Thursday, March 26

Another pespective on terrorism


Recently PM tony Abbott released a national security statement which stated amongst other things The Government will develop amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act so that we can revoke or suspend Australian citizenship in the case of dual nationals. It has long been the case that people who fight against Australia forfeit their citizenship. Australians who take up arms with terrorist groups, especially while Australian military personnel are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, have sided against their country and should be treated accordingly. For Australian nationals, we are examining suspending some of the privileges of citizenship for individuals involved in terrorism.
But  Dr Clark Jones who worked for the Australian Government for 17 years in national security in the fields of military, police and intelligence before changing to academia, where he has undergone research interests in counter-terrorism, radicalization / de-radicalization, organized crime, prison gangs and prison reform believes such additional powers are unlikely to make Australia more secure.  
I think the idea of revoking citizenship, which would prevent those who had engaged overseas on returning on the basis they conceivably might inflict a terrorism plot from their acquired knowledge while serving overseas is overblown. Whilst acknowledging an element of risk the high level security risk outlined seems implausible and may even be counterproductive. 

Firstly, radicalised individuals intent on terrorism, would surely not risk their life in a combat zone for training as a prerequisite. Secondly, those wishing to return may be fed up or even disillusioned to the extent of wanting to warn others against enlistment. As a further matter recently there has been unconfirmed reports of executions to those who seek to leave, so that those escaping are hardly likely to revert back as advocates or defenders of an organisation from which they fled from.   
Dr Clarke Jones contends:  Telling people they are no longer Australian also confirms their feeling of disenfranchisement and rejection of so-called Australian values. Such actions do not play well with individuals already disillusioned with Australian society.
This discussion paper will attempt to shed some light on the matter of terrorism generally and what might be some effective coherent responses.  
Terrorism entered our vocabulary in the 18thcentury, as the word began to be used to describe events such as what unfolded in the aftermath of terror following the French revolution. But there can be little doubt many prior forms of political violence have punctuated history, masked in various guises such as the misplaced zealous fervour of the crusaders whose atrocities seems unimaginable as do many of the past ideologies which invite indiscriminate violence spurred on by spurious moral claims.  However, in term of philosophical discussion the subject of terrorism increased dramatically after the attacks on the USA on the 11th September 2001.
Terrorism is almost always associated with violence or the threat of intimidation, by a state or groups against innocent citizens and consequently the spread a dreaded widespread fear underpins its purposes and cements the power of its perpetrators.    
 But Terrorism also emerges as a causality of war or armed conflicts of one kind or another. We even see evidence in the later stages of WW2, as the allies’ patience was exhausted, so that non-combatant civilians were deliberately targeted in the bombardment of cities and the explosion of the atomic bomb resulting in millions of innocents being killed.

Determinologists justify such action as ending the war earlier from an enemy that might have inflicted further untold misery and mass genocide. But this justification is of cold comfort to those innocents killed and their surviving families in the engulfing fire bomb quite apart from unresolved matter of whether or not it brought about an earlier end to the war.

A second issue concerns governments who simply declare an organisation to be a terror organisation and its members to be terrorists regardless of whether or not they may be defending themselves from oppression or even invasion. In fact the failure of the United Nations to agree on a definition of “terrorism” for inclusion in international law highlights this conundrum. On the one side you have the Islamic countries who do not tolerate any definition that included liberation movements whilst Western countries are equally vehement to exclude state owned agencies being found guilty of terrorism. Here we have a failure of humanity to admit to failures as each side maintains the facade of a superior philosophical perspective where none exists.  

Notwithstanding the difficulties of determining a satisfactory definition for terrorism one is forced to retreat to the simplistic approach that reflects everyday terms; indiscriminate violence or intimidation inflicted on non-combatants or innocent bystanders in an effort to secure control or victory by its perpetrators.
This definition would seem to confirm that terrorism is never justifiable but it would also serve to implicate all countries at one time or another as being complicit. It would nevertheless be a much more honest starting point to agree on what measures would be taken in the future to combat the ideologies that leave us exposed to its terrors.  But before that, one needs to contemplate what drives young people to join such terrorist organisations.

What is the allure of young people enlisting with terrorist organisations?

The first point to make is the underlying socioeconomic pressures at work arising from record youth unemployment in Australia and abroad, often concentrated in ethnic groups or migrants struggling to find their place, can create an environment susceptible to the allure of terrorist ideologies over those values of the local society. 
The terrorists message seems disarmingly simple yet effective in a us versus them approach.

The terrorist organisations depict an inclusiveness for potential jihadists to join the fighters and to share in the "spoils" of not only capturing war hardware but also even to find a bride who shares the same ideology.

