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Islamic terrorism and the cynical exploitation of our fears

Do I really want to tackle this?

I am going to have to go. I find it quite a difficult subject to fully get my head around, with a lot of emotional responses. More than normal, I would ask that readers keep the words from this article in context and read the whole piece before making a judgement. Perhaps understandably this topic tends to get grossly oversimplified for the most part. I am going to try to treat the issue (and by extension those of you reading this) with a bit more respect. But it is a really big topic too, so apologies if I don’t go into full detail with a few areas or omit a few elements of the debate that I think of as a bit more peripheral.

Whilst I abhor the Islamaphobic rhetoric that spews from far right mouthpieces like Andrew Bolt, I am not going to try to claim that there isn’t a problem with violent extremist groups and Islam at this point in time. The number of attacks sponsored or inspired by Muslim extremist groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram is too great to be waved off flippantly and I would argue it is not racist or irrational to be concerned about the possibility of terrorism by Islamic extremists in this country. Much as it is an admission I don’t like making, in order to maintain credibility in a complex issue like this, it is vital one consider all facts fairly, not focus on just the ones that support your preferred narrative (someone should really mention this to Pauline Hanson).

And even though millions of Muslims have publicly stated that groups like ISIS are not true Muslims and 70000 Islamic imams have issued a fatwa against terrorist groups including IS, if the groups perpetuating many of these attacks are identifying themselves as such then it becomes a common factor that people will look at.

So yes, I am saying there appears to be a problem of violence and extremism associated with Islam, but don’t group me with Sonia Kruger. There are a number of aspects to this debate that need to be looked at this more closely.

Is Islam an inherently violent religion?
It seems like right now a week doesn’t go by without a shooting, stabbing or suicide bomb somewhere in the world. And a lot of them are reported as either financed, executed or at least inspired by groups like ISIS. This is not sufficient evidence alone to conclude that Islam is a violent religion. As Barnaby Joyce, of all people pointed out, Islam doesn’t have the mortgage on terrorism. In the recent past, the world has suffered the existence of many terrorist groups of diverse ideologies, including the IRA (Catholics), The Stern Gang (Zionists), Bahder-Meinhoff (Marxists) and ETA (Basque separatists). To say Islam is a religion that promotes violence based solely on the actions of an extremist minority is as nonsensical as anyone making the same claim about Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism.

Given the carnage and violence we see so regularly, I would consider any well-structured argument that there is an inherent bias for violence in the teachings of Islam. But I haven’t seen any yet. If you want to convince me there is, you will have to do better than cherry-picking passages from the Quran. As a number of people have demonstrated in some detail, if the same approach was taken with the Bible we could just as easily brand Christianity a violent religion. There is, of course, more to any religion than its book of faith. The interpretation of the ancient writings by its senior custodians is what guides most followers. And while Islam has its share of high profile hate-preachers, so too does Christianity. Let me again repeat the statement about the 70000 imams that signed a fatwa against terrorism. I’m quite happy to overemphasise this point, as our irresponsible media has given it almost no coverage.

The Media
It is also worth noting the role our somewhat parasitic media organisations have on this debate with their cynical exploitation of our fears. There are hundreds more shootings, stabbings and other brutal crimes happening all over the world that get very little or no attention, but the moment one occurs with a perpetrator who can be connected with Islam or the Middle East in particular, it is big news. This gives a completely false and exaggerated impression about the threat posed by Muslims within a society compared to other religious or ethnic groups.

Moreover, their perversely detailed coverage of the carnage is not only an advertisement and almost a celebration of the terrorists’ strength. It also feeds the disproportionate fears, (which leads to anger and hate in what Yoda would describe as a clear path to the dark side) in western communities. Star Wars jokes aside, it is pretty obvious that a more mature coverage of these atrocities would reduce the level of racial hatred in the community.

The elephant in the room in any discussion of this issue (unless George Christenson is in the room, in which case it’s him – I’m not usually one for personal jokes like that one, but Christensen has made it quite clear that he thinks bullying is fine with his comments on the Safe Schools debate, so now he is fair game as far as I am concerned) is inequality. I am a big believer in individual accountability, so I am a little cautious making this point. I would hate for this to be interpreted as any kind of tacit condonation of the violence of terrorism. Nonetheless, inequality, ghettoization and radicalisation go hand in hand all over the world so have to be recognised.

