economic conditions, and individual vulnerabilities to recruit and motivate others”. However, it also affirms that “many projects are already under way across Australia under the Building Community Resilience Grants and Youth Mentoring Grants Programs”. This begs the question: has Mr Abbott announced a continuation of an existing funding?

Mr Abbott claims that “the best defence against radicalisation is through well-informed . . . local engagement”. But his concerns about returning radicalised extremists becoming “involved in terrorist activity here” may be ill-informed. ISIS is not al-Qaeda. The Islamic State is emerging as a political movement that is founded on reclaiming and expanding its own territory, commencing with Iraq and Syria.

Their enemies are infidels in their caliphate who refuse to swear allegiance to caliph Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi. Their ethnic cleansing is driven by a sense of victimisation and vengeance. As confirmed by many “rear-view mirror” empirical studies on the radicalisation process, angry political views are the prerequisite, not religious intolerance.

Unlike al-Qaeda, which launched attacks on foreign soil, this offshoot recruits fighters for its own soil. There has been no official escalation of Australia’s “medium” risk of terrorist threat since 2003. Despite this unchanged risk assessment, Mr Abbott heightens the media hype by referring to what “we have seen on our TV screens and on the front pages of our newspapers”.

If one listens to the propaganda of the travelling circus that recruits youth into the Islamic State, they are replete with references to western racism and hypocrisy.

If Mr Abbott is serious about “activities to better understand and address radicalisation”, the onus cannot be left at the feet of the “community”. Ironically, the double speak in his announcement has already fed conspiracy theories that Muslims are being targeted, yet again. The differential treatment of Australians in the Israeli Defence Forces, which have killed over 2000 Palestinians in Gaza, remain a bone of contention for many who see all killing of civilians as immoral, regardless of uniform or citizenship. The maps of Sydney CBD seized inside a “bomb-making” house in Brisbane failed to attract the usual terrorist headlines, perhaps because the suspect was not from the Middle East.

Even “moderate” Muslims have been angered by Mr Abbott’s recent ultimatum that “you don’t migrate to this country unless you want to join our team”, especially given that near half of the Muslim population was Australian-born.

Repeated references to “Team Australia” reduce these issues to a sport where the non-players are rendered non-Australian. Mr Abbott may be wise to play down the politics of fear by stating “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”.

The hype around home-grown radicals planting bombs is real, and has been spurred by the free publicity given to Islamic State scaremongering. But planting the solution at the feet of the community is not realistic.

They need to be coupled with government efforts to stop the divisive language and foreign policies that cause the very radicalisation that the Prime Minister is ostensibly diffusing.

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