The Islamist Threat to Social Cohesion

lindtAs the frequency and intensity of terrorist acts increase, without any tempering in sight, community tolerance in Australia comes under greater pressure. More, this is a case in which terrorist acts in other advanced Western countries—notably Britain and France—are identified as if they were attacks on Australia. They compound the sense of communities, and innocent citizens, under threat, helpless in the face of relentlessly spiralling expressions of gratuitous and murderous anarchy. For the first time in the nation’s modern history, one group of citizens is targeting innocent others, and trying to assassinate police and members of the armed services.

To date, the Australian response has been in keeping with tradition. A broad consensus—one that includes governments, police and most media—has striven to minimise conflict developing along ethnic or religious lines, while at the same time increasing surveillance, intelligence and police powers. Public authorities have rightly worked to keep the communal temperature low. The generally easy-going Australian attitude to differences of ethnicity and religion has blended with the Christian ethic of turn the other cheek; or keep calm, turn a blind eye, under the assumption that the problem will slowly go away. However, this problem is not going away. Liberal tolerance does not seem to be working.

There may be a tipping point, at which the shrug of the shoulders gives way to demands for punitive measures, in the mode of Pauline Hanson’s militant exclusionism. We have no relevant experience, at least in living memory, that might help to predict such a tearing of the social fabric, or register its consequences. There was a rough kind of parallel in hostility to Chinese settlers that flared up around the time of Federation, which led to the White Australia policy; in that case, prejudice was translated into policy. But persecution of Chinese citizens happened too long ago, in a very different time, and in a much less multicultural society.

This essay appears in the November edition of Quadrant.
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There is already widespread public abuse of Muslim Australians—the extent of which, of course, we don’t know. It takes the form of hostile comments on trains, buses and trams, from total strangers, to the effect that the individual is alien and not welcome in this country; or screamed-out obscenity from passing cars in the open street—in one reported case, aimed at a woman in a head-scarf, walking hand-in-hand with a child. Verbal assault is a crime, but this kind of instance is near impossible to police, even were the shocked woman to have the composure, and courage, to report the incident.

Fanaticism of any colouring is alien to the secular modern sensibility that prevails in liberal democracies like Australia. In particular, every fundamentalism is characterised by the paranoid psychological disposition that divides the world into us and them, good and evil, the saintly children of God and the devilish agents of Satan. From this perspective, every­body is cast as either-or, one or the other. (The same disposition is found in some modern political extremes, like the quasi-religious fanaticism of climate change true-believers.) By contrast, the prevailing disposition of the modern world is to find less and less that is black and white, in both morals and metaphysics; and more that is grey. Doubt pervades. Fundamentalisms stand at the opposite pole, driven by the need to construct a secure mental fortress within which all doubt is banished.

In the Western sphere, other religious fundamentalisms stick to themselves, their preferred mode being retreat from the mainstream secular order. Accordingly, they have been easily accommodated within the liberal democratic philosophy of live-and let-live, in relation to what anyone does in private. The most discordant notes are trivial, such as puzzlement at people who appear in the streets dressed in funny clothes; and, less visibly, children attending schools that preach cultic, pre-modern doctrine.

Islamism is crucially different today from fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist Judaism. It is driven by feelings of grievance against a very powerful enemy—oppressive and humiliating—that it imagines surrounding it. That enemy is secular modernity, not Christianity, as was illustrated by Osama bin Laden’s choice of targets on September 11—not the Vatican, or Westminster Abbey, or an American synagogue, but emblems of Western capitalism. What humiliates is Western success—which means Western prosperity and power.

The risk today in Australia is that rising community unease about terrorist attacks will turn into anger. That risk heightens when public spokespeople dissimulate. Honesty is important, not the platitudes of niceness about Islam being a peaceful religion.

Islam has two quite different sides. One is, indeed, other-worldly and devoutly religious, with deeply pious and mystical strains. Over the centuries, it has been sublimated into a fine aesthetic tradition, as exemplified by the exquisite beauty of the Alhambra palace and gardens in Granada. There is too the fineness of Islamic calligraphy; and a very sophisticated legal tradition that appeared during the Islamic Renaissance, in date coinciding with the European Middle Ages.

The other side of Islam is militant expansionist jihad, and from the foundation. Mohammed was a warrior, dedicated to conquest—to holy war. The beginnings of this religion were quite different from those of Christianity. Jesus was a teacher, not a warrior, with one of his most important messages—one of major significance for the future development of the West—that religion and politics do not belong together. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Islam has no equivalent teaching about the separation of church and state.