Every insurgent militant group in history has probably viewed itself as being oppressed and disadvantaged. This is where religion does become a problem because a perversion of religion is being used so successfully to offer solace to many who are unhappy (oddly enough, by recruiting heavily from the disadvantaged, the uneducated and the fearful, Islamic terrorists have more in common with far right conservatives than either group would admit). Having little to lose and, in their minds, a noble cause and a purpose can inspire a powerful resolve. It also connects those looking for a cause with the suffering of oppressed Islamic groups within the world.

The vehicle of oppression need not be violence or force either. It can also be perceived (and it is often perceptions that count more than reality) as economical, political or cultural. This is a powerful contributor to violent extremism and is valuable for terrorist recruiters And it is vital that we understand that every time we make a kneejerk fearful response that targets Muslims (campaigns to ban burkas and mosques, register Muslims, restrict immigration, etc) we are contributing to this sense of oppression.

So yes, in the current climate, Muslims are probably more likely to be radicalised than other religions, but every increasingly fascist step we take to further marginalise and dehumanise them to appease our fears increases this likelihood and thus makes us less safe, not more. I will say again, terrorists make their own choice and don’t get to blame anyone else for their crimes, but when we know (remember when ASIO personally contacted senior Abbott ministers to ask them to tone down their rhetoric) our actions can increase the likelihood of radicalisation and terrorism, we have to think carefully before we act.

Mental health
I just want to quickly mention mental health too. To my mind, anyone – regardless of race or religion – that is moved to carry out some kind of mass casualty attack on innocents, would have to raise a few red flags about their mental health. Certainly, anytime a non-Muslim is involved (Dylan Roof or Micah Johnson for example) in terrorism, mental health is offered as a primary explanatory factor. Why is it almost ignored as a factor for terrorists who happen to be Islamic?

I should add here, mental health is rarely an excuse for actions that are wrong. Most people dealing with these kinds of issues do so without committing crimes or atrocities. But when an attack is carried out by someone with poor mental health, it does weaken the argument that it is their religion not their psychosis that is driving factor in the behaviour.

In the preceding paragraphs I mentioned the issues of inequality and this has a compounding effect when you consider the role of mental health because those who live in poverty who are more easily radicalised, also have less access to mental health support. Moreover, the millions of displaced refugees (a significant proportion of whom are Muslim) who have experienced unspeakable trauma are obviously at higher risk of mental health. So from this perspective also, there probably is a greater chance that someone from a Muslim community could be, but their religion is not what is driving this. It appears to be a correlated but not causative factor.

What will I say if terrorism strikes in Australia?
The lack of successful terrorist operations on Australian soil to date does not mean we are not under threat. Our federal counter-terrorism forces are an important factor in keeping us safe and need to be properly resourced. But one day my message of tolerance and acceptance towards the vast majority of peaceful Muslims may be proved ‘wrong’ and Australia could be the victim of a major terrorist attack (for the record, despite what certain vested interests would have you believe, Man Haron Monis was less a terrorist than a violently unstable man with little religious motivation). I will actually go as far as to say I think it is quite plausible that this will happen. How will I feel then?

Well quite obviously I will be saddened and angry, as we all should. There will be a few bigots out there who can barely contain their perverse glee at being ‘right,’ but I imagine the vast majority of Australians will react with the same horror. Of course I tend to be saddened and angered whenever I hear about violent crimes and other avoidable tragedies, but I also realise that sadly they do happen.

We don’t give up cars, despite the thousands of deaths and injuries on our roads every year and the anguish they cause. And quite rightly so. We don’t want to give up our mobility as it would impact on our economy and our quality of life. So we accept the risk that comes with them, even knowing the heartbreak this inevitably includes.

In the same way, it is not worth giving up our humanity and empathy for others to try to reduce the risk of Islamic terrorism to zero, especially when we could still be the victim of violent crime in many other contexts. I have empathy for the argument that just one life lost to terrorism is too many, but so too is every cowardly racist assault on Australian Muslims, and these become more prevalent when society accepts the narrative that Muslims are a threat we must fear. I also suspect one of the reasons our appalling offshore detention regime still enjoys fairly broad support is exploited fears around unchecked migration and terrorism.

