Politics

The Threat from Islamic Extremism

My article in the April Quadrant, “The Escalating Islamist Threat to Australian Security”, concluded that, even though extremist Islamism is our greatest threat, Western governments were falling well short of providing the necessary response at the domestic level and that a major upgrade is needed to this aspect of counter-terrorist policy. Since then the relatively low-key handling of the domestic side has continued, although one or two governments or political parties have more openly exposed the domestic terrorist threat. Importantly, the US President’s external policies regarding Iran, and extremist groups in Muslim countries openly antagonistic to Western countries, have also seemingly undergone a major change. In Australia there remains no significant public recognition by political, business or church leaders of the seriousness of the domestic threat and its origins, although there has been some very limited additional policy action.

The present article outlines major new developments on both the policy and terrorist-activity sides. As with that earlier article, the emphasis is on domestic rather than external or military policies. However, as the military action taken overseas in combating extreme Islamic groups also has potential to influence both domestic groups and the domestic policy response, and in view of the changes to US external policy, some references are included on military policy.

An encouraging development has been the increased reportage on extremist Islamism in some sections of the Australian media. This included an interview with me on commercial radio regarding the April article and an article published in the Australian on July 9 by two analysts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Carl Ungerer and Anthony Bergin, drawing attention to a conference in Sydney, part of a worldwide campaign for the formation of a trans-national Islamic caliphate by the Hizb ut-Tahrir group, which claims not to be an advocate of violence but clearly promotes it. In part, this increased media attention reflects the almost unavoidable exposure from the increase in terrorist or attempted terrorist activity, particularly but not only in the USA. It also reflects a widening recognition that a worrying proportion of Muslims accepts the Islamic religion as an ideology that should be widely spread, if necessary by violent means. Relevant is the comment by one imam that “a Muslim has no nationality except his beliefs”.

There are two major implications for policy. First, by contrast with the history of wars between countries, the Western world now also faces a new major threat to life from groups or individuals who have extremist beliefs. Second, the world has moved into a new environment in which sections of Islam are seeking to overthrow Western dominance by, if necessary, violent action. This requires a response at international and domestic levels that extends to cultural as well as military action.

Even at the domestic level, this is an enormous subject and it is possible to do no more than focus on particular aspects. My assessments are also made without access to confidential and secret records based on intelligence material: but it can be assumed that much more terrorist activity has occurred than has been publicly reported. As revealed by the Deputy Director-General of ASIO in September 2008, what is reported is in any event bad enough. He indicated that “globally there have been at least 185 significant terrorist attacks in 29 countries since the beginning of the year, resulting in the deaths of more than 1600 people, and the injury of almost 3000 others”.

Developments in the USA

The most important development since my April article is the backflip by President Obama on his attitudes to Iran and the war in Afghanistan and, seemingly reflecting that, also to Israel. Whereas in late March Obama subjected Israeli President Netanyahu to abject public humiliation at a meeting in Washington, in their early July meeting he stated publicly that there was an unbreakable bond between the two countries. Also, both sides have now agreed that, instead of the previous interplay on Palestine via an American third party, negotiations will now be conducted directly, with Abaas leading the Palestinian side.

The change from a negotiating strategy to a more aggressive policy towards Iran has led to speculation that there has been a return to the Bush policy of having the military option “on the table”. This does not mean there will be any public acknowledgment of this option by Obama or that military action is imminent: but the pushing through the UN Security Council of sanctions, the announcement of a new blacklist of Iranians not to be dealt with commercially, and the report of an expansion of “secret” US military activity into Iran (and other countries) all suggest that Obama has accepted arguments that a nuclear Iran is a serious threat that requires action. That threat includes the now serious possibility that Iran is in the process of building a capability to send nuclear missiles to both Europe and the USA and that such a development could include a capability to destroy the US electricity system. Some unsurprisingly nervous Arab states have also apparently pressed the USA to try to prevent the emergence of a nuclear Iran. Saudi Arabia’s top religious council stated in June that terrorism and its financing are forbidden by Islamic Sharia and constitute “a punishable crime”. Such a statement coming from the country which is the guardian of the Wahhabi school of Islam implies deep concern about the extremist Islamic leadership in Iran.

