In all the outpourings of discussion about the “radicalisation” of Muslim youth in Australia, one detail is consistently ignored: the actual causes.
From the journalists, to the police spokespeople and politicians, to the endless stream of academic “terrorism experts”, we get endless talk about irrelevant facts. What school did Farhad Jabar go to? Which mosque? Where were his parents? What was his psychological state? Who (not what) radicalised him?
It is designed to stoke the racist idea that it is simply impossible to understand why Muslims in Australia might be pissed off, let alone become violent. We are led to believe there are no real causes apart from Islam as a religion – which can only be dealt with by increasing levels of surveillance and policing.
So let’s pose the apparently treasonous question that the media refuse to: what might make Muslims in Australia radically opposed to the current order?
Could it perhaps be the entire history of Western imperialism in the Muslim world? For well more than a century, Western states have acted with violence, arrogance and impunity in the Middle East and beyond. The only driving principle has been oil and empire.
When they aren’t directly carrying out the repression and terror needed to meet these aims, they outsource them to local despots whom they arm and help enrich. They helped create the apartheid state of Israel on the graves of Palestinians to ensure they had another reliable attack dog in the region.
Robyn Torok, from the Security Research Institute at Edith Cowan University, typifies the bizarre approach of the “de-radicalisation” industry. She describes how “narratives of grievance are foundational to Islamic radicalisation”:
“During the early stages of my research, grievances were primarily directed against the US military’s mistreatment of prisoners and detainees in Afghanistan and then Iraq. The focus then shifted to Syria and the inaction of Western governments.
“Most recently, grievances have centred on government actions to cancel passports. Coupled with this is the Australian government’s recent decision to extend airstrikes into Syria.
“These grievances are framed to create an emotional response and a belief that oppression of Muslims is continuing to take place, as part of a long historical narrative of grievance.”
The fact that this “long historical narrative” is entirely accurate is brushed off as an irrelevant side issue, with the focus turning to the supposedly real question of how we can get schools and Muslim community leaders to become better ASIO informants.
What Torok patronisingly calls a “narrative of grievance” could more accurately be called “history” or just “the truth”. An emotional response seems entirely reasonable in the face of such a vast array of continuing atrocities. Of course, in the West, the record of imperialism is “framed” in such a way as to make non-Muslims lack empathy for the victims of these policies. They aren’t like us. Nothing to get worked up about.
The recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq killed more than a million people. Not one. One million. Just imagine the reaction in Australia today if a million people here were slaughtered by a foreign power. “Radical” would be putting it very mildly.
And what about that other unspoken cause of radicalisation: racism?
Daily demonisation in the nation’s media, abuse in the streets, constant surveillance and harassment by police. Demands for apologies for any violent act by any Muslim anywhere in the world, while the far greater violence of the US and its allies is justified and celebrated. Every few months another wave of anti-terror raids and accompanying racist hysteria. Mosques attacked. Both major political parties united in whipping up fear and denying civil liberties. Should people not be angry about that?
Noam Chomsky once said, “Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: stop participating in it”. By joining the bombing campaign in Syria in support of the murderous Assad regime, the Australian government has once again proven it has no right to lecture anyone on the evils of violent terrorism.
The government’s new de-radicalisation kit defines radicalisation: “When a person’s beliefs move from being relatively conventional to being radical, and they want a drastic change in society”. Well then, count me in. As a white, non-Muslim, I can get away with saying such a thing without fear of ASIO kicking down my door.
Obviously, the kind of radicalism we need has nothing at all in common with the extreme right wing politics of ISIS or with acts of individual terrorism. But when faced with a society of mass violence and injustice, nothing is more dangerous or illogical than “conventional” thinking, moderation and indifference.