Wednesday, 24 December 2014
We don’t blame the Pope for the IRA, and we don’t blame the Catholics living next door for the folly of some people, the folly and madness of some people who may claim a Christian motivation. And I think we need to be similarly carefully and cautious in these other areas.
T Abbott 17 December 2014
She might not even be Muslim or she could have just been warm!
Rachel Jacobs, instigator of #illridewithyou
If there was a sense that the political message went a bit adrift after the Martin Place siege, it was because the respective narratives both the left and the right were comfortably trotting along with over the last few months fell apart in the face of reality last week.
From the government’s side, against all the terrorist warnings of the last few months, there was a noticeable down-playing of the implications of the terrorist attack that actually occurred, with the NSW Police Commissioner keen to point that it was an isolated incident and the act of an individual and not the work of an organised terrorist organisation. Abbott too was emphasising that while questions would be asked how Monis was not under the watch of security forces, conceded that in reality, there was little that could be done to stop this type of individual action.
Yet this was precisely the type of home grown terrorism that they have been talking about all along and all the raids and anti-terrorism laws were supposed to be dealing with.
The problem is that for the last few months the government and the right have been talking about the terrorist threat being a foreign infiltration linked with the rise of ISIS in Iraq. In reality of course, the terrorist traffic has been mostly the other way. It has been Australians that have been going off to join ISIS and spread mayhem and terror in the Middle East.
The reasons for going vary, some were born Muslim, some, like Hicks did earlier, converted. Some are looking for nothing more than adventure, such as 17 year old Abdullah Elmir, with a love of theatre and looking for “more great performances”.
But it is precisely these rag-tag of recruits that ISIS’s social media campaign has been targeting all along. As a former terrorist expert for the CIA recently noted, security services now confront “a panoply of potential adversaries” rather than the highly organised networks of the past. It is to appeal to these which is why organisations like Al Qaeda and ISIS have such an infatuation with the media and publicity, whether it’s the focus on social media, targeting journalists or atrocities designed to grab media attention. Monis, with his furious attempts to contact the media during the siege was entirely in that mode.
The ultimate source of this terrorism is not ISIS but something back at home that ISIS has been tapping into. Yet all along the government has been presenting this as a foreign threat, even when it has acknowledged it is Australians that have been going overseas: reaching the absurd level of banning potential jihadists from leaving to go overseas – supposedly so they wouldn’t learn new skills from those sophisticated foreigners, but hardly reassuring when you think about it.
The problem with this home grown version of terrorism compared to the highly organised one for the government is that there is a lot less it can do about it. While the government has been looking busy passing new laws, many of them superfluous to what powers they already have, the reality is that it is much easier to utilise high level military counter-terrorism forces against highly organised networks than for the pin-point type of operations needed to deal with specific individuals. This is especially true given the haphazard way the state normally operates. It may be good at slapping on bureaucratic measures like requiring gun licencing, but can’t even tell the Prime Minister whether someone has such a licence on the rare occasion it is seriously needed.
It’s the reality of what home grown terrorism is really like, compared to how it has been presented by the government and the press over the last few months, that led to a toning down of expectations and an enquiry after such a terrorist event actually occurred. Where it has left us was summed up in the warning/non-warning given by Abbott yesterday, where “chatter” was going up but the security level was not and we were all left with the impression that the best protection from terrorism would come from the Magic of Christmas.
But if the government has had to shift and adjust to reality, it is nothing to the contortions that have been going on the left side of commentary.
There have been two assertions coming from the left, one is that what happened at Martin Place wasn’t terrorism, the second that it didn’t have anything to do with Islam. In both, they sort of mirror the response of the government, but take it to an even more bizarre conclusion.
The first, that it wasn’t really terrorism was summed up (or unintentionally parodied) by UK comedian Russell Brand, who from his bed accused Abbott of talking up the terrorism of the Martin Place siege by labelling Monis as a terrorist rather than just “dangerous mentally ill”. For Brand, it wasn’t terrorism because it didn’t have specific enough objectives and giving him agendas “gives a certain grandeur to nihilistic and violent actions”.
In fact what Brand’s done here is perfectly describe what terrorism is in the 21st century. If Brand’s definition of terrorism means Martin Place doesn’t qualify, then neither does 9/11. As for being mentally ill, Brand’s psychiatric training is as non-existing as this blogger’s, but it clearly wasn’t the view of the courts that let Monis out on bail.