Obama appears to have accepted that his initial ambivalent attitude to the war in Afghanistan was counter-productive. Again, this is not likely to be publicly acknowledged, but the “forced” replacement of McChrystal with Petraeus as the head of the forces in Afghanistan has given Obama the opportunity to acknowledge—through Petraeus—that the timetable for the withdrawal of US troops depends on conditions on the ground and that “we are in this to win”. Instead of next July becoming the withdrawal point it is now seen as the start of a “transition phase” in which the Afghan army assumes increased responsibility. As with Netanyahu, Obama has also back-flipped on his initial despairing attitude to Afghan leader Karzai, to whom at a May meeting in Washington he said “we fight this together” and to whom he has indicated a preparedness to negotiate with “moderate” Taliban (a month earlier it was reported that Karzai was threatening to join the Taliban).

Whether or not all this increases the chances of success in Afghanistan, and what the “success” might be, remains in doubt. But the change in attitude is important not simply because it might allow some kind of “victory” claim. It seemingly recognises the need for a broader Middle East policy based on a response to the threats from Islamic extremism—and over a longer time scale. Reportedly, it also includes a recognition that maintaining a government in Iraq that is independent of Iran is an important element in the strategy and, associated with that, speculation that US troops may be retained in Iraq, albeit as part of a United Nations “team”.

On May 28 President Obama published a fifty-one-page National Security Strategy which, while dealing with a range of security issues in the broadest sense, also gave considerable attention to the “home-grown terrorism” threat and how the government intends to respond. This is reportedly the first time so much attention has been given to the threat posed by the increasing number of US citizens described as having been “radicalised” at home. It doubtless reflects a number of publicised close escapes over the past year or so from potential extensive killings in the USA.

Last year there was the killing of thirteen by a US soldier of Muslim faith at a domestic military base and it has since been reported that he had contact overseas with an Islamic cleric. The following reported incidents indicate the extent and seriousness of recent attempted terrorist activity in the USA. Keep in mind that unreported activity was almost certainly at a higher level.

In February an Afghan who worked as an airport shuttle driver was caught before undertaking a bombing in the New York subway system. It was revealed in early July that this was part of a larger plot, directed by al Qaeda from Pakistan, to bomb US and UK targets with a group of three suicide bombers (but US citizens) and ten others. The Pakistan-born US citizen who pleaded guilty to the Times Square bombing attempt in May also had overseas contacts and described himself in court as a Muslim soldier, saying, “I don’t care for the laws of the United States.” On June 8 it was reported that two US citizens were detained as they were leaving America on charges of planning “the murder, kidnapping and maiming” of US citizens “at a place outside the US”.

A US citizen of Nigerian origin, arrested in December 2009 after only just failing to blow up a plane as it landed in the USA, was found to have been trained by an al Qaeda group in Yemen which has claimed responsibility for at least eight attacks since 2007. After subsequent discussions in London between NATO countries, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented that “increasingly, we are having to face—whether it’s the UK, the US or Yemen—threats coming from beyond our borders that cannot be pinned on any place”. The attempt to blow up the plane also led to a major change in the publicly stated position of President Obama who, when he did eventually react, made a Bush-like statement that “we are at war with al Qaeda”. Following the USA’s proscription of the Yemen group in February, in July the US Treasury designated as a terrorist a Yemen-based, American-born imam who had given religious advice to the Nigerian and who plays a leading role in the Yemen group. In July, the Australian Attorney-General’s Department also belatedly proscribed the group, noting that “Yemen has become the third-largest haven for al Qaeda in the world with the group there experiencing greater stability and freedom of movement than counterparts located in Iraq, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

After the imprisonment of the Nigerian the authorities in Malaysia (a democracy with a population about 60 per cent Muslim) arrested ten terrorism suspects reportedly linked to him and also to an international terrorist group that included persons from Yemen, Syria, Nigeria and Jordan. This arrest, which was reported to be under the Internal Security Act allowing for indefinite detention without trial, demonstrates that the threat of extremism extends beyond predominantly Christian countries. The Malaysian response to this threat may be tougher than the responses of Western democracies.

