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July 18th 2015 print

Merv Bendle

Jackbooted Straw Men on the March

When a gaggle of postmodernists address -- these people don't discuss, they 'address' --  Islamic terrorism in Australia, count on them conjuring a phantom army of racist Anglo bigots.  Add an incurious reporter to take some stenography and the myth of the white extremist becomes front-page flesh

rw extremistOne of the greatest threats to Australia’s security is the pronounced pro-Islamist and pro-jihadist sympathies of Australian academics. These people have enormous influence, shaping security and policing policy and public perception, and they use this power to promote their views to a wide audience. I pointed this out in a series of articles beginning over a decade ago but the problem – indeed, the crisis – continues, as the recent utterances by a high-profile academic ‘counter-terrorism expert’ and others make clear.

One of the main strategies of this radical coterie is to deny that Muslims or Islam as a religion has anything to do with terrorism. Another is to insist the terrorist acts that are committed are no worse than the acts of war carried by nation states, especially by America and Australia in Afghanistan or Iraq. And a perennial tactic is to claim that attacks by Muslims are outnumbered by ‘right-wing extremists’ and that it is the latter which is the real threat.

This last claim has surfaced again at a conference on ‘Advancing Community Cohesion’ held at the University of Western Sydney. According to compliant Age reporter‘s lead paragraph of what was published as a front-page story:

Right-wing extremism is emerging as an equal, if not greater, threat than Muslim radicalisation in Australia … academics and police have told a conference on social cohesion.

That ‘counter-terrorism expert’, Anne Azza Aly from Curtin University, claimed that a “study released last month that found right-wing extremists had killed twice as many people since September 11 as jihadists”, neglecting to point out that the arbitrary choice of this date excludes the 3000 people killed on 9/11 by al-Qaeda and fails to take into account the massive efforts made by Homeland Security in the United States to penetrate and prevent innumerable Islamist terrorist plots, undoubtedly preventing numerous jihadist outrages.

Dr Aly also asserts “violent extremism in Australia is beginning to mirror that of the US”, saying “Violent extremism isn’t just a Muslim problem in Australia”. Rather, “the numbers are staggering and growing in right-wing extremism.” No numbers supporting this absurd claim are cited in the Age report.

Predictably, the claim was supported by Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, who told the conference there had undoubtedly been a rise in far-right extremist organisations. Moreover, “what is concerning is that they are coming out in public and not confining their activities underground [as they once did]“. Once again, no numbers supporting his claim were cited.

It is astonishing (but tragically predictable) that The Age didn’t inquire about the evidence available to support the claims made by these high-profile apologists. If she had done so she would have found that no “right-wing extremists” have been arrested or convicted for terrorism in Australia. She would also have found that all the criminals presently in prison for terrorist offences are Muslims. And she would also have been unable to ignore the following Muslims involved in local terrorism:

  • Faheem Khalid Lodhi was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in June 2006 for a 2003 plot to bomb the national electricity grid or Sydney defence sites in the pursuit of jihad.
  • Abdul Nacer Benbrika was the leader of a group planning a set of terrorist acts targeting the 2005 AFL Grand Final, the 2006 Australian Grand Prix, the Crown Casino, and John Howard. In September 2008, five Muslim men including Benbrika, were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. Authorities believe Benbrika continues to play a major role promoting jihad from within prison.
  • Willie Brigitte, a French convert to Islam associated with al-Qaeda, earned a nine-year prison sentence for his involvement in a plot to carry out a terrorist operation in Australia.
  • Khaled Cheikho, Moustafa Cheikho, Mohamed Ali Elomar, Abdul Rakib Hasan and Mohammed Omar Jamal were found guilty of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act(s) and were jailed in February 2010 for various terms between 23 and 28 years.
  • In August 2009, four Melbourne men were charged over a plot to storm the Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney with automatic weapons; and shoot military and other personnel. In December 2011 three of the men were sentenced to 18 years imprisonment with the judge observing that they were “unrepentant radical Muslims and would remain a threat to the public while they held extremist views”.
  • In September, 2014, Numan Haider attacked two police officers seeking to develop constructive links with Muslim youths thought to be at risk of radicalization. He severely injured the officers with a knife and he was only stopped when one shot him dead. He was subsequently found to be carrying two knives and an Islamic State flag.
  • In September 2014, Australian Federal Police and other security agencies conducted operations in Sydney and Brisbane involving a plot to commit a random act of terrorism. It is alleged that one of those arrested, Omarjan Azari, conspired to commit a “horrifying” terrorist act with the most senior Australian Islamic State leader.
  • Later in September, 2014, some 100 AFP and Victorian police officers executed search warrants in Broadmeadows, Flemington, Kealba, Meadow Heights and Seabrook. One man was charged with “intentionally making funds available to a terrorist organisation knowing that organisation was a terrorist organisation”.
  • In February, 2015, two men were arrested in Fairfield, New South Wales, and charged with “acts done in preparation, for, or planning terrorists acts” after being detected  planning such an outrage. They were a 24-year-old student from Iraq, and a 25-year old nurse from Kuwait. Searches of their residence, a vehicle and places of work revealed a machete, a hunting knife, a homemade Islamic State flag and a video in which one of the men appeared talking about carrying out a terrorist attack.