Back in Australia, our own former comedian, Mark Latham, followed the same thread, managing to argue in the same article both that Monis was mentally ill but at the same time more likely to occur as a result of Abbott’s “futile military engagement in the Middle East”, so giving us a nonsensical combination of received wisdom and rad left posturing as only Latham can.
The other theme has been that Monis’s attack had nothing to do with Islam. This is obviously nonsense. It was as much as to do with Islam as it would if a gunman stormed the café brandishing a bible and dressed as a vicar would have to do with Christianity.
The point is, it just doesn’t mean very much. Christians would be no more obliged to feel responsibile for such a crazed Bible-toting gunman as Muslims should for Monis. As Abbott himself noted, even something as highly organised as the IRA is no more the responsibility of the Pope as Monis is for an Islamic religious leader.
But the problem was that Abbott said this after having spent the last few months putting pressure on Muslim religious leaders to do precisely that, to take responsibility and sign up to “Team Australia”. In reality, such call for responsibility tends to be fairly phoney, given that when the Australian Shia did point out that Monis was a fake sheikh a few years ago, it was ignored.
But it highlights the central confusion that is unsettling both the left and the right, namely what the events of last week means for the prism of multiculturalism through which everything is viewed.
Multiculturalism is primarily a political response to immigration that especially has been useful in a country like Australia, where unlike the US, and even Britain, the broadening of the pool for immigration occurred more for political reasons than economic ones. As a result we have a rosy gloss on the type of segregation that comes from a lack of economic dynamism that means even in Sydney, where Muslims make up a tiny fraction of the population, we can talk of a “Muslim suburb” such as Lakemba like it’s a thing.
This view of Muslims as a “community” being responsible for what anyone supposedly in it does distorts reality especially here when we have someone like Monis who doesn’t look particularly responsible to anyone. It has meant that we have the unedifying sight of Australian Muslims having to apologise and distance themselves from everything done under the name of Islam, even when it’s happening on the other side of the planet, in a way that Christians don’t have to (the only similar type of link is a casual linking of Australian Jews to what Israel is doing in the Middle East, something especially a feature of the Australian left).
The flip side of this rosy view on segregation is a distinctly unrosy view on those outside of it. This “Cronulla riots” view of the Australian public distorts the issue of race, where it comes from and what it’s about. It leads, for example, to a constant mis-understanding of the electoral consequences of asylum seeker policy, that always thinks every politician bashing of asylum seekers will work wonders with the Australian voters, as it has done so well for this government and the last.
It is a miserabilist view of the electorate that has particularly found its home in the left since the 2001 election to explain their defeats, and is a prejudice that encompasses across the left spectrum from the “smart players” in Sussex St to the moralising campaigning left. And this also emerged even as the siege was going on.
It was all summed up by the Twitter campaign #illridewithyou that sprouted up during the siege. Let’s just suppose that we know there really was a Muslim woman (we don’t) and that someone did come up and comfort her (she didn’t) because there really was someone saying something unpleasant (there wasn’t). Comforting a Muslim woman under threat would have been a proper, human thing to do. But when it turned into a Twitter campaign it kind of became something else.
What we had was a campaign that started off by saying how lousy we all were that there would be a spate of bashings of Islamic women after the Martin Place siege, to a campaign that ended by saying how wonderful we all were that we had all signed up against it. But in the middle was confusion and something a little unpleasant that was missed by some. An example was Jason Wilson in the Guardian, who takes up the right’s attack on the hashtag campaign as a sign that the right aren’t aware of the racism of their own readership.
Actually, the main problem right-wing commentators in Australia have is grasping how unrepresentative they and their readership are, which is why they are still scratching their heads as to why the current Prime Minister gets so unpopular every time he repeats their views. But Wilson misses why the right went after the #illridewithyou campaign. It was because they need any opportunity to find when the left can sometimes be even more detached. Having a campaign against threats that had not happened at a time when the rest of the planet was more concerned for several people who actually had a gun held to their heads looks detached. Thinking that it would then lead to a wave of Islamophobia looks even more so.
Especially when that’s not actually what happened. If anything the response was a wish for an end to any tension, something picked up even by Abbott. Rather than a rise of Islamophobia imagined by the left rising up against a foreign terrorist threat imagined by the right, what we had were people seeming to react to what it was, a small, but disturbing sign of social fracturing. Understandably, the prevailing response was a tentative seeking out of a sense of collective coming together against the worst examples of that social erosion, something captured not by the posturing of the left or the right, or a two day Twitter campaign, but the placing of flowers in Martin Place, and a small suburban street in Cairns.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 24 December 2014.Filed under Society, The Australian state