The justification is by way of caricature of westerners as a force that oppress Muslims the world over, evoking deceptive descriptions as "Crusaders," which attempt to link the past atrocities of centuries earlier as justification for their present response.  Hence the call to arms brings with it the appeal to young people who are called to the inclusive fold with poetic words to align their destiny as young lions to fight against the so called infidels and idolaters of the west.  

Suicide bombers  

But an even more puzzling question is what brings Suicide Bombers to detonate themselves and cause loss of life to innocent bystanders? Is it a religious fervour, and or the fragrant perfume of promised paradise for martyrdom?

Islam is a beautiful peaceful religion

In Islam suicide is forbidden and its incidence is at a lower pro rata rate to population than the West. A taking of a life is only allowed by way of justice with the death penalty for murder, but it is also acknowledged that forgiveness is better. Harming innocent bystanders, even in war, is forbidden under the Quran. On a personal level Muslims are generally peaceful, honest, hard-working, civic minded people, no different to any other societies. But we need to hear more from theologians to counter both the on line and off line allure.

Meaning of Jihad

The crux of the matter and what brings fear to the mind is the term Jihad, which is to exert utmost effort, to strive, to struggle. Jihad has many different meanings, but it is simplistically attributed in non-Islamic cultures to a “Religious War”. It has the same negative connotation in the West as “Crusade” has in the Islamic world, an association there with the Christen Crusaders who fought the Muslims for control of the Holy Land. The Link to a religious fervour as a precursor to violence is indeed a highly tenuous one. You might say Islamic fundamentalism is an enabler, rather than a motivator for these acts of terror. Violence in the conflict zones is largely a secular struggle, unconnected to religion.
Another perspective

Dr Robert Pape from the University of Chicago sums up the position very well in my opinion: What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks actually have in common is specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.

Religion is often used as a tool by terrorist organisations in recruiting and in seeking aid from abroad, but it is rarely the root cause. The general pattern in data supports these conclusions.
First, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks –301 of the 315 I studied –took place as part of organised political or military campaigns.

Second democracies are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorists: America, France, and India. Israel, Russia. Sri Lanka and Turkey have been the targets of almost every suicide attack of the past two decade.
Third suicide terrorist campaigns are directed toward a strategic objective from Lebanon to Israel to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya. The sponsors of every campaign-18 organisations in all-are seeking to maintain political self-determination. Before Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 there was no Hezbollah suicide terrorist campaign against Israel; indeed Hezbollah came into existence only after this event. Before the Sri Lankan military began moving into Tamil homelands of the Island in 1987, the Tamil Tigers did not use suicide attacks. Before the increase in the Jewish settlers on the West bank in the 1980”s Palestinian groups did not use suicide terrorist, and true to form, there has never been documented suicide attack in Iraq until the American Invasion in 2003.


Whilst it is acknowledged our response to terrorism must include some tighter security measures what seems to be missing is more spending to ensure wherever possible practical compassionate outcomes, which seek to address its underlying causes, following  consultation with the relevant community leaders.   

I think that in this respect it would very helpful  to hear more from theologians validating why religions such as Islam do not condone the use of violence, and the west needs to give more thought on why we became so intractably involved in Iraq, whilst we stayed away from Syria. This may entail an admission of past mistakes in Iraq, and to adopt a more comprehensive foreign policy that seeks to understand more clearly the reasons for conflict. Certainly Australia should not follow blindly in America’s footsteps as it has in the past. It will take a long time for America to recover from is loss of credibility in the world stage, to be respected as a genuine peacekeeper who is able to help make the world a better place.

In the meantime we desperately need to counter the rhetoric of terrorist organisations with counter arguments after consulting with the relevant  communities to formulate a practical narrative that better explains the history and what steps can be taken in the absence of fear and loathing. This will involve an on –line and off line response, largely missing from the current policy. 

Banning these currently engaged from ever returning is not going to enhance our security but improved understanding as to why they enlisted in the first place and then possibly to even engage those who have a change of heart, will. 


susan said...

Terrorists may cause death and destruction, and a lot of pain and fear. But they are just a handful, they are cowardly and weak, and they can't destroy a country. To suggest they can is to give the too much credit. National leaders like Abbot and Harper are quite capable of destroying countries and their values, making them the true terrorists. I'm quite certain the western governments, following the lead of the US (which has funded many terrorist organizations both wittingly and unwittingly), do so to remain in positions of power.

Your post is wonderfully wise and thoughtful, Lindsay. Have you considered running for public office? I know that's not likely an option for you, but how wonderful it would be to have world leaders with even a small portion of your sensibility.

Best wishes

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Thanks Susan. I am afraid I might not tow the party line and would be in constant danger of either being thrown out of the party or having to resign. Independent candidates also find it difficult of get the necessary support. Regrettably very few politicians are independent thinkers as usually they are the product of party allegiances and whose prior experience is limited to advisory positions. In other words, except for a few notable exceptions, they are not independent and lack practical experience.
Best wishes