Many Islamist and jihadist groups that have been detected operating in Australia. These include the ‘Ahmed Y’ group set up by an Algerian jihadist in 2001 to promote violence against Australians and establish an Islamic State in Australia. The ‘Benbrika group’ led by Algerian cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika and the ‘Cheikho group’ led by Khaled Cheikho were both described above. Similarly, the outlawed terrorist organisation, Al-Shabaab, is believed to have been behind the Holsworthy Barracks terror plot also described earlier. The ‘Syrian syndicate’ was investigated for sending Australian Muslims to fight in the Middle East. Lashkar-e-Taiba, a proscribed terrorist organisation operating in India and Pakistan, also established a terrorist cell in Australia. The ‘Mantiqi 4’ terror cell was sponsored by Jemaah Islamiah, whose leadership expressed its intention of identifying targets for Al Qaeda attacks in Australia .

In addition, the militant extremist organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which promotes an Islamic Caliphate ruled according to Islamic sharia law and is banned as a terrorist group in a number of countries, operates with impunity in Australia, as do many radical mosques and bookshops. In contrast, no ‘right-wing extremist’ groups in Australia come even remotely close to rivalling the public profile or explicit violence promoted by these Muslim individuals and organizations.

It is disappointing that academics like Dr Aly should ignore this empirical evidence and adopt the views they do — the view expressed in the video clip (below), which can only strike those not immersed in academia’s abstractions as sheer and utter gobbledegook. Through postmodernist eyes, the world lacks reality — it is essentially “a text” or stream of images, and the only thing that matters is how those images affect peoples’ perceptions, especially via the media (which it appears is an area of Dr Aly’s particular expertise). The underlying events are secondary to how they are depicted and how they can be shown to shape public perceptions. In the case of terrorism, the problem for postmodernists is not that people are killed by jihadists; the problem is how these jihadists are depicted in the media and elsewhere and how this negatively affects other Muslims.

Therefore, for postmodernists, terrorism lacks any ultimate reality. From a postmodern perspective, terrorism doesn’t rend flesh, pulverise bone, or decapitate and disintegrate the bodies of innocent people. Rather, “it enacts imagery” and “conveys meaning”, as Dr Aly makes clear in “Symbolic Attack Sites and the Performance of Terrorism, Counter Terrorism and Memory” (2014).  According to Aly, terrorism is merely a theatrical presentation, a “choreographed performance directed not at the actual victims but at a broader audience of spectators, witnesses and victim populations”.

Seen in terms of the postmodern ideology that dominates the arts and social sciences in Australian universities, terrorism is just ‘acting out’ — a performance, rather like live theatre — in which the victims and targets lack reality and serve only as props in constructed narratives:

Terrorism conveys meaning by enacting images that are symbolically represented by tangible objects — buildings, trains and buses, schools, military bases — or people-soldiers [sic], politicians, diplomats, civilians.

Ali’s approach, as she says, explicitly “shifts attention away from strategic or material goals of terrorism, definitions, root causes and individual mindsets that have dominated the field of terrorism studies and focusses [sic] instead on the ways in which terrorist acts attempt to indirectly influence strategy by making a symbolic statement.”

