ZAKY MALLAH: Yeah. Yeah, sure. The Liberals now have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL because of Ministers like him.

TONY JONES: Okay. I think that’s a comment we are just going to rule totally out of order.

The anniversary of the shooting down of MH17 was an unfortunate reminder of how hollow the political and media outrage was that followed it.

The media’s chest thumping and demand that the bodies be brought home was almost immediately followed by a lack of interest whether they were – especially after the much hailed UN Resolution pushed by Australia to set up a demilitarised around the crash site backfired, giving Kiev the room to launch a counter-offensive and keep the Dutch and Australian crash site inspectors confined in their hotel.

As for the government itself, after its discrete lobbying in Kiev made little headway, Abbott’s threat of shirt-fronting Putin at the G20 in November back-fired as well, so badly that not only did voters remain unimpressed but so did his own backbench, setting off a downward spiral that resulted in a third of them opting for an empty chair as their preferred leader a few months later.

The handling of MH17 was a reminder, if it was needed, that Australia’s ability to throw its weight around on the other side of the world is limited, which is why it generally never does and stays comfortably in the trail of the US. At the moment though, with the current President inconsistent on what threat he wants to rally the world around, and what threats he wants to defuse, it gives this Coalition government much less to go on than the previous one had under Bush.

But the problem in national security goes much deeper than one of incoherent geopolitics. Just how deep is illustrated by the other “national security” question that has been occupying politicians and the media over the last month.

In all the outrage over the government’s outrage over the ABC’s attempt to manufacture outrage, it’s been forgotten what caused the outrage in the first place. Not the question Zaky Mallah asked of the Minister, but his follow up comment that having been threatened with having his citizenship taken away, this was the sort of comment that would justify to many Muslims going off to join ISIL.

This is not a freedom of speech issue as the ABC’s Mark Scott tried to define it. Not least because Scott himself undermined it by saying Mallah should have not been live in the audience but videotaped, so he could have been prevented from saying the comment that Tony Jones ruled out of order anyway.

But more importantly, it’s not a freedom of speech issue because the thrust of the comment, that it is understandable Muslims are going off to fight for ISIL because of the harassment they receive in Australia, can be found all over the place. The more polite left wing variant, that Islamophobia is feeding extremism and terrorism, can be found voiced in even highly respectable forums such as the blogs of the Lowy Institute.

Leaving aside that surveys of Jihadists do not necessarily suggest they are at the pointy end of Muslims experiencing bigotry, the more fundamental thing that’s never explained is why Muslims would react to anti-Muslim feeling by travelling half way round the world to kill more Muslims. Or when they’re not, killing the only serious threat to western interests in the region, the Kurds (considered such a threat that the leading edge of the Kurd’s fight against ISIL, the PKK, is still classed as a terrorist organisation in Australia).

But more importantly, not only does it not explain what is happening, but rather turns reality on its head in an unpleasant way to disguise what actually is happening.

So let’s be blunt. Australia is a net exporter of terrorism. What this means is that with at least a hundred Australians estimated to be fighting with ISIL (and we know around 30 have so far been killed), Australian terrorists in the Middle East are a much bigger problem than Middle Eastern terrorist are in Australia.

In effect what we have here is the national security issue turned upside down, the terrorist threat is not those from overseas to Australia but the other way round. It is this awkward reality that is being obscured by both left and right.

From the left it involves the rather unpleasant trick of portraying those who fight for ISIL as victims, rather than, say, the civilians of the Middle East they are setting off to maim or kill. This is an OK thing to come from the mouth of a concerned liberal, but a little close to the bone when it comes from someone like Mallah, who has been convicted for threatening to kill ASIO officers.

But for all the outrage at Mallah’s comments, the right, and the government, is on a similar track. Either there is the soft government approach, such as in NSW, that like the left sees the way to stop terrorism is to “reach out” to Muslim “communities” and “community leaders” (more a political construct than anything), again based on the assumption that Jihadists are leaving due to alienation from Australian society rather than. say, being a product of it.

Or we have the tack more preferred by the Abbott government, the concept of “radicalisation”, i.e. that somehow ISIS is reaching through social media and other channels to brainwash the young. Such radicalisation theories can never explain what it is about ISIL’s social media strategy and the message of Islamist extremism that makes it so effective and so appealing compared to anything served up in Australia. All it does is add a mystique to that message that can only be counter-productive.

The refusal to countenance that the terrorist threat is heading away from Australia rather than coming to get it, is also behind the incoherence of policy which can’t seem to decide whether Jihadists should be prevented from leaving Australia or prevented from coming back. What ties both together is the consistent notion that any Australians fighting with ISIS are again being pressured by either radicalisation at home or a more hands-on radicalisation when they go overseas.

Whether it is the right’s “radicalisation” theories or the left’s portrayal of Jihadists of a result of Islamophobia, what both do is portray Jihadists as victims and not responsible for their actions. By denying them being perhaps what they mostly are, responsible adults making a decision for which they are culpable, at least avoids the more uncomfortable questions about what that decision is based on, which may, who knows, have more to do with where they come from than where they think they are going.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 20 July 2015.

Filed under Terrorism

Tags: , ,


4 responses to “The hole in the middle of national security”

  1. Sam Roggeveen on 21st July 2015 8:39 pm


    Thanks as always for a thoughtful contribution. For the record, The Interpreter has published a fairly wide range of pieces on the radicalisation question, including a piece that questions the value of ‘reaching out’ to Muslim communities:

    As is sometimes the case with your posts, I find myself a little unsatisfied with this one. Your scalpel is sharp when it comes to critiquing others’ positions, but you don’t quite state your own. I’d like to hear more on your suggestions that jihadists are leaving because they are a product of Australian society, rather than being alienated from it.

  2. Dianne on 22nd July 2015 3:48 pm

    I really don’t know but I lean to the view that the kind of people who join ISIS are like young people in the 60s and 70s who joined cults and terrorist groups like the Baader-Meinhof in West Germany.

  3. The Piping Shrike on 22nd July 2015 10:53 pm

    Sam thanks for pointing out the wide range of views on the Lowy Interpreter. It’s why I find it an interesting read. Certainly the view I quoted is not confined to the Lowy Interpreter, it was just a coherent expression of it.

    To me saying the Jihadists are a product of Australian society is fairly banal and obvious since that’s where they come from. Presenting it as “alienated yet part of it” is more contorted and not especially supported by the profiles of those who go.

    As for the reasons, well, I’ve seen the violent, sexiness of the way it is presented like a video game, as it comes across in ISIS’s media, as part of its appeal, as well as the appeal to authority. They seem reasonable propositions to me but I’m no expert – but contrary to how the government is portraying it, seems not especially “radicalising” or alien.

    But such a discussion is difficult when the starting point is so obscured and distorted by the inability both sides of politics have in recognising that it is Australian terrorism we are talking about in the first place. That’s really what the post looks to address.

  4. End times for Abbott’s prime ministership? - Left Flank on 17th August 2015 7:15 am

    […] and such an agenda has more often left Abbott looking out of touch with geopolitical realities and a risk to the traditional conservative defence of the state. More importantly, even if the government wants the bureaucracy to deliver it one story every week […]

Comments are closed.