In a recent Quadrant Online article, I suggested the “initial reactions of government leaders and most media commentators to the Boston bombings had been to ignore or brush aside the wider policy implications for the West”. I concluded, however, that a variety of policy actions could and should be taken without delay and “the first of those must be to acknowledge that a problem exists.”
Regrettably, no such acknowledgement has occurred. To the contrary there have been commentaries pointing to astonishing policy positions apparently being taken in the US by President Obama and his administration. This is – or should be – of serious concern to Australia, which must hope the US will play a leadership role in policies to respond to the threat of terrorist acts by extremist Muslims. It is now obvious that the Boston bombers were such, and it seems clear that considerable potential exists for additional terrorist activity. (Some suggestions are being made that the two bombers were only pawns following a leader).
The two most important developments since the bombings are, first, an article arguing with some conviction that the Obama Administration refuses to accept a serious threat exists domestically from extremist Muslims and will avoid publicly characterising violent action by them as terrorism. A picture is being portrayed that US military activity overseas has largely overcome or is handling the al Qaeda threat and the risk of home grown terrorist activity inspired from that source is now minimised.
The author argues that both Bush and Obama operated on the basis of a domestic policy of seeing “no Islam evil” and that there has been a policy of avoiding the use of “terrorism” to describe violence committed by extremists. He quotes the then US Army Chief of Staff under Obama as declaring that the Fort Hood military shooting by an Islamist major (13 deaths) was “horrific” but suggesting that it would have been worse “if our diversity becomes a casualty”. Significantly, the author claims the emerging reason for the failure of the FBI to track the bombers “is that bureau guidelines eliminate Islam and other religions as a red flag. In this case … meant Tsarnaev’s link’s to radical Islam were ignored or downplayed”.
Second, an article revealing that 57 Muslim advocacy groups wrote in 2011 to the administration urging a “purge” within government agencies of materials that could be deemed biased or discriminatory against Muslims. Most importantly, this article reveals a sympathetic reply by the head of the CIA, John Brennan, agreeing to establish an inter-agency task force to (in effect) collect all training materials containing “cultural or religious content, including information related to Islam or Muslims” and ensuring that such materials “comply with American values, professional standards, and the United States Constitution”.
It will be noted that, while Brennan claims in his reply to have “a specific approach to countering violent extremist recruitment and radicalisation and our broader counter-terrorism efforts”, he does not refer to extremist Muslims or indeed to Muslims at all (Brennan is on record as saying elsewhere that jihad is a “legitimate tenet of Islam”). It is encouraging that the administration’s policies, and the failure to track the bombers despite obvious leads, are being questioned by (some) Congressional representatives and (some) sections of the US media. Whether that will come to any policy pronouncement looks doubtful, however.
The article, which has embedded copies of both letters, is attached. It was published by Breitbart, which is one of a number of new web-based news outlets in the US.
For Australia since the bombings we have learnt that the elder bomber was drawing inspiration from a YouTube video by extremist Lebanese-Australian cleric (Sheik Feiz Mohammed), who publicly expresses hatred of Western culture. the radical Hezbollah movement has seemingly reacted to the bombings by claiming it has three sleeping cells here; and another radical group (Hizb ut-Tahrir) called for Anzac day to be boycotted. The best our Attorney General Dreyfus could do was to claim Feiz Mohammed has changed his views and now supports our (previously unknown) counter-terrorism program “in many communities across Australia”. Dreyfus also was unable to do no more than express “concern” about the possible radicalisation of Australians who return from fighting with an al Qaeda group in the Syrian civil war, despite that being illegal. Elsewhere, terrorists have been caught in Canada and the UK (twice) since the bombings, and the Netherlands raised its terror alert to “substantial”.
It is of serious concern that the US does not seem to be handling adequately the actions and potential threats by Muslim extremists and that the Australian government is completely dodging the issue here, as is the Opposition.
Des Moore, a former Deputy Secretary of Treasury, is Director of the Institute for Private Enterprise.