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Tag Archives: terrorism

Should the media act more responsibly?

By Dave Chadwick

The public’s hunger for every image and piece of information about terrorist acts and mass murders does not always need to be sated. I question the effort of the media to feed this hunger with endless detailed national coverage when an attack occurs. Do they not realise that this is the exact reaction the awful perpetrators are hoping for, or are they so greedy for ratings they do not care? Would a more restrained approach make society even a few percentage points safer?

The valued concept of a free and impartial media to act as the ‘Fourth Estate,’ and hold all three branches of government accountable to their representatives has a long history in democratic theory. The importance of a balanced and independent analysis of national and international affairs is put into stark definition by the blatantly deceptive and obfuscating practices that modern politicians employ. Although its Fourth Estate role is a powerful argument against government interference (which doesn’t seem to bother our current government), it is not a licence for the media to publish and post whatever pleases them. It also charges them with the responsibility of publishing in the public interest.

I’m not an historian or expert in media law, but it seems to me that the media has misinterpreted the idea of public interest. Public interest here does not necessarily mean what the public is interested in – but what is in the public’s interest to know.

What is in the Public Interest?

I could write a whole article about media outlets’ preoccupation with selling us news stories that are really not in our interest, such as what happened on last night’s episode of the Bachelor (which by the way, I really don’t care), instead of giving us a better understanding of ongoing developments in Ukraine or the South China Sea, but I won’t. I am not really arguing against this (doesn’t mean I like it though), as I realise they have to make a commercial decision about what consumers want and some publications are marketed to a particular type of consumer.

My concern is when the media (and with the advent of online technology, all social media users have the potential to become lay-journalists) publish and share information that is actually against the public interest. Whether through greed or naïveté, media users are unthinking accomplices to the aims of terrorist groups and psychopaths with the incredibly detailed coverage they reward them with. If social media users were more discriminating with what they shared and media outlets were more restrained with their coverage, the payoff these groups and individuals get from their atrocities would be reduced, potentially reducing the likelihood of further atrocities. That sounds like something that would definitely be in the public interest to me.

Only recently, a clearly unwell man acted out his rage in a heinous double murder in Virginia and even went to the trouble of videoing it and posting it to social media. The logical inference of such action is that he wanted to share his actions with the world. How did the media and the rest of the world react? Exactly the way he wanted. Television and print media published articles about every aspect of the attack and his life, while the online community was retweeting and sharing his gruesome posts. News articles even provided screenshots and links to his social media page. I actually saw an article in The Herald Sun that published his final social media posts after describing him as a man who wanted his actions and words to go viral. Nice of them to fulfil his dying wishes. To other unwell, lonely, desperate people, what is the message? The more despicable your actions are, the more attention you will receive.

Now I don’t want to imply any less personal responsibility of the perpetrators of disgusting acts like these, but I do wonder what useful function does the saturation media coverage and vapid online sharing of these types of event serve. Would most attacks still take place? Probably, but would all of them? I’m less sure.

When the first of ISIS’s execution videos was released, like most of us I was saddened for the victim and his loved ones. I was also horrified and angered at those who would perpetuate such an atrocity and deliberately seek to use it as a political strategy. These feelings of impotent rage returned each time I saw it on TV news bulletins and heard the audio on radio or saw people sharing the video on social media. That happened an awful lot. It was difficult to avoid for a few days. If the terrorists wanted to bring their message to people around the world, they succeeded. However they only succeeded because they were allowed to.

The public execution was a propaganda strategy that held no tactical value. If no one watched the videos would there be any reason to make them? I would contend not. So why are people in the west so helpful in actually facilitating and encouraging it? I know Tony Abbott liked to see national security headlines on every paper as often as possible, but was it actually in the public interest? It was no surprise to see a string of similar videos released in the following weeks.

What if …

What if a law was passed making it illegal to broadcast or forward any vision or audio these crimes? Or even without legislation, if the media guidelines changed to dramatically reduce the frequency and detail with which they did cover them. Obviously the exception would be for the files to be passed on to DFAT or the AFP so they could take appropriate actions. A short factual, unsensationalised (I know it’s technically not a word, but its meaning is obvious) report detailing the important facts of the story is all that needs to be made public. The public’s fascination with every aspect of this does not have to be fed, just like six-year old’s love of ice cream doesn’t have to be fed. Is there any other reason people really need to see the video? I would argue it is hardly in the public interest and would suggest it is actually against it.