Conclusion (if you could call it that)
There are a lot of bad people in the world and quite a few of them are Muslim, but many aren’t (Peter Dutton, I’m looking at you). Barnaby Joyce can see it. My 12-year old students can see it. The rest of us need to see it too. Right now there appears to be more terrorism by individuals and groups associated with – or motivated by – extreme Islamic ideology. This results from a wide confluence of factors, including the geopolitical situation, extreme inequality and almost universal western cultural hegemony. But it is important to note the risk is less than portrayed in the media.

All of this notwithstanding there is an elevated risk and I will reiterate that those who have concerns about this are not necessarily racist or stupid. But these concerns do not legitimise actions that are racist or stupid, such as demonising all Muslims. Aside from the fact that this is morally indefensible, it is also counterproductive, as it widens and entrenches the cultural divide that we need to overcome. I have said elsewhere it is not necessarily what we believe that defines us, but how we act on those beliefs. So let’s act intelligently.

Quick fixes to systemic problems rarely work out well. If a building has a structural problem, you need to fix it at the structural level, not just paint over the cracks. The same is true for a society. Making restrictive laws that target Muslims is at best painting over a crack, if not jackhammering into it. The structural problems in our society of why people can be radicalised will need to be addressed slowly by breaking down the fear and mistrust and engaging across cultural borders. To make this work we really need to get people like Pauline Hanson to shut up.

This article was originally published on the Quietblog.


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  1. Florence nee Fedup

    I believe those at the bottom need someone to kick. In this country it is the latest wave immigrants. Sadly the previous wave joins in.

  2. David

    I was thinking about this today, before I read the article. I was wondering how parents in Australia would respond if their child had the back of their head blown off by a sniper using hollow point (dum dum) bullets. Would they bring out another child for more target practice? I think not. That is just one part of the whole scenario. When your home, village, city is demolished by made in USA/UK/Israel bombs from above, delivered by armed forces of USA, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel, perhaps you might get a bit ticked off. From Iraq to Afghanistan to Syria, this is what has happened. Is it any wonder that young men and women from these areas and their relatives all over the world should seek payback? Is it my imagination that the only winner out of all this carnage seems to be the State of Israel? Is our own government being blackmailed to go along with this charade? More questions than answers for this never ending catastrophe!

  3. diannaart

    Such excellent, thoughtful writing. On a massive topic.

    One point I would like to add is the advantage disparate groups of humans are making of the increasingly wide division between rich and poor along with the decimation of what used to be a comfortable middle class.

    Hanson is blaming Muslims (or whoever is in disfavour of the decade), Trump blames well everyone except himself, Brexit continues to shock, Europe is watching the rise and rise of white supremacy and has anyone checked on Russia lately? – they (well the white ones) really don’t like immigrants -stealing their jobs and all that.

    Watch this exceptional doco on (dear old) Auntie if you wish to be better informed:

    Meanwhile the 1% are building walls and seeding dissent among the great unwashed – all the more to feel superior.

    What feeds terrorism? – no hope, no equity, no justice.

  4. mars08

    dianaart hits the nail on the head. Sadly, it’s really nothing new. The ruling class has been doing it for decades. And modern communication technology (concentrated in a few hands) makes it so much easier and quicker to frighten the herd…

  5. diannaart

    Top link mars08, Richard Pryor, ahead of his time into perpetuity.

    Am holding to the hope that modern communication will be the turning point – we can now make localised power (solar/wind) and there are enough technically minded people who are not interested in hopping onto the greed machine. There are reasons for corporate power to fight against of-grid technology.

  6. my say

    We have a lot to thank our Media for ,we have so many deaths ,due to domestic violence ,shootings, stabbings , road deaths ,farmers taking their own lives, but not a word from our MSM,but when some lone wolf goes mad ,we have the threat of terrorism on front pages ,
    there is nothing like terrorism to keep us in fear of our lives,

  7. Steve Laing

    An excellent article dealing with a subject matter that is very easy to misinterpret intent. It is a pity that so few people understand how their brain works, such that they are so easily misled. Appropriately “abusing” emotions in order to “sell”, whether that is products, religion, or ideologies is not particularly difficult, and indeed those emotions more closely linked to survival (fear, disgust and anger) are much easier to invoke than those associated with wellbeing (happiness) because being able to appropriately deal with a tiger is more important than to a fluffy kitten. The masses are deliberately being manipulated for short term gain, and the inevitable blood spilled will be someone else’s fault.