In the wake of Jesus’s teaching, the West developed two streams of law, one civil and one ecclesiastical. The latter has withered over time, with increasing secularisation. Sharia law is pre-modern, incompatible with liberal democratic tradition. It is unassimilable, and will be hard to adapt to modernity, given the absence of any Islamic tradition of an independent state creating its own legal structure. Mind, a revolution that introduced a secular state did occur in Turkey at the close of the First World War.

But the biggest challenge facing liberal-democratic polities is what David Cameron, when British Prime Minister, called “non-violent extremism”. The wider Muslim community in Britain wilfully clings to a self-serving delusion about current global reality. Greg Sheridan, in the Australian, has raised concerns about what was revealed in a recent Policy Exchange poll of British Muslims in relation to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York. The situation here may be different, but it is unlikely to be categorically so.

More than half responded in Britain that they didn’t know who was responsible for the September 11 attack. A staggering one in three believed the United States government was behind it. Seven per cent thought it was a Jewish plot, more than the trifling 5 per cent who believed that Al Qaeda had hijacked the planes and destroyed the buildings, killing 3000 innocent people. Given exhaustive investigation into the attack, and by multiple agencies inside and outside the United States, the facts are indisputable, and have been accepted for more than a decade around the world. Al Qaeda itself boasted about carrying out the attacks, and directly through broadcasts delivered by its leader.

In the case of Islam today, the paranoid psychological disposition that separates the world into black and white, us and them, is not limited to a small minority of violent extremists. It is manifest much more widely, and in varied forms, from the 4 per cent of British Muslims who sympathise with suicide bombers, to the majority for whom a muffled cloak of prejudice distorts perception, triggers denials of uncomfortable realities, and prompts a view of the world that is transparently false.

Given this, it is understandable that some mainstream Muslim organisations in Britain refuse to co-operate with the government’s de-radicalisation programs; nor will some Muslim schools co-operate. For as long as there remains resistance, tending to deny that there is a terrorist issue at all; for as long as there is a climate of opinion that turns a blind eye to problems within; the one place in which real progress might be made in combatting home-grown terrorism is limited. And tensions about living in tolerable harmony within liberal societies, like Britain and Australia, which requires adaptation to codes of inclusion and fitting in, are only likely to become worse.

Here, de-radicalisation programs have, to date, also failed, and likely for the same reason. On the other hand, Australian security agencies report that one of their best sources of intelligence is from within sections of the Muslim population itself. Significant covert support does exist. Reinforcing this support, and overtly, some leaders of Muslim organisations have signalled that they like the Australian way of life, and would defend it against any type of extremism.

At issue is the collective conscience. Since 1945, Australia has been brilliant at assimilating millions of people from hundreds of different ethnic, religious and language backgrounds. This has been facilitated by a sense of self that is easy-going and vaguely defined. But we are in danger of entering new territory in which schisms emerge, fracturing the social vessel.

Increasingly anxious governments are seeking to become proactive. In terms of the solutions that have been canvassed, the only obvious conclusion is that there is no simple way. Four measures are open to consideration in Australia, all of them prudent.

First, restrict immigration. Australia has always controlled who came into the country, mainly from behind the scenes. It is not difficult to slew choice of migrants, which is indeed already happening, with the majority now sourced from China and India. It is not wise, for as long as home-grown terrorism continues, given the current social malaise, to significantly increase the 3 per cent of the population that is Muslim.

Second, toughen citizenship requirements, as the Turnbull government is proposing. The move to extend the minimum period of residency from one to four years, before a person is eligible to apply for citizenship, seems merited to me. In general, people have more respect for a club that is difficult to join.

Also, the introduction of an English-language requirement increases the pressure for assimilation, and reduces the likelihood of ethnic enclaves perpetuating themselves. But the type of test needs careful consideration: the proposed IELTS 6 test, which is currently used for entry into university, is too severe, and skewed in an academic direction that would not suit many excellent prospective citizens.

Third, and most importantly of all, increase covert surveillance of mosques and Islamic schools. Inhibiting the preaching of jihad, by controlling potential public platforms, will, at least, make the emergence more difficult for charismatic leaders like Abdul Nacer Benbrika, now serving a fifteen-year jail term in Melbourne. The climate of grievance loses much of its fuel without the preaching and teaching of us–them polarities. Such preaching and teaching is especially potent when it clothes rancour in a grand and heroic, apocalyptic meta-story.

