John Menadue. Radicalism and terrorism.

Jan 7, 2016

Repost from 15/10/2015

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is talking a lot about his government’s commitment to counter radicalisation in the Muslim community. The NSW Premier and Police Commissioner also keep talking about countering radicalisation. At least this is preferable to the endless talk we had before about a ‘death cult’ and ‘team Australia’.

But radicalism and terrorism are not the same thing. Radical politics and radical religion are surely acceptable and widespread. But what is not acceptable is to commit acts of violence and terrorism. Making this distinction between radicalism and terrorism is not some semantic play with language. We had better understand the essential difference between the two or we will never stop terrorism.

Radicalism is about going to the core of a subject or issue. Radical surgery for example is attempting to address the core of the ailment. As a university teenager I was probably a radical student. I am still probably radical on many things. But that radicalism has never been about violence. It was quite the opposite.

I am not surprised that many young Muslim teenagers are offended, indeed radicalised by the violence that the West, including Australia, has inflicted on the Muslim people of the Middle East. I think I understand how the humiliation and violence we have inflicted would radicalise young Muslims.

Malcolm Turnbull says that John Howard was ‘our greatest prime minister with the possible exception of Robert Menzies … I learnt so much from John Howard. Every day I am PM, I’ll be benchmarking everything I do against how John Howard would have handled these challenges’. But does Malcolm Turnbull seriously believe that he should benchmark himself by justifying John Howard’s involvement in the Iraq War which is a root cause of conflict and terrorism in the world today.

There is not much doubt that it was John Howard’s cooperation with George Bush in the invasion of Iraq that unleashed the violence and terrorism that we face today. John Howard helped open the Pandora’s Box of tribal, ethnic and sectarian violence in the Middle East and made us less secure. Most Australian people know that that is true. As I pointed out in an earlier blog, 45% of Australians feel less secure from terrorism because of our continued military meddling in the Middle East and most recently in Syria. Only 13% of Australians feel safer.

We are reaping violence at home for what we have sown abroad. But Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t mention this and wants to benchmark himself against the person who helped trigger so much to the violence and terrorism we face today.

Last night on the 7.30 program the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin said that terrorism in Australia was getting worse but he didn’t know why. He was not asked the obvious follow up question, what is the link between our military involvement in Muslim countries in the Middle East and terrorism at home.

In 2004 a former Commissioner of the AFP Mick Kelty was very clear that ‘our involvement in Iraq made us a greater target for terrorism’. In 2010 the head of UK’ MI 5 Baroness Manningham-Buller told the Chilcott Inquiry ‘that our involvement in Iraq…radicalised a whole generation of young people…who (in addition) saw our involvement in Afghanistan as being an attack on Islam’

The facts are clear but our leaders will not admit their mistakes. Instead they deliberately avoid an honest discussion.

Combatting violence and terrorism will require responses on many fronts.

The first is early intervention and active cooperation with the Muslim community to calm the hot-heads and misfits that exist in every community. Muslim leaders who can’t speak English are not going to be effective bridges between the Muslim and wider Australian communities. They will just not cut it. There may be important role models for young people in the Muslim community, but it is not clear to me.

Secondly, we need to publicise the Jihadists who return and admit their mistake. We then need to help rehabilitate them into the Australian community.

Thirdly, we will need to rely increasingly on the competence of our security and police forces. They are much better resourced and have more power than ever before. Yet they are invariably asking for more money and more powers. And Prime Ministers and Premiers, wanting to be seen to be doing something usually agree

But are our security agencies and police up to the job? There is no doubt that the Man Haron Monis case was seriously mishandled by both our security services and the police, including the botched rescue attempt. We have had very few convictions of alleged terrorists. The evidence presented in many cases has just not stood up. Why?

Organisations that operate in secret and with a lot of untested information need close and effective supervision.  The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is under resourced to do the job.

My experience is that our security services attract more ‘odd bods’ than I have found in any other organization. That experience was some time ago, but I doubt that much has changed. Ministers are easily seduced into the twilight world of fact, fiction, gossip and speculation. I have seen it many times. I have even fallen for it myself.

In a recent article, ‘Narrow focus on radicalisation won’t stop terrorism’ Greg Austin, Visiting Professor at UNSW put the issue in the following way. ‘Radicalisation and terrorism are two different phenomena – legally, politically, psychologically and morally. While a terrorist is by definition radicalised, the mere fact of being radicalised does not explain the transition to terrorism – a choice for violence. In most scenarios, there are many “radicals” in any cause for each person who becomes a terrorist. A policy that screens radicals for terrorists is not workable or reliable, nor scientifically defensible. It will always record significant failures.’

We won’t get on top of our current problems with terrorism whilst Malcolm Turnbull and others conflate radicalism and terrorism and pursue policies in the Middle East that foment terrorism at home.

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