I realise this idea may draw some unflattering Orwellian comparisons from civil libertarians. But is this really a slippery slope to the government-controlled media of 1984 (I’m not talking about an actual year that is the title of a book for those to young to have realised)? I don’t think so. You can use a slippery slope argument to predict pretty much anything, but that doesn’t mean your prediction is correct (as Eric Abetz and Corey Bernadi have shown). Increased government regulation of the media and individuals’ online activities may ring some alarm bells, although I believe there are similar laws about child pornography and although it is a significantly different issue, I haven’t heard any complaints about such laws.

The other argument people may raise is that such a law would make people even more beholden to the media and would prevent independent verification of the reporting of these types of events. It is true to an extent, but seeing the video or reading a mass murderer’s life story (as reported in the media) doesn’t solve that anyway. I would agree the potential for media agencies to shape national dialogue with their reporting of an event is already unsettling, but social media provides a counterpoint to this already. I can’t see this change adding much to this situation as there is still much that can be reported and shared. The videos of 9/11 and the moon landing have not stopped the conspiracy theorists on either subject because some people will believe what they want to believe no matter what evidence is- that is why there are still anti-vaccers and climate change deniers in the world.

Is that the answer?

I do like the concept of an independent, uncensored media, free from government and shareholder interference, but Australia seemed to give that up some time ago. The reality is that a lot of news reporting and commentary is filtered by existing beliefs and assumptions of the commentators, even this one (astonishing I know). I have outlined how I believe current media practices around the reporting of terrorist attacks and mass murders, as well as the unthinking actions of social media users, may play a part helping the perpetrators achieve their goals. Political attacks mean very little when their message is contained, after all. I know it wouldn’t stop such actions, but would it make them less attractive to desperate individuals? I think so. As much as governments are often wary of over regulating the media for fear of public backlash, I think it would at least be worth thinking about and discussing?

What do you think?

This article was originally published as Real Agents of the Fourth Estate or just greedy Real Estate Agents on Quietblog.

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Terrorism – The bottom line

By Richard O’Brien

So what does Daesh (aka ISIS/ISIL/IS) really stand for?

Profit. With assets of around US$2 billion – much of it obtained from looting money from banks, and the sale of near priceless artefacts stolen from museums and archaeological digs throughout Iraq and Syria – and an annual turnover of more than $1.5 billion, Daesh is big business. Putting that in perspective, back when al-Qaeda were top of the terrorism leader board, the CIA estimated their running costs at $30 million a year. According to the most conservative estimates, Daesh makes $30 million a month just from illegal oil sales.

About 60 per cent of Iraq and Syria’s oilfields are held by Daesh. Some of the oil produced is used for domestic consumption, some is sold back to the embargoed Assad regime, most of it is smuggled out through Turkey, Iran and Jordan, using routes established during international sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and sold on the black market at a heavily discounted price.

The US, NATO and their allies have begun targeting oil trucks and refineries. On a good day they might destroy a few hundred barrels, out of an estimated daily production of 60,000. Daesh’s largest source of income, however, is derived from taxes extorted from the 8,000,000 people who live in the self-proclaimed Caliphate.

When it comes to ideology, Islamic State is about as Islamic as the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea is democratic.

Sharia law is imposed throughout the Caliphate, not as part of some ultra-orthodox, jihadist belief system, but because it generates a lot of money. There are two reasons for this. Firstly its brutality terrifies the populous into submission – allowing Daesh to impose flat-rate taxes on electricity, ‘hygiene services’ and use of telephone networks, paid in cash to Daesh’s established revenue agency, Al Hisba, as well as customs on imported and exported goods. Secondly it is used to generate more revenue by imposing heavy fines on anyone who can (literally) afford to live in the Caliphate found guilty of not adhering to Daesh’s strict interpretation of Salafis doctrine.

