In the wake of the 2014 ‘Sydney Siege’, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated that fear of terrorism is justified as the only elements required to conduct a terrorist attack are “a determined individual, a knife, an iPhone and a victim”. This notion taps into a deeper condition of fear which harks at the population’s very psyche and inherent consciousness. Indeed, in the recent extremism inspired attacks in Copenhagen questions of assimilation and societal integration in various self-claimed multicultural nation-states have arisen. In this vain, in observing notions of gaining or losing a sense of cultural ownership or control over individuals have established an emphasis on new ideas of community and integration or segregation in todays globalised and capitalised world. What does it mean to belong or not belong? Do questions of violence come down to whether individuals can be bought into submission in society and conformity?
The relatively recent instances of terrorism through the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks which saw 17 people killed in Paris and shooting attacks in Copenhagen, have sparked media coverage from all over the world. These instances of terrorism were conducted by radicals with connections to groups fighting in the Middle East. The attacks and threat of potential future attacks have inspired state leaders to address notions of imminent terror, call for community banding and effectively stand for citizens in wake of troubled times. However, the methods and dialogues employed by such leaders have been varied and, particularly to reactions of the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, at times controversial.
Within the US, President Barack Obama has come under fire from Muslim leaders inside and outside the US for employing the words “Islam” and “Extremists” too often in the same sentence, however it is assumed that Islamic extremism is indeed the main concern of counterterrorism officials in most if not all of the western world in recent times. Despite this, the president in a speech on countering violent extremism emphasis the distinction between those who practice Islam and those who “pervert” it, stating that “We have to make sure… that we do not stigmatise entire communities”. Obama offers a relatively safe and crafted perspective in a direct attempt to prevent racial inflammation and targeting as well as bind citizens in a common cause.
Australia has seen a share of terrorist threat in the instance of the Martin Place siege in Sydney, however, the federal response to this has been to up security measures against its own citizens as well as effectively erode online privacy rights. Additionally, Abbott has sparked controversy in the wake of a new terrorist threats, including ones made against the public shopping centre franchise ‘Westfield’. Abbot evoking a fear mongering rhetoric of ‘us versus them’ in a speech on the topic of national security on the 23rd of February that: “I’ve often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’ I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.” Moreover, in addressing the threat of terrorism with roots in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL), Abbott has referred to ISIL as an “Islamist death-cult”. This contrasts starkly with the commentary and direction offered by US President Obama in his spouting a dialogue of community unison, bonding and most importantly inclusion in times of hardship. Abbott offers a method of uninformed blaming of collective minority groups and racially inflamed acknowledgements of threats, creating divides within society and potentially distancing those weakest from informative and effective public discussion.
The rhetoric perpetuated by Abbott, which cements an ‘us versus them’ mentality is highly dangerous. This is because the said rhetoric runs the risk of motivating or intensifying feelings of otherness from a normative Australian culture and identity; which has in the past year been kidnapped and idealised to form Abbott’s own concept of “Team Australia”. However, the employment of damaging remarks as ways of addressing potential threats may also be a form of political pragmatism and tactic in combating poor opinion polls and declining approval ratings. The implied threat of some Muslims may form an issues which non-Muslim voters will rally behind. Indeed, national security is an area in which the Australian Liberal Coalition does perform well in and while new policy limiting privacy rights of all citizens and the deployment of troops to directly fight ISIL have been on the agenda, in March the government has unveiled tough new measures that would remove or curb the citizenship rights of those linked to terrorist activity. Hence, the admonishments made by the Australian prime Minister might purely be further political gain in seeking public approval and potential votes in the next Australian election.
The bias and discrimination demonstrated by the Abbott government is not isolated in the Australian political social domain and has indeed been a common issue for decades. Implicit and entrench racism is a potent issue and has tainted perspectives of minorities and raised questions of cohesion and acceptance; particularly for ethnic groups and coreligionists. Whilst this is expected in a globalised and thoroughly multicultural society, questions of what it means to be a citizen suggested unpredictability of individuals within society which can manifest in paranoia. The perpetuation of a divisive rhetoric by leaders meant to unite a nation see a spreading of fear and demonstrate that roots of injustice and direct violence are not necessarily physical. Essentially, implicit and structural societal forms of violence suggested by state leaders are not an adequate long term answer here and will only alienate groups and foster division. The example of purported Australian security risks and Prime Minister Abbott response to said risks maybe specific and unique, but many lessons can be derived from it and it can potentially be used as a case study for further states aiming to combat extremism. The case forms a lesson against fostering divisions and racial tension amongst civilians at a time when social unity and cohesions is needed perhaps more than ever.
By Mia Shoua
Picture 1: Bokeh-licious, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Picture 2: US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Picture 3: Descrier, licensed under CC BY 2.0