For New York alone there have reportedly been more than twenty terrorist plots or attacks. Yet the proposal to build a thirteen-storey mosque near the Ground Zero site suggests no recantation by the US Muslim community. The May 2010 strategy document itself acknowledges “several recent incidences of violent extremists in the United States who are committed to fighting here and abroad”. It describes this as underscoring “the threat to the United States and our interests posed by individuals radicalized at home”. While acknowledging that “we will not be able to deter or prevent every single threat”, it proposes increased action designed to identify and disrupt threats, and to deny “hostile actors the ability to operate within our borders”.

The document does not assess the home-grown terrorism problem as a separate security matter. Rather, it states that “we are now moving beyond traditional distinctions between homeland and national security” to a “determination to prevent terrorist attacks against the American people by fully coordinating the actions we take abroad with the actions and precautions that we take at home”. Particular attention is given to the threat from “the potential spread of nuclear weapons to extremists who may not be deterred from using them” and to the importance of action to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates” for both homeland and international security reasons.

This reference to extremists possibly obtaining nuclear weapons follows the summit on nuclear security held by Obama in April and attended by many international leaders. During that summit Obama, possibly having in mind intelligence on Iran, stated that “the biggest single threat to US security—short term, medium term and long term—would be the possibility of a terrorist organisation obtaining a nuclear weapon”. The implications of this statement are profound but have been given remarkably little attention.

The implications were brought out at a defence conference held by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra in 2007. There a US expert on nuclear proliferation, Robert L. Gallucci, pointed out that there is an increasing risk of a terrorist group obtaining and using a nuclear weapon without being detected. He was referring not only to one with the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb but also to a more limited weapon sufficient to kill “only” 250,000 people.

Shortly after the publication of the US National Security Strategy, the adviser to President Obama on counter-terrorism, John Brennan, not only highlighted in a public address the concern about radicalised US residents but suggested that al Qaeda has adopted a new strategy of “seeking foot soldiers who might slip past our defences by defying the traditional profile of a terrorist”—that is, the al Qaeda strategy includes a focus on trying to persuade individual residents or small groups with sympathetic extremist inclinations to take damaging action locally.

The increased attention by the USA to the domestic terrorist threat sends an important warning signal to other countries as well as to the American community. Even so, an examination of the analysis and announced responses raises a serious question as to whether the plans are adequate. The Obama administration still seems reluctant to publicly equate terrorism and extremist Islamism, and Brennan’s address suggested a deliberate policy of avoiding public criticism of Islam. He claimed, for example, that the administration refuses to describe the enemy as “jihadists” or “Islamists” because jihad is a holy struggle and a legitimate tenet of Islam based on purifying one’s community. This is nonsense. Nor, Brennan postulates, is terrorism the enemy because “terrorism is but a tactic”. The strategy document itself argues that al Qaeda are simply killers with no religious authority and that “neither Islam nor any other religion condones the slaughter of innocents”. Such comments are not consistent with the interpretations given to the religion by extremists.

A situation seems to have developed in the USA in which, while there has been a major welcome change in the Obama administration’s policy in the Middle East and a recognition of the domestic threat from radicalised Americans, those changes have not publicly identified the basic underlying problem as deriving from Islamic extremism. It is almost as if those threatening US society are now recognised but their underlying motives are unmentionable.