That doctrine is not so strictly adhered to by Daesh themselves, who have no qualms about cultivating and trafficking illicit drugs, most of which finds its way to Europe via Turkey. Tens of millions more come from kidnapping and ransoming hostages, Internet cafes run in occupied territories and an estimated $40 million a year from private donations received mainly from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; our allies in the war against Daesh.

Last, but by no means least, is agriculture. Daesh occupies farmland that is responsible for producing most of Iraq and Syria’s wheat, and almost all of Iraq’s barley. Even heavily discounted on the black market, this brings in another $200 million a year.

Fronting this business is a grotesquely brutal social media campaign, designed by some of the best paid marketing consultants in the business. Daesh’s target is Islam, who it plans to “cleanse” of all who do not adhere to their perverted, yet highly profitable, brand of jihadism. Unwittingly aided by the far-Right, whose hatred bears a striking resemblance to that of Daesh, their aim is to marginalise, radicalise and recruit people. The number of recruits they attract is currently very few, but as estimates of Daesh’s numbers presently ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 suggest, they don’t need very many.

Destroying Daesh won’t come from bombing Syria, a country that has already been ravaged by 4 years of civil war which has killed between 250,000 – 340,000 people and displaced over 4 million more. It won’t come from blaming Muslims – who are by far the biggest casualties of Daesh’s terror.

If the world is going to defeat Daesh it must do so by cutting it off from that which is most important to it – its profits. If we can justify laws that take away the privacy and civil liberties of citizens to protect them from terrorism, then we can do the same to the banks and hedge funds who hold and invest Daesh’s profits, or the companies that enable their black market sales, or the neighbouring countries that turn a blind eye to them.

That’s the bottom line.

 

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Terrorism in Australia

I wonder how I would feel about the title of this article if I lived in Syria or Lebanon, Somalia or Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, Israel, Nigeria …or even France, Spain, Russia, the UK or the US – or pretty much anywhere other than Australia.

On September 12, 2014, Australia’s security alert was raised to high indicating that a terrorist attack was ‘likely’. Billions of dollars have been diverted to national security and draconian laws impinging on our civil liberties have been enacted.

A week after raising the threat level, more than 800 police launched synchronised raids on a few houses and vehicles across Sydney’s west and north-west, and Brisbane’s south to ‘foil a plot’ where some guy from IS had apparently been ringing people asking them to behead a member of the public after snatching them from the street in Sydney. These raids were filmed and distributed to the media before investigations had been carried out and before any charges had been laid.

Four days later, an 18 year old man who had been under surveillance by police in what was reportedly a two-year operation, was asked to come to the police station to discuss behaviour “which had been causing some concern”. When the man arrived outside the station, he stabbed the two officers, one from Victorian police and one from the AFP, as they went to meet him. He was shot dead.

Would the outcome of this lengthy operation have been different if this young man was asked to come in with his family and was instead greeted by a Muslim community leader and a youth counsellor?

Then in December 2014 we had the Lindt Café siege in Sydney where a deranged man shot and killed one hostage. The police then shot him, and 4 other hostages, killing one. The perpetrator was well known to all authorities, was inexplicably on bail for serious offences, and was the subject of 18 calls to the security hotline in the days before the siege as his Facebook posts became increasingly unhinged, not to mention his letters to politicians including the Attorney-General asking about contacting IS. All of the security people being paid to assess risk dismissed the public’s concern and deemed him not a threat.

Would they have come to a different conclusion had mental health experts been assessing the information?

In April we saw three young men arrested because a 14 year old boy in England had been urging them online to target police officers involved in ANZAC commemorative activities.

And last month we saw the tragic murder of an accountant by a 15-year-old Iranian-born Iraqi-Kurdish boy who was then shot dead by security guards.

This case makes me terribly sad and angry. Sad for the man who had harmed no-one but who was randomly assassinated and will never come home to his family, and immeasurably angry about the cowards who pretended to be the friends of a kid whose family had fled to Australia to find a safe place to raise their children. These young men armed this child with a gun and hatred and then stood back like those kids in the playground yelling fight, fight. They are beyond contempt.

