When formulating our defence against terrorism, it is important to understand the motives of those who encourage such violence.
The immediate aim is to cause fear.
Despite you being much more likely to die at the hands of your partner, we have people like Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi, George Christensen and Sonia Kruger telling us we are afraid to walk down the street because of ‘Islam’!
The Conversation put the domestic terror threat into perspective in an article titled Australians have little to fear from terrorism at home – here’s why.
More Australians have died at the hands of police (lawfully or unlawfully) in ten years (50 at least from 2006 to 2015) or from domestic violence in just two years (more than 318 in 2014 and 2015) than from terrorist attacks in Australia in the last 20 years.
Australian security services, supported by the public and community groups, have been very successful in monitoring the threats. According to the government’s 2015 review, the number of people in the country who have been prepared to commit terrorist acts here remains low.
Public opinion in Australia has an exaggerated view of the terrorist threat inside the country. As early as 2006, two Australian scholars put forward a “thought contagion theory” to explain this phenomenon. It suggests misleading ideas become commonly held beliefs after they are conveyed to many people.
The anxiety is often unnecessarily fuelled by politicians and journalists. One striking example was a warning from The Australian’s Greg Sheridan in November 2015 that the Paris attacks can be viewed as part of a series of threats that may lead to the end of Western civilisation.
But the over-anxiety about terrorist attacks in Australia conforms to a more longstanding phenomenon of Australian insecurity and exaggeration of international threats in almost all quarters. It also comes from the exaggerated fear of becoming a victim of domestic crime.
In this environment of supercharged public anxiety about terrorist threats on Australian soil, opinion leaders in politics, the media and academia have a responsibility to not inflame them.
Another aim of the current crop of Islamist extremists is to create a backlash that turns non-Muslims against Muslims, legitimising the claim that there is war between the West and Islam.
Donald Trump and xenophobic right-wing parties in Europe and here have fallen for this making victims of those people who have been fleeing just such terror in the Middle East.
This persecution of innocent Muslims in their own countries delights the terrorists. It is exactly what they want – for us to turn on each other.
When we unfairly alienate and discriminate against people because of their religion or ethnicity rather than because of anything they have done, we provide fertile ground for those who would groom vulnerable disaffected youth.
David Irvine, head of ASIO until his retirement in September 2014, rejected as “un-Australian” a proposition floated from the right that immigration from Middle Eastern countries should be limited, and praised the efforts of leaders in the Muslim community in helping counter terrorism.
Australia is different to other countries in that, provided we can get the refugees through the ring of steel, we offer very good resettlement and support services to help during the inevitable adjustment period it would take anyone fleeing from war to a very different place.
We should be welcoming them, telling them they are safe now, earning the trust of people who may be very scared, helping them heal and start new lives. It has been shown time and time again, our investment is returned manyfold as they become productive contributing members of the society that gave them a chance to live without fear.
To those that perpetuate this irrational fear of our Muslim brothers and sisters, I have one thing to say.
You’ve been played.
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