The time has come when all the Muslims of the world, especially the youth, should unite and soar against the kuffar and continue jihad till these forces are crushed to naught, all the anti-Islamic forces are wiped off the face of this earth and Islam takes over the whole world and all the other false religions. — Osama bin Laden, December 9, 2001
Last August, after Tony Abbott appealed to a cross-section of Australian Muslims to meet him to discuss a range of counter-terrorism proposals — mainly changes to passport and welfare regulations that would inhibit Australians from joining Middle Eastern jihadi — a number declined the invitation, including the Islamic Council of Victoria, representing 150,000 Muslims.
Instead, a petition was sent to the media from Muslim organisations and individuals deriding the Prime Minister’s overture and his patriotic appeal to join “Team Australia” in this conflict. The petitioners argued that, rather than being on their side, Australia was part of their problem: “We are not fooled by those who speak against violence and terrorism but are its proponents at an institutional level through military and foreign policies.”
The petition’s signatories included Muslim community, welfare and legal organisations but the biggest single grouping was that of university student associations, which comprised eleven of the fifty-one names on the list. They included the University of Sydney Muslim Students Association, University of Melbourne Islamic Society, Monash University Islamic Society, La Trobe University Islamic Society, Swinburne University Islamic Society, RMIT University Islamic Society, University of Technology Sydney Muslim Students, and the University of Western Sydney Muslim Students Association. Signatures also came from postgraduate students at the University of Western Sydney, University of South Australia and University of Melbourne.
It should be no surprise to find the latest manifestation of radical politics, militant Islam, well represented within Australian universities. Their campuses have long proven fertile recruiting grounds for political movements, mostly of the Left persuasion. Universities also employ many academic staff who see their vocation not as the preservation and advancement of traditional scholarship, but the propagation of theories that provide aid and comfort to radical politics.
Since June, when Islamic State troops captured the cities of Mosul and Tikrit and IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the restoration of the Islamic caliphate, the appeal of radical Islam to young Muslims living in the West has been transformed. Political violence is no longer confined to random acts against the decadent West, like the Boston Marathon bombing. Instead, they can join a revolution in the Middle East that could make history and change the world. The excitement must be akin to that generated among communists when Lenin stormed the Winter Palace in October 1917. Like the communists, some Muslims now believe their time has come to take over the world.
Until now, the major issue in this conflict for Australian authorities has been about young Muslims going abroad and receiving training in arms and explosives, which on their return they could use to commit acts of terror. While that still remains likely, the bigger problem now is that Australians will probably help swell the sizeable number of jihadists from Western countries already fighting in the Middle East.
The CIA estimated that of the Islamic State’s 20,000 to 30,000 fighters, about 15,000 are foreigners and 2000 of these Westerners. This gives all the appearance of being a significant international movement among Muslim youth. If it stays true to form, its growth will feed on itself as its appeal accelerates.
Like the international campaign among youth against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, a movement of this kind doesn’t need central leadership. Even if the IS caliphate itself is short-lived, the idea of it will survive and others will take up the cause. In the West, it will continue its spread through the cultural instruments of social media, popular music and video, and even through the distinctive clothing and facial hair sported by its adherents. White skullcaps are now becoming a radical fashion statement for young men on campus. Young women who now wear hijabs to lectures will be tempted to replace them with burqas. Muslims will defend this garb on grounds of freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
In Quadrant‘s upcoming October edition, we publish an article on the origins of this movement and the nature of its appeal. The new book by our authors David Martin Jones and Michael L.R. Smith, Sacred Violence (Palgrave Macmillan), is destined to become a definitive work in this field. They argue the movement is a phenomenon which, though based on Islam, has similar appeal to the totalitarian politics of Europe in the 1930s, especially its passion for murderous violence towards its perceived enemies.
Moreover, it evolved into its most dangerous form not in the Middle East but in modern, globally-connected cities such as London, Paris, Hamburg, Madrid, New York, Toronto and Sydney. Combating it here, Jones and Smith argue, means rejecting the principles of multiculturalism and ethnic relativism, which are actually part of the problem, and giving more support to our intelligence gathering and security forces.
On reading this, I looked up the history of government funding for Australian intelligence services since September 11, 2001. They show that under the Howard Coalition government, Commonwealth budget allocations for ASIO increased by steady increments from about $70 million in 2001–2 to $300 million in 2007–8. In 2008–9, Kevin Rudd’s Labor government retained the same growth rate in its first year in office and took government payments to $360 million. But then, in the period of GFC stimulus, growth came to a halt. During Julia Gillard’s term of office, ASIO was hit with a 4 per cent funding decline as a government “efficiency dividend”, while total funding of intelligence services (ASIO, ASIS, ONA and parts of AFP) fell from $790 million in 2007–8 to $498 million, a fall of 37 per cent. The initial Abbott government budget in May this year proposed a 6 per cent reduction for ASIO but in August the Coalition government changed its mind and announced a new package of $630 million over four years would go to ASIO, ASIS, AFP and Customs.
As well as its track record of financial irresponsibility in this field, the Labor Party has two other weaknesses that affect its ability to deliver dependable counter-terrorism policy.
First, the ALP and its members have long inhabited a culture of contempt about both the ability and the need for intelligence services in this country. Even though Labor under Ben Chifley founded ASIO, the agency has long been the subject of scepticism and mockery from leftist intellectuals. This was a political tactic inherited from the Communist Party, the main object of ASIO attention during the Cold War, as it publicly laughed off claims that it supported socialist revolution in Australia.
Nonetheless, the attitude survives today in the disdain consistently found in the work of leftist journalists when they write stories about ASIO. For instance:
“Our intelligence agencies are also far more secretive than those overseas, affecting an air of subterfuge that sometimes borders on the comical … Terrorism sceptics such as UNSW’s Dr Christopher Michaelsen argue the allocated resources vastly outweigh the “negligible” risk. ‘More Americans have drowned in the bath than have been killed by terrorists in recent years,’ he says. — Sally Neighbour, The Monthly
“In 2007, then defence minister Brendan Nelson said: ‘… [today’s dangers are] no less a threat than fascism or communism in the past.’ That is utter rubbish, but such sentiments inevitably affect the propensity of governments to spend on security and intelligence. They’ve got to put their money where their mouths are. — Paddy Gourley, Sydney Morning Herald
The second of Labor’s handicaps will be even more difficult to overcome. For Labor has made a Faustian bargain with the Muslim electorate. In return for votes from Muslim ghettoes in three federal electorates of Sydney’s western suburbs, Labor has distanced itself from its long-standing support of Israel and, at the urging of former Foreign Minister Bob Carr, switched to a more pro-Palestine position in the party’s policy platform and in the way it voted in the United Nations when last in office. Carr berated his party in 2012: “Our stance on the Middle East is shameful, in lock-step with the Likud … placing us with the Marshall Islands and Canada and rejecting the entire Arab world and the Palestinians.”
The reason for the switch is not moral or strategic principle but the simple fact that, in the electorates that count, Muslims have the numbers. At the 2011 census, there were 97,335 Jews in Australia, compared to 476,291 Muslims. By taking one side against the other, Labor will probably continue to win the three Sydney seats, but at the cost of losing its soul. And the rest of Australia is then bound to ask: How can a party with such allegiances be trusted to properly address the growing challenge of Islamic terrorism in our midst?
Keith Windschuttle is the editor of Quadrant