Every life lost in this violence is a tragedy as brought home by the father of one of the victims in the Bataclan Theatre in Paris who said, “I can’t stop talking about my son. If I do I will die.”

Yesterday in Nigeria, an 11 year old girl was used as a suicide bomber.

There are ignorant evil people in the world but we cannot combat them by violent means. You cannot combat hatred with hatred.

Australia’s counter-terrorism strategy centres around “five main pillars: Challenging violent extremist ideologies, stopping people from becoming terrorists, shaping the global environment, disrupting terrorist activity within Australia, and effective response and recovery.”

If I was writing a counter-terrorism strategy my pillars would be education, lifting people out of poverty, providing jobs and infrastructure, protecting and respecting minorities, and investing in mental health and social support.

Perhaps we are comparatively protected from terrorism in Australia because of the vigilance of our security forces. Or maybe it’s because life is good here and we must fight to make sure it remains that way for all Australians regardless of religion and ethnicity.

 

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Turnbull v Abbott: PM in an age of terror

Image from the abc.net.au

Image from the abc.net.au

Insofar as personality is a signifier of leadership ability (and like it or not, it is probably the most important characteristic as far as the voting public is concerned) Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was visited by the good fairy in his cradle while ex PM Tony Abbott was imbued with a Dickensian gloom by the bad one, who apparently took a set against him and threw in more than a dash of dark pugility as well.

Turnbull is a happy man who will likely smother us into an uneasy, baffled silence with his unrelenting affability and charm. Abbott is one of the more miserable public figures I can recall, who seems to feel it’s his duty to hector, lecture and create division amongst us, till we are choked by a miasma of exhausted despair.

However, Turnbull’s intelligence, good nature and charm works well for him internationally: sophisticated, urbane, accomplished, personable and wealthy, people take to him (if they don’t have to put up with him all the time, as do we) and likely open to him in ways it is impossible to open to Abbott, who never quite seems to get past the influences of the seminary, and his belief that he’s been chosen to bring us Truth.

If there is one thing we don’t need as we gird ourselves to deal with terrorist attacks at home and abroad, it’s a leader who believes he is the bearer of existential truths, and who sees the world in black and white with no inclination at all to investigate the grey zone.

Abbott has all the characteristics of the religious zealot, and since the Paris attacks has found various platforms from which to peddle his hatred of other religious zealots because their zealotry threatens his. This will get us nowhere, or rather, it will see us in a whole lot of serious domestic turmoil as tribe turns against tribe, ignorant prejudices fuelled by Abbott and his nemesis Pauline Hanson, whom he landed in jail because she threatened his claim to the title of Australia’s Leading Incitor of Fear.

Turnbull, on the other hand, will appear as a voice of reason, though he lost it somewhat when he first heard about the Paris attacks, stating that though the killers claimed to have acted in the name of God, they were actually perpetrating the work of the devil. Such rhetoric is entirely unnecessary. There’s nothing in the least supernatural about terrorism: it’s perpetrated by humans upon humans. The ability to terrorise is one of our more undesirable characteristics.

The PM’s relentless charm and good will is likely just what we need at this time to keep us steady: he is unlikely to threaten anyone with a damn good shirt fronting, and while he’ll be criticised mercilessly as a pussy by those who would see us engage in world war three, at least he won’t be whipping up ill will and fear. For this relief, much thanks.

I am of the opinion that it is the intention of Daesh to turn us against one another, and have those of us they don’t slaughter permanently weakened by fear, mistrust and hatred. Abbott’s trajectory, and that of those who support him, will lead us to precisely the same place: severely weakened by fear, mistrust and hatred, bitterly divided against one another. Daesh could not find more suitable allies than Abbott, Hanson, the usual shock jocks, religious fundamentalists and those who in some way, material and egotistical, profit from war.

Turnbull’s biggest challenge will be to control those within his own party who thrive on fear and repression. They are supported by many media voices, and their platforms are assured.

There is little that can be done to control Daesh at the moment. The only certainty is that for communities to turn against one another will be to give Daesh what they desire. I am not in the least enamoured of Turnbull or his style, but I can’t help thinking he is a marginally better leader in these times, in terms of the terrorist threat, than his ousted predecessor.