This poses a serious problem given the importance of the USA as a leader and the statements by Obama in the early stages of his presidency. These include his address to the Muslim world in June 2009 in Cairo entitled “A New Beginning”. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian-born ex-Muslim, commented that the Obama speech “denounced Islamic extremism but without once associating Islam with extremism”. Her article in the Australian on the Cairo speech summed up the basic problem by pointing out, “It is not America that is at war with Islam. It is Islam that is at war with America.” Yet Obama said, “America and Islam are not exclusive—they do not need to be in competition” and “America is not and never will be at war with Islam”. Can such statements now simply be put aside as outdated or do they still stand?

There are other continuing concerns about Obama’s attitude towards Islam, including his policy on Guantanamo Bay prisoners. However, in early July the revised military commission made its first Guantanamo conviction (of Osama bin Laden’s driver) and, although early in 2010 Obama had directed the prison be closed, there were still 181 there at the time of the conviction.

The approach adopted by Obama is far from being accepted in the USA. Over a year ago Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the US House of Representatives and a possible Republican candidate in the next presidential election, expressed serious concern on CNN about the attitude adopted by the Obama administration. In early January Gingrich wrote to Republican Party supporters arguing that “in the Obama administration the rights of terrorists have been more important than protecting the lives of Americans. That must now change decisively.”

The United Kingdom

The 2005 London bombings and the many aggressive public statements by imams in the UK have meant the problems there with Islamist extremists have received more public attention than in the USA. For example, following the thwarting by the police in 2006 of a terrorist attack a Scotland Yard spokesman told the BBC that “mass murder on an unimaginable scale had been disrupted”.

UK terrorist activity well illustrates how serious the situation can become once the proportion of Muslims reaches even only 4 or 5 per cent. There now exists a de facto application of sharia law in some parts of the UK and not so long ago an imam expressed his “right” to conduct a street protest against British troops returning from Afghanistan.

In 2009 there were considerable arrests in the UK and the then Minister for Counter-Terrorism (who would have thought ten years ago there would ever be such a minister?) referred to an estimated 2000 suspected (but unidentified) potential terrorists in the UK. In April the then government also published a second paper on counter-terrorism (Contest Two) which adopted what appears to be some toughening in policy in that it included in the counter-terrorism strategy an emphasis on prevention. This is designed to stop the spread of Islamist ideology, not by outlawing it but through education, counter-propaganda and disrupting the funding of Islamic extremist organisations. It is supported by a government think-tank, Quilliam, which is staffed by reformed Muslim extremists and works to debunk radical propaganda and extremist views. It has recently identified problems with running British prisons where extremists encourage radicalisation.

However, while a policy of de-radicalisation may help, as in the USA there is a question as to whether sufficient attention is being given to the sources of extremist Islamism, the implications for society and possible additional measures to reduce the risks. One problem is that the large Muslim population in the UK and in some other countries (even including Australia) tends to produce a softly, softly approach in order to avoid public debate and upsetting voters.

In a submission to the inquiry into the Haneef affair in Australia, Nicholas O’Brien, a former counter-terrorist official in the UK, now an Australian academic, has pointed to the much greater difficulties (compared with “normal” policing) police face in dealing with terrorist activity and threats. As the majority of terrorist operations have an international dimension and intervention has to aim to be at an early stage before an actual terrorist act, such operations are resource-intensive and, in consequence, involve decisions that inevitably limit those of the many potential terrorists on whom tabs are kept. Police are also subject to operative restrictions of one kind or another, such as the time allowed for interviewing a suspect.

Other countries

Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population, has arrested (with some killed) more than 500 alleged terrorists since the Bali bombings. But prison sentences are often short and there have been repeat offences and scares, including the attempted assassination of President Yudhoyono. The head of the main counter-terrorist agency recently stated that the “ideology is still spreading” and consideration is now being given to making advocacy of militancy an offence. There has also been a report that some Indonesian people-smugglers have contacts with al Qaeda and in July Indonesian police arrested a senior Afghan al Qaeda figure posing as an asylum seeker trying to reach Australia.