Terrorists don’t really crash planes into buildings, blow up nightclubs, trains and buses, blow tourists apart with assault rifles, or send women and children off with explosive belts to vaporize themselves and dozens of innocent people. They’re not really sadistic psychopaths and hate-filled religious fanatics who delight in the physical violation and destruction of infidels, apostates, and unbelievers, long for the imminent Apocalypse, and wallow in fantasies about their 72 virgins in paradise.

No, all that is really just an illusion, a media event, a “symbolic statement”. In the postmodern world where everything is merely a representation and reality ultimately an illusion, terrorists merely manipulate images, discourse and narratives in which all these things are props and extras. It’s all a story, and in the mind of the postmodern academic counter-terrorism expert the ‘war on terror’ is a never-ending interplay of narratives and counter-narratives that enact and contest the dominant hegemonic discourse of American imperialism that is the root cause of terrorism (and every other evil) around the world.

In her article, Ali uses this approach to deconstruct the commemoration of the 2002 Bali bombings, producing statements like the following:

The Bali monument creates an “authorized homology” that privileges a particular imagery of the terrorist event and imposes a homogenous memory and narrative. The homology produced by the monument “conceptualized the atrocity in terms of an official ideology and memory that would (re)synthesize the disparate parts of Indonesia that had succumbed to the force of global-local contentions and political violence”.

This is a typical example of the gobbledegook deployed by academics as they desperately try to transform terrorism into a merely abstract category, one that floats away into the intellectual ether and shields Islam from the rapidly growing public conviction that it stands for hideous violence on a global scale.

Aside from shielding Islam, Aly also illustrates a parallel tendency amongst postmodern academics. Accompanying the all-pervasive academic desire to exonerate Muslims for the current terrorist tsunami is the reflexive tendency to blame Western societies for the attacks upon their citizens. Aly writes, “the choice of Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club as the attack site for the 2002 Bali bombings was perceived to be a symbolic statement of the terrorists’ opposition to Western values enacted through the targeted destruction of the site.” However, it appears this was not the case, according to Aly. The Bali bombers weren’t attacking Western values, they were protesting wht they perceived to be the “immorality” and “exclusivity” indulged in by the denizens of these two sites. Consequently,

The choice of the Sari Club as an attack site enacted an imagery of terrorism that was interpreted as anger over what the Sari Club symbolised: Western decadence and the pollution of Indonesian moral values.

Consequently, she continues, “the Western political rhetoric which constructs counterterrorism as a defence of democratic values and our way of life, and translates collective resistance [to terrorism] as the upholding of liberal democratic values” is bogus. According to this reading, counter-terrorism campaigns have nothing to do with “the values of liberal democracy”, but are merely defending Western decadence and privilege.

As a postmodernist, Aly seems less concerned with the carnage that a suicide bomber might inflict on innocent people and more with the discomfort of Muslim parents whose sons are drawn to join ISIS to carry out such attacks. As the opening scene of a recent profile of Aly illustrates: :

The mother is bent over in mute grief, the father has tears dripping down his cheeks.

Near the couple is a framed portrait of the young man, a university student, who has broken their heart. “Please find my son, please find my son,” begs the mother. The family had moved to Perth from Libya in 2010, looking for a better life; their devout son, now 23, studied biochemistry before switching to economics. Now he’s gone, to join the Islamic State terror group. “They’ve essentially lost their son,” observes counter-terrorism expert Anne Aly. “You’d have to be a monster not to be moved.”

But wouldn’t you also have to be more of a monster to not be even more moved by the murders, mutilations, rapes, and other atrocities committed by such Muslims recruited to ISIS?

It is the nature of a postmodern world that attention is always diverted away from the underlying reality of events and towards the images and representations associated with them. It is always “narratives” and “counter-narratives”, and everything is always “about” something else, as if the world is merely a story. Consequently, postmodern politics consists of managing images and impressions with little or no attention paid to the underlying reality of events. This means that adept academics can conjure away Muslim terrorism by rhetorical sleights of hand and divert attention to other culprits invoked for the occasion.

The main front-line defence society has against this is a vigilante and conscientious media able to dig behind the surface imagery to the concrete reality beneath. Unfortunately, as The Age demonstrates day after day,  the media is also infected by the postmodern virus and the necessary journalistic skills are fading away, giving the terrorists and their apologists a free ride.

Merv Bendle is a frequent contributor to Quadrant and Quadrant Online