As far as domestic issues are concerned, the image below says everything. Polish it up all you want, it’s still what it is.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

abbott-v-turnbull

 

 

 

 

 

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Ok. I’m convinced. Terrorism is THE BIGGEST threat to Australia right now.

I have to confess that it’s taken me a while to get here.

A few months back, when Tony Abbott said:

“Daesh is coming, if it can, for every person and every government … “

I scoffed.

Then Julie Bishop said that terrorists pose the biggest threat to civilisation since World War II.

But still I was skeptical.

Even when sixty nine percent of Aussies said they believed terrorism is the single greatest threat to our country – from within our borders – I still remained unconvinced.

Then the latest Essential poll came out this week, showing that 61% of Aussies believe that the biggest or second biggest threat to the world right now is terrorism.

At first I jeered. But then I stopped and thought about it. And finally the penny dropped – I realised that they are right.

The trojan horse

I realised that terrorism is the biggest threat to Australia today. It is the trojan horse that is being used to distract us, so that the real enemy can creep up on us without anyone paying too much attention. The real enemy – who is poisoning the air we breathe and will soon be invading our land mass by eating away at our shore lines – climate change, is sneaking up on us while Abbott and his ministers talk to us in serious tones about the terrorists coming to get us.

While the vast majority of Aussies listen in horror to Abbott’s latest terror story, they ignore the fact that our government has introduced policies which are:

The situation regarding climate change is so critical, that some have called game over. There is no doubt that in terms of it’s ability to kill, to seriously impact quality of life and to leave more and more people homeless globally, that the threat posed by climate change is unrivaled. Panicking right now about this is not only advisable, it would be downright stupid not to do so.

Safety first

Tony Abbott has said words like this many times:

“The most important duty of government is to preserve the safety of our country and its citizens. That is the first duty of government, and I say to every Australian: this Government will never let you down. I say to every one of my fellow Australians: I will not rest until I am confident that you are as safe as any government can possibly make you.” (December, 2014)

You have failed, Mr Abbott. The safety and security of our nation is under serious threat from climate change. Your policies around climate change are arguably far more likely to contribute to more Australian deaths in the future than any terrorist group half way across the world.

We should be outraged. We should be demanding that a government that so flagrantly jeopardises the safety and security of it’s people for its own political purposes resign.

But instead of doing this, instead of demanding that the government cease and desist with their current policies and do something that might go towards fixing the problem rather than making it worse, the majority of Australians are focusing on terrorism. And they are doing that because this is what our government is talking about. Constantly.

The silence is deafening

When was the last time you heard one of Abbott’s ministers talk seriously about the huge threat that climate change poses to our nation? (And mentioning cutting the carbon tax, talking about coal being good for humanity and appointing wind commissioners don’t count.)

When have you ever heard anyone currently in government say, as President Obama did this week:

The answer is – just in case there was any doubt – that you haven’t heard anything like this from our current government. The silence about real action on climate change has been deafening. This is because we have a prime minister who seems to believe in bogey men but not in scientifically proven climate change.

And that’s why I now believe that terrorism is THE biggest threat to the world right now. This is not because I believe Abbott’s rhetoric suggesting that terrorists are about to invade our shores, but because terrorism is successfully being used to distract us from what we should really be panicking about – the very real threat to our ability to live on this planet.

This article was first published on Progressive Conversation.

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Australia and public safety

Domestic Violence

According to the most recent National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) annual report, there have been more than 6,200 homicides in Australia since data collection began in 1989–90, with one in every four cases involving the death of a victim killed by his or her intimate partner (see Chan & Payne 2013).

It is quite difficult to find a list of deaths due to domestic violence on the internet.

This one authoritative reference shows that, on average, over the past 25 years, 60 people have died every year due to domestic violence.

There is no reference to the terror and fear felt by the victims and by those who have escaped such situations. No reference to the research which shows that this is just the tip of the iceberg with statistics revealing that over 20 per cent of women have suffered from domestic violence during their lives.

There is no juggernaut of Governmental policing, investigation and information gathering to deal with this ongoing human tragedy.