In Turkey, nominally a secular country with democratic institutions, there are clear signs of increasing Islamic extremism and a marked reduction in the influence of the normally secular military. As reflected in the flotilla sent to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, the present government also seems to be encouraging anti-Christian and anti-Jewish attitudes and has moved to establish closer relations with Iran.

In Muslim Pakistan, where over the past three years a reported 3500 have been killed in bombings, there was an increase in terrorist activity in June and July. This signals that extremists are prepared not only to oppose the development by the government of closer relations with the USA but also to sacrifice fellow Muslims in the process.

France appears to have experienced little or no domestic terrorist activity but reports suggest there is growing concern about the failure of the nation’s 6 million Muslims to assimilate. As in some other European countries, a likely successful legislative process has commenced to outlaw the wearing of the burka in public places.

In Holland, the success of outspoken Dutch politician Geert Wilders in the June elections (his BNP party won twenty-four of the 150 seats) revealed the increasing concern of the non-Muslim population. Wilders is seeking to ban immigration from Muslim countries and to form an international alliance on that basis. A major problem facing concerned Dutch politicians is reflected in the most popular name for a baby boy in the four largest cities—it is “Mohammed” or a version of it. Little wonder, perhaps, that the Dutch are pulling out of Afghanistan.

Australia

Turning to Australia, I have already referred to the July article by Anthony Bergin and Carl Ungerer of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the second from that source in recent months. The May article (by Bergin and also published in the Australian) implied that the Rudd government was even more behind the game than the US and UK governments in responding to potential domestic terrorist threats. In that article (“Deliver Us from Extremist Evil”) Bergin comments as follows on the measures announced in the Budget:

It has been a long time coming, and represents only a modest beginning. The Rudd government’s third budget has committed $9.7 million over four years for measures that will counter violent Islamist extremism and terrorism through programs aimed at shaping public attitudes, undermining terrorist propaganda and supporting and diverting those at risk away from violent extremism. 

The budget media release by the Attorney-General’s Department, entitled “Countering Violent Extremism in our Community”, did announce new measures focusing on, inter alia, “identifying and diverting people at risk of violent extremism”, “supporting rehabilitation and de-radicalisation programs” and “improving responses to violent extremist messages”. However, no mention is made in that release of Islam or Muslims, let alone Islamic extremism, and one could be excused for wondering who is behind the threat of violent extremism. Indeed, while these new measures complement existing initiatives, the list suggests only minimal domestic action, particularly as it includes expenditure on international terrorist activities. The weak conclusion in the media release is that, apart from law enforcement, the emphasis is on strategies to “enhance social cohesion and resilience that lessen the appeal of extremist ideologies that fuel terrorism”.

Of course, there is more counter-terrorist activity than implied by these measures through intelligence and security agencies such as ASIO, ASIS and the Australian Federal Police. ASIO’s annual report for 2008–09 (in February 2010) provides a perspective on how it is attempting to deal with the problem—and its potential extent. That report indicated that the year had involved it in the most intense activity since 2005, with the identification of a new terrorist cell and the numbers convicted of terrorist offences since 2006 rising to twenty-one (which after recent convictions will now be twenty-six). ASIO also stated its first priority as being to prevent a terrorist attack on Australia and warned that “terrorism continues to be a persistent threat to Australia and Australian interests … the possibility of an attack in Australia remains” and is “expected to be a destabilising force for the foreseeable future”. ASIO described the defeat of al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan as vital, noted that overseas terrorist groups had threatened attacks on Australia, and pointed out that the Let group (which was responsible for the Mumbai deaths) included an Australian citizen (Lodhi) and a Frenchman (Brigitte) who had been sent to Australia to assist him, with both now convicted. It also noted that terrorism could involve chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

The growing extent of the problem identified by ASIO is reflected in the increase in its staffing of 13 per cent to 1700 in 2008–09 and the rise in spending of 19 per cent to $362 million. ASIO issued 2738 reports or assessments for government (including 1092 threat assessments) and undertook about 60,000 visa security and 65,000 counter-terrorism checks.