Four, the reassertion of Western civilisation. It is time to reaffirm the customs and beliefs that have formed the West, underpinning its progress, and making it the place people from much of the rest of the world want to join. The list includes a culture of individual rights being universal, without differentiation for sex, age, ethnicity or religion; respect for private property; separation of church and state; rule of secular law; freedom of speech; and minimal interference of the state in the lives of individuals. The reintroduction of civics and British history into schools would make a good start.

Oddly, such self-assertion will be most difficult to achieve, given lack of self-belief across swathes of the better-educated; given the attitudes of most university lecturers, especially in the humanities and social sciences; among school teachers; and across the media and the arts. The cultural masochism that bedevils the Western world has no more striking current manifestation than sympathy, even amongst feminists, for militant Islam and its treatment of women, on the principle that my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

The defeat of the IRA and the end of terrorism in Northern Ireland in the 1990s may provide lessons. Three factors combined. Margaret Thatcher promised that independence from the United Kingdom was in the hands of the Northern Irish themselves: if a majority voted to join Ireland, then separation from Britain would be granted. Second, the English stoically went about their normal lives in periods when the IRA were detonating bombs in their cities. Finally, astute intelligence-gathering and policing in Northern Ireland led to the steady killing off or imprisonment of most of the IRA leadership.

Here, to date, we have had the stoicism and the policing. But the IRA was easier to defeat in that it was an organisation with a hierarchy; to destroy its leadership was to undermine its morale. For as long as Islamic terrorism remains low-scale—carried out by lone wolves and small cells—it will prove much more difficult to detect and intercept.

The main message from Ireland, however, is in the local equivalent to the Thatcher defusing of the politics of independence from Britain in the wider Northern Ireland population. That would involve, here, the development of an anti-terrorist consensus among Australian Muslims. A greater consciousness among people who have chosen to live here, that they are Australians first, and they like the Australian way, should automatically lead to a decline in the us–them view of the world.

The low-key assimilationist Australian manner is vastly preferable to any other in response to social dissent. And, in answer to my opening questions, we can merely hope that a tipping point never comes. To be proactive means to stay calm, and continue to work on intelligence, increase surveillance of mosques and Muslim schools, provide encouragement and support for moderate local Islamic leadership, and firmly defend the Australian tradition.

John Carroll is Professor Emeritus at La Trobe University. His most recent book, Land of the Golden Cities, was published in September by Connor Court.


8 thoughts on “The Islamist Threat to Social Cohesion

  • says:

    Given the content of the Koran (especially the lack of separation of religion and state) is it acceptable to allow politicians to swear on this book when entering parliament? It seems to me to that such a politician must be conflicted.

  • Jim Campbell says:

    As Eliza said, ‘Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words!’ It’s all been said before and then some.

    Allah’s objective is the subjugation of the world to himself. Unless you understand that you don’t understand the problem: and I don’t think the article mentioned Allah.

    Look, when you have a book that teaches and encourages the following you are not dealing with sweetness and light. You are dealing with treason.

    • Antagonism between, separation of, and alienation by, a specific group and the rest of mankind.
    • Deception and dissimulation in dealings with people who are not of that group.
    • Physical harm and/or subjugation for those who are not of that group.
    • Coercive management as a tool to exact performance from members of that group.
    • No recognition by that group of the separation of church and State.

    The niceties of staying calm, and continuing to work on intelligence, increasing surveillance of mosques and Muslim schools, providing encouragement and support for moderate local Islamic leadership, and firmly defending the Australian tradition just don’t cut it. They simply play into Allah’s hands.

  • ianl says:

    Quote 1: “More than half responded in Britain [to poll questions about 9/11] that they didn’t know who was responsible for the September 11 attack. A staggering one in three believed the United States government was behind it. Seven per cent thought it was a Jewish plot, more than the trifling 5 per cent who believed that Al Qaeda had hijacked the planes and destroyed the buildings, killing 3000 innocent people”

    Dr. Carroll would be of more practical use if he were to conduct a similar set of poll questions in Australia, ensuring valid sample selection , of course. There is no hope of such research being funded or fully published, though. That is because –

    Quote 2: ” … we can merely hope that a tipping point never comes …” and blah and blah …

    Cognitive dissonance is clear when comparing the two quotes. Factual knowledge threatens that dissonance and so must be suppressed.