There are no screaming headlines, no great election announcements, no hysteria.

Simply an acceptance that “These things happen.”

Workplace deaths

There are more workplace deaths and injuries than Domestic Violence deaths and injuries. There is a consequent larger proportion of our national wealth spent on combating these problems. I will not make any comment about the fact that there are more men involved in these statistics than in domestic violence statistics.

The lastest key ststistics I have found are in the 2014 Work Place report. To summarise – in 2014, 184 people died at work.

So we are looking at near 200 people who leave home for work in the morning and do not return that night.

Yes, there are Governmental departments which look into work-place safely and breaches of safety regulations. Yet they are always being subject to cuts in Government funding.

There are no screaming headlines, no great election announcements, no hysteria.

Simply an acceptance that “These things happen.”

Mesothelioma

Then there is the epidemic of asbestos-caused diseases:

“Recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data show that there were 606 deaths attributed to mesothelioma in 2011. It has been estimated that this number will not peak until after 2014″.

However, this epidemic was caused by one man who happened to be the father of Australia’s richest and most litigiousness woman.

There are no screaming headlines, no great election announcements, no hysteria.

Simply an acceptance that “These things happen.”

Terrorism

In 2014, New Matilda posted an article Death Down Under: A History Of Muslim Terrorism In Australia By Chris Graham. Graham says:

Real or imagined, the threat of Muslim terrorism can’t be ignored. In this NM exclusive, we bring you the shocking death toll of Australians on Australian soil at the hands of Muslim terrorists.

Zero.

This was not quite correct. There was the Broken Hill shooting in 1915 which left 6 people dead, including the two Muslims who started the killing spree.

Since then four people have died in terrorist events inside Australia.

So in 100 years, an entire century, ten people have died in Australia from terrorism.

One person a decade, or .1 of a person per year.

Billions of our dollars are being spent to stop these overly common and completely unacceptable events. Political leaders are in a lather. Millions of words are being spewed by the Main Stream Media. We are all being taught to fear the vague possibility that we may be close to such a happening. Yet we are not being taught to fear being killed at work or at home.

No! For terrorism things are different . . .

There are screaming headlines, great election announcements, hysteria.

Simply an acceptance that “These things MUST NOT happen.”

This article first appeared on Ærchies Archive – Digital Detritus and has been reproduced with permission.

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Deconstructing a dog whistle

Tony Abbott’s government has taken some body-blows in recent weeks, and Abbott’s own leadership standing is suffering. Some say that this is due to a savage budget that seeks to address a non-existent budget emergency by penalising those who can least afford it and by punching the powerless, compounded by poor communications and head-scratching political decisions. If this were the case, one might be forgiven for thinking that the best way of recovering the party’s fortunes might be to revisit the thinking behind the budget, to seek to appropriately identify who the real lifters and leaners in the economy are, and to fix the way that the government goes about doing business.

Or you could go for the approach of sowing distrust and disunity, painting an amorphous group as the “Other” in order to convince Australians that you are “One of them” and being strong to protect them from the forces of darkness. This is a skill-set and a rulebook Tony Abbott inherited from his great hero John Howard and this weekend’s video message shows that he has enthusiastically embraced it.

If national security is so important that it has prompted an address to the nation, at the expense of attention to Joe Hockey’s “Never back to surplus” budget and Andrew Robb’s TPP negotiations and the likely forthcoming execution of the Bali Nine kingpins, then it would seem worthwhile to examine the detail of Mr Abbott’s speech.

When you look at what Mr Abbott had to say, it becomes clear that he is taking two specific incidents and generalising threats from them, generalising failures from them, and using them to beat up the necessity for changes. In two minutes and 23 seconds, he commiserates with the victims of violence, generalises the threat to all Australians, spruiks the actions of the government, reminds us of the threat and reassures us that he is keeping us safe.

An examination of the specific incidents to which Abbott refers, however, tells a more sobering story. There have been no significant failures of our immigration and border protection regulations, no breaches of our balanced and considered jurisprudence and bail system. There are no practical measures that could have prevented these specific events that prompt Abbott’s address. Once you understand that any measures the government might propose can have no possible effect on preventing these specific events, the low-brow dog whistle becomes crystal clear, and it becomes possible to see the real threat behind the words – the threat of further intrusive and unwarranted interference into people’s everyday lives.

