Why cannot the word “Muslim” be used in a context where the religion and some of its adherents are subject to criticism? Apparent answer: because leaders of Western societies believe all faiths should be treated equally, even to the point of turning a blind eye to the fact that some ardent believers in the Muslim creed are outspoken in advocating acts of terror as legitimate components of their faith.
It is a major concern that the initial reactions of government leaders and most media commentators to the Boston bombings has been to ignore or brush aside the wider policy implications for the West. The record of the past week does not promote a sense of confidence.
First, there was a widespread attempt to avoid linking the fact, as became clear later that same week, that the bombers were believers in, or heavily influenced by, the Muslim religion. It has now been reported that the bombers lived close to a local mosque, in an area near Boston where a considerable number of Moslems live, and that one of the bombers spent six months at “home” in the Russian republic of Dagestan, where the population is 80% Muslim and eruptions of insurgency in the name of establishing an Islamic state are a grim fact of daily life. Today come further reports that the elder bomber may have murdered three ‘friends’ by “slashing their throats right out of an al Qaeda training video.”
Second, while we look to the United States to be the leader of the Western world, President Obama has consistently avoided using the word "Muslim". Indeed, initially he did not even describe the bombings as terrorist acts. William Vizzard, a US criminal justice professor at California State University speculated that Obama might have hesitated to use the religion’s name because it had become a ‘loaded word’, verbal shorthand for Islamic terrorism. This precisely describes the Boston attack. While it is too early to pass judgment on whether the relevant US agencies have learned anything from the mistakes before the September 11 massacres of 2001, the apparent pass given the eldest bomber is worrisome. Quizzed by the FBI after a tip from Russia, he was turned loose with an apparent clean bill of health.
Third, the Australian Government, represented by Attorney General Dreyfus, made a woeful attempt to dismiss the web link between one of Australia’s extremist imams and the American bombers. This continued the government’s attempt to play down terrorism’s risk to Australian security. The Opposition seems to have said nothing on this (or any other) aspect. Are all our political leaders scared of criticising Muslim extremists for fear of losing votes or being accused of racism and discrimination?
Criticism by a political (or other) leader of extremist views held by some Muslims might cost votes in one or two electorates. But it is surely too important to ignore such views and leave the prevention and response solely to intelligence agencies, as Foreign Minister Bob Carr seems to advocate. Factual statements about terrorist activity by extremists may be controversial, but the dubious fear of political damage should not breed a dangerous and irresponsible silence.
The number of Islamic believers in Australia has not yet reached levels comparable to those of the UK and Europe, where an electoral backlash could occur. Although heavily concentrated, the total number of Muslims in Australia is 400,000 to 500,000, a very small percentage of our population.
Fifth and finally, it is quite simply absurd to suggest that “it is too late to do anything about the problem.” There is a variety of policy actions that could – and should – be taken without delay. The first of those must surely be to acknowledge that a problem exists.
Des Moore, a former Deputy Secretary of Treasury, is Director of the Institute for Private Enterprise.