  8. Phil

    Well tackled Dave Chadwick – very well argued and carefully, cogently stated. There is a lot in what you have written despite it being in such a short article – in fact this is one article that deserves more than one reading. I know the source of my anger and frustration arises from the intractable conservative political narrative in Australia – it seems to me to be the most soul destroying and socially destructive narrative and deserves to be challenged and overthrown.

  9. bobrafto

    But one day my message of tolerance and acceptance towards the vast majority of peaceful Muslims may be proved ‘wrong’ and Australia could be the victim of a major terrorist attack (for the record, despite what certain vested interests would have you believe, Man Haron Monis was less a terrorist than a violently unstable man with little religious motivation). I will actually go as far as to say I think it is quite plausible that this will happen. How will I feel then?

    Port Arthur did happen and it wasn’t Muslim inspired, yet everyone didn’t go into panic mode as we are witnessing now.

    Our biggest threat is climate change that will affect millions perhaps someone can articulate to the climate deniers ‘How will you feel then’ when sea levels rise and our seasons are out of whack which we are witnessing now and affecting the food supply and the displacement of millions.

  10. Steve Laing -

    I lived in London through the IRA bombings, and the whole point was not to be cowed and to give in to the terrorists, so we carried out our usual lives, dealt with the fairly regular bomb scares when they happened (usually just inconvenience rather than actual bombs going off), but when real explosions did occur, nobody suggested stopping Irish people coming to the UK. The ridiculousness of stopping the people from your nearest neighbour coming to your country because of a few radical terrorists? You would be laughed at.

    But here, everyone apparently is pooing their collective pants. Except they actually aren’t. It just seems to be an excuse to be racist, if you ask me. Or are we really that worried about how weak our culture is that the Muslim culture will take over it? Of course not. But people aren’t THINKING about it, they are emoting. Truly the sheeple.

  11. bobrafto

    By Dave Chadwick

    Do I really want to tackle this?
    I will actually go as far as to say I think it is quite plausible that this will happen.How will I feel then?

    I think you should have let it go as I don’t think that writing out your torment has done any good.

    Everything is plausible, we could be nuked by North Korea.
    Trump could be President.

  12. mars08

    Almost 15 years ago, a famous man said: “…freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in and the West in general into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”

    Dear Rupert (with the help of his obedient political freak show) is doing all he can to make this prediction come true.

  13. king1394

    Brilliant article. There is great advantage for the powerful in ‘promoting’ terrorism, so that the ordinary population are kept distracted from the real problems.. And a lot of money can be made in war economies by arms manufacturers and nowadays by contractors ranging from Serco to Haliburton, not to mention people who sell newspapers.

    If terrorist groups didn’t exist, they would have to be manufactured – as some already believe they are. Imagine if there was no terrorist threat: the corporations and institutions that profit from the massive amount of money that flows unquestioned into their accounts would stop. The capitalist system thrives on greed and waste, and fighting terrorism provides plenty of both. Meanwhile, frightened people will continue to vote for the government that promises to keep them safe.

    Without terrorism to distract us, we might concentrate on healing the planet and creating a fair society. And who would make money from that?

  14. mars08

    Our ruling class and corporate media has taken a relatively small danger to our personal safety and promoted is as an existential battle between faiths.

    What most people don’t realise is that the fundamentalist preachers on OUR side are disciples of capitalism… not Christianity. Their doctrine is consumerism and their gods are money and power.

  15. townsvilleblog

    Dave Chadwick, I admire your courage taking on this subject. We know that at least 49% of Aussies are in favor of Hansonite policy on Muslims, sadly everyday Aussies are being ‘dumbed down’ by an increasingly USA owned media, as citizens of the USA have been for many decades. We have been in the ‘dumbed down’ process for the past 70 years.