While such expansions of existing agencies are of considerable importance, the Rudd government seemed to take only very limited action additional to that taken by the Howard government to address the domestic threat from Islamic terrorism. In his National Security Statement of December 2008, Rudd did say that Australia has been “explicitly and publicly mentioned as an ‘enemy’ by Islamist extremists” and that “terrorism is likely to endure as a serious ongoing threat”. But that was the only reference to Islamism in a fourteen-page address to Parliament and his undertaking then to release a counter-terrorism White Paper “next year” was not in fact met until April this year. Even then the limiting in that paper of the “tougher” (biometric) visa checks to only ten countries suggests a less than complete counter-terrorism policy.

The White Paper did acknowledge, however, that there is a serious terrorist threat, outlined various protective measures being taken, and also identified the main threat as coming from “extremists who follow a distorted and militant interpretation of Islam”. But it referred only very briefly (in one paragraph) to why the Muslim religion has an inherently dangerous influence on its adherents and gave no consideration to what response might be made at the cultural level.

In preparing the White Paper, the Rudd government is reported to have sought advice from Professor Abdullah Saeed, who occupies at Melbourne University the Sultan of Oman Endowed Chair in Arab and Islamic Studies. By contrast, no such advice was sought from Dr Mark Durie, an Anglican vicar who has written widely on the reasons why we should be seriously concerned about the objectives of Islam and who has argued that Professor Saeed downplays major differences between Islamic and Christian cultures and also falsely claims that Islamist terrorism has no foothold among Australian Muslims. It is unclear whether Melbourne University’s decision to employ Professor Saeed simply reflects the endower’s views and generosity or is an acceptance of a view held in some parts of academia that Islamic life has attractive features that we should learn. The latter perspective seems more likely given that the University’s Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies was a joint sponsor with the Australian Curriculum Studies Association in producing a booklet Learning from One Another: Bringing Muslim Perspectives into Australian Schools arguing, inter alia, that there is a “degree of prejudice and ignorance about Islam and Muslims” and that Australian students must be taught to embrace difference and diversity.

Of course, as with the Bible there are differences in the interpretation of the Koran, and about the extent to which sharia law should apply, with a good deal depending on the imams’ interpretations. However, as Durie makes clear in his recent book The Third Choice, a significant proportion of Muslims accept Islam as an ideology that should be established, if necessary by violence, in other countries under sharia law applying to a wide range of social behaviour, extinguishing all other religions and subordinating the role of women. For these Muslims, religious beliefs come first and the laws of the state come second and are over-ruled when there is a conflict (by contrast, Jewish law accepts the authority of the state). In his review of Durie’s book (News Weekly, February 20, 2010), Mervyn Bendle points out that the title of the book “comes from the fundamental Islamic principle that non-Muslims have three choices in a Sharia-dominated world: embrace Islam, be killed or enslaved, or live as subservient and tax-paying dhimmis. Bendle also brings out the analysis by Durie of the attitudes adopted by many leading Western politicians, academics and even Christian leaders, suggesting an alarming brushing aside of this principle and ready acceptance of the idea that the Muslim religion shares a common humanitarianism with Christianity. The political sensitivity that criticism of the Muslim religion is out of bounds was reflected in the Coalition’s immediate decision to drop a candidate in the August election after he said his opponent was a “strong Muslim” and that Australian politics does not want a Muslim in parliament “at this stage”.

Also relevant is the release for comment in August 2009 by then Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, of a Discussion Paper on National Security Legislation. McClelland said he was seeking amendments to existing legislation “to achieve an appropriate balance” between protecting security and ensuring that the legislation “will be exercised in a just and accountable way”. Such action would likely increase the difficulty, already considerable, of securing convictions from the many judges who are reluctant, or feel unable, to make decisions that impinge on what they regard as human rights.