A Message from the PM

Abbott begins by referring to the recent Lindt cafe attack by Man Haron Monis. It is perfectly appropriate to “acknowledge the atrocity”. It was one man with a shotgun and three people, including the attacker, died in the event. “Atrocity” is a strong word, but Abbott commences as he means to continue. In any case, the scene is set, the tone of the address is identified: this is a message about terrorism.

Abbott continues with a pledge to keep Australia as “safe and secure” as humanly possible. Federal and State governments are conducting a joint review into the siege, and the report will be released soon. The report will make recommendations and the government intends to take some actions. History has shown us that actions taken by a government are often only a subset, or sometimes a completely different set, to the recommendations of any given report, but we will reserve judgement. In effect, Abbott is attempting to take credit in advance for an announcement the government has yet to make. He is showing the government is strong, by pointing to the future when it intends to take strong action that it can’t tell us about yet.

We may get an inkling of the actions the government has in mind when Abbott addresses the Parliament on the topic of national security next Monday. But we may have a sneak preview as Abbott continues on.

“For too long we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt. There’s been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink. And in the courts, there has been bail, when clearly there should have been jail.”

When we unpack this statement, in the context of recent events and of the preceding text, Abbott is effectively telling us that we have not been strong enough in our immigration policies, and failures in our bail and justice systems. Abbott refers very specifically to the one example he has mentioned, Man Haron Monis, the attacker in the Lindt cafe event. Australians – particularly those in Sydney, Abbott’s home constituency – will be very aware
also of the arrest this week of two young men, home-grown potential jihadists. Despite not mentioning them specifically, the media has been quick to connect the dots between their arrest and this statement by Abbott.

The problem is that neither our immigration, residency, citizenship nor bail processes failed in any of these cases.

Man Haron Monis was on bail for a variety of criminal offenses at the time of his cafe attack. These cases were not religious in nature. He was accused of being accessory before and after the fact for the murder of his wife by his girlfriend. Separately, he was on bail on indecency charges. Neither case could have given indication that he was planning to turn into a shotgun-wielding maniac. [Read: How was Man Haron Monis not on a security watchlist?]

There were indications perhaps of mental instability, of paranoia, and definite isolation and marginalisation. Monis was known for holding “extremist” views. That’s easy to say in retrospect. His views on the West’s involvement in Middle-Eastern conflicts would not be out of place in a Greens party room meeting. He was, until very shortly before his act of terror, a well-dressed and urbane Australian.

Could the Lindt Cafe attack have been avoided if Man Haron Monis was denied bail? Certainly. On what basis could bail have been denied, though? This was not a wild-haired fanatic before the magistrate.

Bail is a State issue of law enforcement. As it happens, laws have already been tightened in NSW that would have prevented Monis’ bail. So what exactly does Abbott, in the Federal sphere, expect to do to make Australians still safer?

The recent arrests in Sydney were of two young men, Mohammad Kiad and Omar al-Kutobi. Allegedly they were arrested just hours before they intended to attack members of the public with knives. Could either of these alleged terrorists have been captured earlier with tighter border protection policies, or more intelligence resources? Were they abusing their Centrelink entitlements?

It would appear not. Kiad, now 25, came into Australia four years ago on a family visa to join his wife. al-Kutobi fled Iraq with his family ten years ago; he came to Australia in 2009. Shortly thereafter he received a protection visa and he became an Australian citizen in 2013. Neither man was a wild-haired fanatic, nor obviously a danger to the public.

The pair were not known to police. They were not known as religious extremists. Until recently, it doesn’t appear that they were. Instead, they were young Aussie men, fond of barbeques and American TV and luxury goods. Their radicalisation occurred over the last few weeks, perhaps triggered by the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices last month in Paris. Their rapid radicalisation was reported to Australian authorities by their own community about a week ago. Mere days later, police swooped.