    In the average Aussie were to think beyond their collective noses they would realize that we now have approximately 500,000 Australian Muslims living here, enough if they were ‘all’ so violent as ISIS/ISIL they could mass murder us all, yet they don’t. All newcomers to Australia suffer a ritual Aussie welcome, even my grandfather who arrived in 1935 got a pizzling because he was a pomme. This is ‘normal’ by Australian standards.

    The women especially with their head scarves attract the most attention, I don’t pretend to know the vagaries of Islam, but I’m confused that Australian Muslim women wear the head scarf yet George Clooney’s wife does not? In my mind I see Muslims as the perfect plaything of conservative governments, who really do not want them here and have via their media mates whipped up the population to such an extent that the Labor Party has had to match tory policies so as to ensure the conservative electorate votes.

    I agree with Dave that the analogy of car deaths, matched to terrorist deaths is a good guide in where to place the importance of the terrorism thoughts. There is nothing the conservatives (LNP) delight more in than a divided public, Napoleons theory of divide and conquer being their chosen method of attack.

    One day soon I hope the Aussie general public will wake up to the fact that Muslim’s are only other human beings. Those of us who are on the side of humanity who are in a position to shoot Hansonites down with facts should do so. They should offer the figures on pre&post 1980s Muslim Australian population. Then show that the Muslim reproduction rate is NOT a threat to everyday Aussies and dispel the tory myths surrounding these Aussie newcomers.

  16. mars08

    @townsvilleblog… a couple of comments about your post above.

    I’d say that your grandfather’s arrival in 1935, and his treatment by Australians would have been quite mild compared to the what Muslims are facing today. In the 1930’s Australia was still very much an anglo-centric society with strong ties to mother England. Apart from the prejudice against Catholics it was a homogeneous culture. In any case, as a white man, it’s unlikely he would have been singled out as a pommie until he opened his mouth.

    You also say that Muslim women “with their head scarves attract the most attention”. That’s an odd statement, considering you understand that not all Muslims are radicals. You understand that the ruling class plays on voter’s fears by generalising and exagerating minor differences. You acknowledge that Muslims are a diverse group yet you seem to suggest that most Muslim women in Australia wear head scarves…. and that it’s directly connected to their faith. In fact some of the women wear head covering because of family tradition, ethnic background, or as a fashion item. It’s not always about their religion. As long as they don’t feel pressured to wear something it should be none of our business.

    As you say “There is nothing the conservatives (LNP) delight more in than a divided public…”. It’s going to be a long time before Howard’s torrent of hate is forgotten by the ignorant, frightened public. And I suspect it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better…

  17. silkworm

    Nikki Savva gave an excellent example of whipping up fear in the interests of the ruling party on this morning’s Insiders (repeated tonight at 8pm).

  18. bobrafto


    I know the dingo did it.

  19. Annie B

    A superbly written article by Dave Chadwick …. one of the best I have read.

    From the article :

    “(remember when ASIO personally contacted senior Abbott ministers to ask them to tone down their rhetoric) ” …. Abbott did a great deal of damage with his inane outbursts at the time he was PM, and always made sure he was front and centre almost every day, to push forward his divisive fear tactics.

    Am wondering if someone can demand the MSM to tone down THEIR rhetoric ( reporting ) … which is always couched in extreme terms – which in turn has the desired effect ( by MSM standards ) … of continually instilling fear into the most gullible and inexperienced of listeners, viewers and readers.

    As an example : in recent floods in Victoria, ( off topic – but a point being made ) …. a reporter on a 6 pm news bulletin stated that “people were fleeing their homes in terror ” …. when in fact those people had quietly and in an orderly fashion, removed precious belongings, themselves and their pets from their homes as the waters rose. They waited patiently until the floods had subsided. One man lost his life in those flooding waters – which was reported ad nauseum over 2 days. I am very sad for that man and his family, but the fear tactics were blatantly used, by continually referring to his drowning. … ” If it bleeds, it leads ” … an old media mantra, is still very much alive today – more alive perhaps than ever before.

    The MSM is full of this kind of garbage, and delight in showing carnage of war torn areas in Syria etc., and anything to do with ‘terrorism’ ( which in fact may not be terrorism at all – Man Monis) , in order to instil further fear – from whence this disgusting Hanson type bigotry, springs. … And ordinary, every day, good Muslim families, are the ones who suffer the most from this bilious hatred.

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