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September 05th 2014 print

Michael Danby

ISIS and Australia’s Peril

A Magoo-like myopia partly explains why some who should know better refuse to recognise that ISIS and the homegrown Muslim recruits who have flocked to its bloody banner represent a grave threat to Australia's security. The other factor is old fashioned anti-Americanism

headsMr Magoo managed to get himself in absurd situations because of his nearsightedness, which was compounded by a stubborn refusal to admit the problem. I am reminded of that character’s punchline: ‘Magoo, you have done it again!’ when reading the latest analyses from the pen of Fairfax Media foreign correspondent Paul McGeough, who certainly has form. The biographer of Hamas boss Khalid Mishal, he is one of the few people in the world who sees in the Hamas jihadist the makings of a moderate.

The animating force of McGeough’s dispatches, like the Greens’ analysis of the situation in Iraq, is anti-Americanism, but you cannot view international events through such a simple ideological lens, not without looking at them afresh. Bill Shorten has done this, as have other members of the Opposition, and not because we want to parrot the government. Unlike Fairfax’s McGeough, who has detailed every possible danger the Australian military will face in Iraq, Opposition members supporting the Prime Minister on this issue are fully cognizant of the threat a permanent terrorist state in northern Iraq and Syria would pose not just to Iraqi minorities but to countries far away, including Australia. It is very regrettable to see Australia ranked by the Economist magazine as the country with the fourth-highest number of recruits, proportionally, in ISIS. We are punching above our weight, but in a category we would like not to be in. We have to admit that there is a problem — the first step toward a correct appraisal of this situation.

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Those of us who see the world as it is, rather than through the prism of bias and preconception, do not share the Magoo-like blindness of McGeough and the Greens. As the Opposition leader has explained, Labor believes the terrorist state that has been proclaimed in Iraq represents a threat to Australian national security unlike any we have ever faced. The situation does not demand that Australia send infantry formations, as we did in the Iraq War — no one is talking about boots on the ground. We are talking about humanitarian assistance to besieged minorities. We are perhaps talking about some kind of air assistance to prevent ISIS fanatics besieging other minorities, and also to give some assistance to Iraqi or Peshmerga Kurdish ground forces. Air operations have not been asked for by the Iraqi government, but when a new Iraqi government is properly formed such a request is something Australia could perhaps consider.

The issue of Australians fighting with terrorist groups in the Middle East is one I have taken up repeatedly. In my view, the Attorney-General has focused too late on our jihadi exodus. The scores of Australians fighting in Iraq and Syria pose a threat to us because they might return home with skills that would enable them to be involved in a mass-casualty attack. That ISIS’s ‘hard men’ are capable of such actions was demonstrated in May this year by Mehdi Nemmouche, a French citizen who fought with ISIS and travelled through this part of the world, including Singapore and Malaysia, returned to Belgium, where he murdered four people in the Jewish museum in Brussels. A battle-hardened veteran, he coldly  shot each of his victims in the head. More recently, Australia and the wider world were horrified to see the video of a British terrorist brutally murder American journalist James Foley.

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Again, closer to home, there was the shock of Australian Khaled Sharrouf’s hideous photo of his little boy holding up a severed head. As columnist and commentator Paul Kelly observed, that picture should represent a watershed moment in Australians’ perceptions of the home-front threat posed by jihadists.

Khaled himself has tweeted:

… if I wanted to attack ‘yous’ (sic) I could have so easily. …I love to slaughter [Australians] … Allah loves it when u dogs r slaughtered.

If Senator Milne does not understand what that means, I will translate it for her: These people want to bring their views, their activities, their terrorism, to Australia, to Europe, to the United States. Australian members of ISIS will go to any lengths to commit murder. In July, an Australian ISIS member, known as Abu Bakr al Australi, blew himself up outside a Shia mosque, killing five people and injuring 40. There was another deranged deranged young fellow from Brunswick in Melbourne, 19-year-old Adam Dahman, who became another of ISIS’s suicide bombers. Preventing young Australians getting involved in this obscenity should motivate us to make sure ISIS is not successful in exporting its terror to our shores.

In an emergency debate on Monday, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Flavia Pansieri, said that her reports reveal “acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale.” The UN report was based on 480 interviews and documentary evidence. It said:

“Children have been present at the executions, which take the form of beheading or shooting in the head at close range. … Bodies are placed on public display, often on crucifixes, for up to three days, serving as a warning to local residents.”

Thousands of defenceless Yazidis, Christians, Kurds and Shia civilians have been massacred by ISIS. Even the Greens must have been shocked to see recent YouTube footage of some 250 near-naked Syrian soldiers being marched off to be machine-gunned by these brutes. Earlier, we saw the same thing happening to 1,500 members of the Iraqi Army. Again, the sight of these slaughtered soldiers lying naked in pools of their own blood was distributed by ISIS, proud of its bloody handiwork. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in recent weeks ISIS has sold 300 Yazidi girls and women into sexual slavery after they were captured by its fighters in Syria.

Iraq and Syria are far away, but we must not be nearsighted, as only the blind cannot see the very real threat to Australia and Australian. The Greens and McGeough, like his Mr Magoo doppelganger, may be happy and untroubled in their blinkered, willful myopia, but QSIS is anything but a joke. The evil it represents simply cannot be judged by relativism’s abstract yardstick, as Opposition leader Shorten has made clear in making common cause with the government.

Michael Danby (Labor) is the MHR for Melbourne Ports. This essay is an edited version of a speech delivered this week in Parliament