Tuesday, June 16, 2015

16-Jun-15: Australians, troubled by Islamist terror in their midst, are more worried than they have been for years

Australians, when we were growing up there, generally had a sense of being distant from the rest of the world and its problems. It felt a safe place to be. A famous post-apocalyptic novel ["On the Beach", Neville Shute] popular in the late fifties and later the basis for a Hollywood movie depicted a world ravaged by nuclear destruction - and Melbourne the last remaining somewhat-untouched (temporary) haven.

No longer.

Findings based on data collected in a major annual survey has found record levels of insecurity among Australians. Key points from the annual Lowy Institute for International Policy report, released today are that, first, they identify the lowest feeling of safety among Australians, and the sharpest decline in optimism about the nation’s economic performance in the world, in the 11-year history of the poll. A very significant majority (69%) sees Islamic State as a high risk to Australia's security. About the same proportion, 69%, supports Australia’s military participation in Iraq. But at the same time, Australians appear to understand how complex this process is, since only 20% think taking these steps will make their country safe from terrorism in the future.

The authors at Lowy provide some interpretation of the responses received to the questions posed to some 1,200 Australian respondents:
  • [I]n 2015... the world seems to be a bleak place to many Australians. Fewer Australians feel safe now that any any time during our 11-year polling history. 
  • Only 24% of Australian adults say they feel 'very safe' this year, 18 points down from the 42% who felt very safe when we last asked them in 2010.
  • It appears the threat of terrorism is being keenly felt here, after the Martin Place siege late last year [we blogged about that in December 2014 and in January 2015] and the gruesome scenes and confronting news coming out of Iraq and Syria. 
  • Terrorism-related risks rank first, second and third out of eight potential risks to Australia's security in the next ten years, with 69% of Australians rating 'the emergence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria' as a high risk to our security (the highest-ranked risk), and majorities seeing 'terrorist attacks on Australians overseas' and 'home-grown terrorism in Australia' as high risk...
  • [Most Australians] (69%) support Australia's participation in military action against Islamic State in Iraq (air strikes and training and support to Iraqi forces), even though a majority believe that such participation increases the risk of terrorism to Australia now, and only 20% say it makes us safer from terrorism in the future.
Inevitably (our view - not Lowy's) some part of the growing anxiety comes from Australians seeing their neighbours' children embracing Islamist values and moving heaven and earth to personally become part of the current Arab-on-Arab bloodbath convulsing vast swathes of the Middle East. 

Australian-born jihadist father, his Australian-born son,
the severed heads that so amuse them, and the question
on the minds of a majority of Australians [Image Source]
For instance, here is part of a May 29, 2015 radio interview given by Assistant Commissioner Tracy Linford of the Victoria Police, and head of its Intelligence & Covert Support Command (Melbourne is the capital of the state of Victoria). She was addressing reports prominently broadcast across Australia's news media two weeks ago (like this one: "More than a dozen young women from Melbourne flee to conflict zones to support Islamic State militants, and in some cases become jihadi brides"]: 
You know, it's difficult for us to collect information from overseas and we have to rely either partner agencies or alternatively you know, what families feed us from their contact with their children who are now overseas so it is hard for us to quantify. I do suspect that there's more than 12 that have actually gone over to support other, you know, jihadi fighters within ISIS but we're not quite sure.
Interviewer: And what is the lure?
Well, I think there's a romanticised view for some young women and if I could press the point that the vast majority of the women that we know who have travelled are very young, you know, they're 18 to 20 years of age.
And I think they're given some sort of romanticised view that, you know, they'll go over there and life will be really good for them, that they will be you know, put on a pedestal, that they're there to help create or help establish the caliphate over there, bear and raise jihadi children, that they'll be respected as women and that their lifestyle will be good.
The reality is that the information we're getting back from overseas is that the lifestyle is not so good at all. [Source: ABC RadioMay 29, 2015]
Sydney's Daily Telegraph ["Full list of Aussie jihadis fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq", April 16, 2015] asserted that ISIS, the self-styled caliphate occupying parts of Syria and Iraq, had emerged as 
a magnet for disillusioned Australian Muslim teenagers consuming hate sermons on their laptops and mobile phones... The Australian fighters are seen as trophies by their jihadi masters – manipulated and used by the IS propaganda machine to attract new supporters. Bankstown apprentice butcher Abdullah Elmir – known as the “Ginger Jihadi” because of his pale-skin and hair colour – has appeared in two videos... The list of Sydney’s jihadists includes a champion boxer, four brothers, a convicted terrorist and standover man, university and high school students, a butcher’s apprentice, a former soldier, street preachers, and a private school girl. Of those who successfully made it to Syria, linking up with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra, almost nine in 10 were young males with an average age of 23... [N]ine impressionable young Muslims from Sydney’s south-west have been killed, blinded by terror recruiters and a call to arms via Twitter, Facebook and Ask.fm. Other Sydney jihadists, who haven’t been identified, are also believed to have been sent to their death... Former NSW Police counter terrorism boss Peter Dein told the dailytelegraph.com.au last year that south-west Sydney had become a hotspot for radical recruitment... [Daily TelegraphApril 16, 2015]
How surprising is all of this? According to one authoritative source - quite:
The London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence reports that between 100 and 250 Australians have joined Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria. Given Australia's vast distance from the region and its population of just 24 million, it is a remarkable number. The center estimates that about 100 fighters came from the United States, which has more than 13 times as many people as Australia... [Business Insider, March 23, 2015]
What ought the Australian authorities to do? Simple solutions are, inevitably, in short supply. But there are some bold criticisms as well as some creative suggestions in a short opinion piece published, again, by the Lowy Institute, just a few weeks ago. Entitled "Muslim radicalisation: Why Australia's strategy is failing, and how to fix it", it's authored by a Pakistani scholar with degrees from Cambridge, George Washington University and Oxford:
The Australian Government has spent millions since the London bombings of 2005 on programs and projects to counter radicalism in Australia's Muslim population, yet the threat appears to be growing. What went wrong? Well, frankly, everything — from the basic premise of what leads and drives radicalisation, to what contains and neutralises it. The fundamental flaw in the Government's counter-radicalisation policy is that it has relied heavily on Muslim community leaders to understand the roots of radicalisation. Not only are the Muslim community leaders no experts on the subject of radicalisation, but they are are also distant from the younger generation of Muslims who undergo an identity crisis triggered internally by Australian society (which functions contrary to their beliefs) and externally by sophisticated propaganda which they digest over social media... The truth is, in Australia and other Western countries, radicalisation of Muslims starts in the home, often unconsciously. Muslim parents in Western societies who want to raise their kids with Islamic ethics and morals go overboard, feeding manipulated Islamic teachings they deem suitable to keep their children 'on track'. But such teachings clash directly with what young Muslims are exposed to at school and in public places. Kids either end up living two different lives or get strangled by an identity crisis... countering radicalisation may need a non-religious and social strategy that goes down to the household level to tackle the identity crisis that gives rise to radicalism...
Addressing the problem within the home. Sounds to us like a serious basis for a different kind of approach.

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