An illustration of the depth of extremism in Australia can be found in the seventy-seven-page judgment on February 15 by New South Wales Supreme Court Justice Anthony Whealy when sentencing five men to maximum prison terms of between seventeen and twenty-eight years for conspiring to prepare for a terrorist attack. That judgment, which is being appealed, is discussed in more detail in my April article.

As far as I am aware there has since been no substantive comment on these convictions by any Australian political leader. Despite terrorist convictions now amounting to twenty-six, the thwarting of numerous terrorist attacks and the active pursuit of Islamist objectives by a significant section of the Muslim community, the response by political, religious and business leaders has fallen well short of what is needed—indeed in some respects it hardly exists. This is particularly true of the apparent inability of our leaders to proclaim the virtues of Western culture and the problems with Muslim culture. It is important that major Western societies defend and retain their Judeo-Christian culture and democratic systems of government.

It is ironic too that laws in Western countries often provide protection against the expression of views that can be portrayed as anti-Islamic. These laws have been used in Australia for that purpose.

Possible government action

What more can or should be done to reduce the risk of such activism here? One thing we should do is to make ourselves the toughest target possible for extremists in the hope of deterring potential terrorists. That should involve a tightening of our immigration policy and tougher minimum penalties for terrorists. But increased penalties will not deter those who are prepared to be martyrs. There is also a need to effect a major increase in the denigration of extremist interpretations of Islam in the context of promoting our own culture. Governments, both federal and state, should effect a major upgrade in the priority given to counter-terrorist policy and make this a bi-partisan effort. There should also be an attempt to persuade friendly overseas countries, particularly the USA and the UK, to adopt a similar approach.

Measures might include the creation of a position of Minister for Security or Counter-Terrorism, whose tasks would include promoting the virtues of our culture, criticising extremist interpretations of Islamic culture and the publicising of polling on attitudes adopted by Muslims generally. Legal changes might include outlawing the advocacy of terrorist activity, exempting criticisms of religious texts from anti-discrimination legislation, and generally making it easier for police and intelligence services to track, detain and prosecute possible terrorists. Human rights are important but we face a situation in which a group of people vows publicly to destroy the right to live of fellow citizens, including fellow citizens of the same faith. That demands a change in legal and judicial thinking and decision-making.

A tightening of immigration policy should include an attempt to improve the quality of migrants, including their understanding and acceptance of Western culture, and an indication that immigration policy will be concerned less about the total than the possible adverse composition and security implications; a requirement that would-be migrants sign a formal statement of acceptance of the separation of church and state, the equality of treatment of men and women and the rejection of certain cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation (such a statement could include specific acceptance of deportation in the event the undertakings were not fulfilled); an upgrading of staff at overseas posts involved in interviews and intelligence assessments of migrant applicants and a greater involvement of such staff in interviews of refugees at camps run by UNHCR, whose role in assessing asylum seekers should be dropped; the institution of a collection of data on the religion of immigrants (the only guide to that now is the dominant religion of the country from which the immigrant comes, which suggests that about 30 per cent of net arrivals come from countries where the main religion is Islam).

Some argue that, by establishing an agency similar to Quilliam in the UK, we would persuade some Muslims who are here to integrate and feel part of the community. Perhaps. But my perception is that this is unlikely to produce significant results. When in 2007 he was spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria, Waleed Aly indicated that Muslims should not be pressured to assimilate: “life will make you integrate”, he claimed. A reading of Justice Whealy’s judgment can only confirm that there are worrying numbers of extremist Islamists who are never going to integrate.

Extremist Islamism, or what John Howard has described as “Islamic fascism”, is our greatest threat. We are living on a precipice and could quickly slide over the edge.

Des Moore is a life member of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the Director of the Institute for Private Enterprise. He attended the Royal College of Defence Studies, London, in 1973.

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