  • Doc S says:

    The increased covert surveillance of mosques etc., has been underway for some time but any accurate understanding of the ideology they are facing almost completely eludes those charged with our protection. This includes bending over backwards to accommodate Islam. One of the reasons ASIO head Duncan Lewis gave for not indulging in trenchant criticism of Islam/Muslims after every terrorist incident was to preserve what he says is ASIO’s most important lines of intelligence on Islamic militancy – informants within the Muslim community itself. A nonsense as there are still jihadi plots by the dozen regardless with literally hundreds of cases requiring constant surveillance lest they metastasize into the next Lindt Café. And then there are always those who will take it on themselves to conduct murderous jihad anyway, as recently witnessed in Melbourne with a Somali criminal who appears to have ‘found Allah’ whilst facing prosecution – completely missed by ASIO and the police until too late.

    The arrest and imprisonment of the likes of Benbrika also requires evidence that they are involved in more than just preaching violent jihad and therein lies the problem.

    Quadrant readers would not be surprised to learn that there is but a cigarette paper’s difference between the Islamic ideology preached by incarcerated ‘extremists’ like Benbrika, that espoused freely by Hizb-ut Tahrir (and a myriad of Salafist imams here) and that promoted by Islamic State and their rivals al-Qa’ida. In others words virtually none as they all follow the same Islam (and with the same result) as detailed by the Rev. Dr. Mark Durie:

    The solutions offered by Prof. Carroll are flawed, inadequate and completely fail to deal with the root cause of what is fast becoming an intractable problem. Increased surveillance, apart from disturbing questions regarding our civil liberties, does not address the issues presented by the followers of fundamentalist Islam. As potential incubators of ‘radical’ Islam Islamic schools are too great a risk – as seen in numerous reported examples in various schools in Western Sydney. As for ‘working on intelligence’ the agencies directing that surveillance have demonstrated time and again scant understanding of the ideology that threatens us and in any case, while preventing 99 potential plots will invariably (and inevitably) be unable to prevent the one that becomes the next Lindt Café – or worse – as seen with the near-miss of the recent Sydney Etihad Airlines plot, which also represented a significant intelligence failure.

    Ultimately two and only two solutions present themselves: a total ban on the preaching and teaching of Salafy Islam (that includes closing Islamic schools and mosques that do not comply) and on Muslim migration – with a VERY circumspect vetting of those we are obliged to take as part of our humanitarian obligations under the UNHCR. The 17,000 we currently take per annum can include a higher percentage of non-Muslim refugees (unlike that dictated to us by the UNHCR) at the same time as reducing the number of Muslims we do accept. Without such measures what we are experiencing now will simply continue and invariably worsen, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

  • says:

    John Carroll lost me when he wrote early in this article: “Islam has two quite different sides.’ That statement can only apply to appearance but not to substance. When will it register with otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people that there is only one Islam which is based on the Koran and the Hadith. It is spelled out with absolute unambiguity in those unholy scriptures that Islam is divinely destined to rule the entire world and it is the sacred duty of all Muslims to do all they possibly can to bring about that destiny, also that there are no restrictions of the ways and means by which to obey the call. Those are not assertions by ignorant yobs or accusations by hateful islamophobes, they are prescribed in the books which all Muslims are duty bound to respect and obey on the pain of the horrors of hellfire in the afterlife. All that applies to each and every Muslim, moderate or radical, male or female, young or old, without exception. What is so impossible to understand about that?

    Accommodation with Muslims, any and all Muslims, is an appealing mirage, wishful thinking. It must be understood that Muslims who are prepared to compromise their duties as prescribed in the Koran in order to accept our values are either liars – practicing taqiyya, the deceiving of the infidels – or apostates, the most despicable of all sinners according to Islam.

    Given the attitude of even good people like John Carroll, our problems with Islam, indeed Muslims, will continue indefinitely to be a festering sore at best, or we will be eventually subjugated by it.

  • Lacebug says:

    Slightly off-topic but seeing as the NO vote was so high in Lakemba, I’m wondering whether graffiti artist Scott Marsh (he of the recent Newtown mural of Tony Abbott and Cardinal Pell involved in mutual masturbation) will be daubing an equally provocative image of the grand mufti engaged in fellatio with Tony Burke?

    • Jody says:

      Let’s make sure we don’t all sink to that level of depravity which is the stock-in-trade of Labor Party supporters. I look to Scott Morrison to be the guard of religious liberty in this upcoming change to the marriage act. He has a chance to demonstrate his leadership abilities by sticking up for freedoms.

      Another Jordan Peterson-ism: “The left only thinly disguises its resentment and hatred behind the mask of compassion; many of them exhibit a Kane-like resentment of anybody who has been successful and acquired anything”.

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