Guest Notes

Terrorism notes

24 November 2018

9:00 AM

24 November 2018

9:00 AM

PM’s plain speaking about motivations and excuses

The Commonwealth criminal code defines ‘terrorist act’ as one intended to coerce or influence the public or any government by intimidation to advance a political, religious or ideological cause and which causes one or more of the following: death, serious harm or danger to a person, serious damage to property, a serious risk to the health of safety of the public, or serious interference with, disruption to or destruction of critical infrastructure such as a telecommunications or electricity network.

The murderous attack in central Melbourne on November 9 will need to be investigated and reported upon by Commonwealth and Victorian authorities before a fully informed public commentary can occur concerning its origins and consequences. However, from what has been revealed about the assassin’s prior conduct, there seems to be a sound basis for contending that it was one motivated by an intention to advance a political, religious or ideological cause (or all three).

If it is assumed that the assassin acted alone and/or was affected by some recognisable psychological or psychiatric disorder, it does not follow that he was not motivated to advance a political, religious or ideological cause.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been criticised for this comment on the attack: ‘This bloke, radicalised here in Australia with extreme Islam, took a knife and cut down a fellow Australian in Bourke Street. I am not going to make an excuse for that. Of course issues of mental health and all these other things are important. He was a terrorist. He was a radical extremist terrorist who took a knife to another Australian because he had been radicalised in this country. We can’t give him excuses.’

The Australian National Iman’s Council (ANIC) reacted by releasing a statement asserting that it and the Muslim community were outraged by the PM’s comments ‘connecting’ Islam to a ‘radical and dangerous ideology’, and exploiting the attack for political gain. ANIC called upon the PM, his government and all political leaders to be more responsible in their rhetoric in order not to cast aspersions on a segment of the community based on the actions of one deranged individual and to act in the best interests of the Australian people, by calling for unity and solidarity, rather than alienating any group of Australians.

That statement and ANIC’s pronouncements, ‘Islam’s Clear Statement on Homosexuality’ (March 2017) and ‘Explanatory Note on the Judicial Process and Participation’ (May 2018) – both mostly ignored by the mainstream media – draw attention to the desirability of much wider public discussion in Australia of the unique politico-religious claims made by and in the name of Islam. And Australians should be encouraged to read the Koran.

The starting point for believers is altogether unburdened by complexity. It is the claim that the Koran, as revealed by the Almighty via an Archangel to, and disseminated by, his sole prophet, is the last and complete revelation by the creator of the Universe. It is embodied with crystal clarity in the faithful recitation of the single-sentence Shahada. Islam claims to have given humanity a universal and well-balanced civilisation which is the best community because of its complete specification for how every person is required to live on Earth in preparation for eternal life in Paradise. It supersedes the prior revelations upheld by the two older monotheistic (Abrahamic) Peoples of the Book. Adherents of the Koran may have disputes about its interpretation, but unlike the other Peoples of the Book, many do not welcome criticism of what is regarded as a perfect book.

Any suggestion that Islam is overdue for a reformation is an unbearable affront to the words of the Almighty. In parts of the Islamic World (itself a unique international politico-religious fact), the extent to which very strict theocratic norms govern the daily life of all individuals is to be seen in the fact that blasphemy and apostasy can be punishable by death (state-sanctioned or otherwise).

Each of ANIC’s three recent statements evidences a fundamental difficulty for Islam in Australia: its foundational claim is incompatible with the dominant norms of a secular democracy. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution operates not only to protect the freedom of religion, but also to protect the right of any person to have no religion. What is religion to one is superstition to another. Some religious ideas are regarded as morally evil by adherents of other creeds. Australians are free to despise each other’s faiths which they can do and yet bear each other no ill will.

In Western secular societies like Australia, attempts to debate the ideas and beliefs contained in the Koran continue to be deliberately stifled – by some believers and some non-believers alike – by the false conflation of religion and race, by the confected use of the suffix phobia, and, by falsely conflating criticism of ideas and beliefs with blanket criticism of believers.

ANIC’s use of the word ‘connecting’ is an implied assertion that, necessarily, the Koran is a perfect book and thus could not have been a motivating factor for the murderous Melbourne attack because the murderer violated ‘the true and ethical teachings of Islam’. In a free and open secular democracy, Australians have the right to embrace and express any religious ideas and beliefs, but the right does not extend to demand acceptance of or respect for the content of the ideas or beliefs.

Most Australians, if asked to consider the matter carefully, would wonder why ANIC is so reluctant to acknowledge that Australia is a secular democracy in which anyone has the legal right to say publicly that any one system of religious ideas and beliefs is as good (or, for that matter, as bad) as any other. This happens every day in respect of all other religions.

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