How were tighter immigration rules four years ago going to prevent a planned terror attack that took months, at most, to be conceived and instigated, from men who by all reports only became extreme within the last six months, and on Australian soil?

The other problematic element of this densely offensive paragraph is the reference to Centrelink. In the context of this strident message, the inference is clear: that terrorists rely on Newstart. This is so ridiculous as to be laughable – yet it plays to the same crowd who lapped up the election rhetoric about boat people clogging up the motorways of Sydney.

The other possible reading is that people who rely on welfare are as bad as terrorists. I’m not certain which interpretation is the more offensive.

Abbott continues his address with the key message: all too often, “bad people play us for mugs. Well, that’s going to stop.”

Who are these bad people? That’s not been shown. Hopefully it’s not Man Haron Monis, because if we’re going to stop people like him from “taking us for mugs”, we presumably will no longer be providing welfare to those with mental issue. Hopefully it’s not Mohammad Kiad and Omar al-Kutobi, because in order to curtail the terrorist threat they pose, we would need to prevent muslims in general from entering the country.

Abbott makes a variety of references to the “Islamist death cult”. There’s a three-word slogan that’s earned him a couple of poll points before. It is also simultaneously emotive, highly offensive to large groups of undeserving people, and impossible to criticise without coming across as an apologist. Well, this author will criticise it. Islamic State might possibly be Islamist, but using the term paints all Muslims alike. IS is most certainly not a death cult. Yes, it uses unsupportable means and revels in bloodshed, but it does so not for the sake of killing people, but rather to attract those it considers devout. The killings are a means, not an end. And the idea of a world caliphate of muslims is dear to many. Nobody should seek to defend the actions or the Islamic State. However, belittling IS with a three-word slogan ignores the complexities and the real grievances and aspirations of millions of muslims everywhere.

Abbott goes on to talk about the much-discussed “new threats” of home-grown backyard terrorists, armed with “a knife, a flag, a camera phone, and a victim”. Terrorists are everywhere, around every corner, lurking under every bed.

By all means, do what you can to identify potential attackers before they take a life. But in the same way that it’s impossible to protect the public from an armed robber in a milk bar, it is impossible to protect the public from a quiet young man who just wants to be respected.

Abbott finishes his presentation by proudly boasting of working with other nations to degrade the Islamic State through military means; and improving the powers and resources of Australian intelligence agencies. Finally, he claims the need for stronger laws to “make it easier to keep you safe”. These include the data retention laws currently before parliament, but, worryingly, might also include other laws and regulations Abbott does not describe, but which will inevitably further encroach on our liberties and our privacy. Of course, it’s all for our own good. The government is being strong to keep Us safe from Them.

“As a country we won’t let evil people exploit our freedom.” As Kaye Lee has written today, it’s a pity that credo doesn’t stretch to include the current government.

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Prime Minister, Why haven’t you called Putin?

Tony Abbott you are weak. When interviewed by Fran Kelly on ‘Insiders’ this morning you were asked if you had called Vladimir Putin. You said you hadn’t called the Russian President over the murder of at least 28 Australians. You gave no indication that you intended to. Why not? Are you too frightened? You say you have spoken to the Russian Trade Minister. Really? What a pathetic reply to a genuine opportunity to show the world that you view the deaths of innocent Australians sufficiently important enough to get on the phone and demand answers. You are clearly not up to the job you have been elected to do.

Putin 2

Putin: image by telegraph.co.uk

You haven’t even spoken to any of the families of the victims. You are waiting for them to ask you to call. You are pathetic. You appear so out of your league in the face of a world tragedy. You are further from a national leader than we have ever seen. Certain elements of the media are giving you credit for your unambiguous condemnation of this act of terrorism and your criticism of the Russian government. How easy is it to mouth-off from a safe distance? Leadership is being pro-active. If any of your advisers were worth their salt, they would have advised you to get on the phone. Did they? If they did, why haven’t you?

All this talk about not inviting Putin to the G20 in November is nothing more than sabre-rattling and a convenient deflection from the proper response of face to face or voice to voice contact.

You owe the relatives of the victims a proper response to our nation’s outrage.

For Christ’s sake show some leadership!

 

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