As PM, Tony Abbott drew a lot of flak for his stance on homegrown Islamic terrorism, not least for his use of two rhetorical strains. On August 18, 2014, he said “my position is that everyone should be on Team Australia”, and on February 23, 2015, he went further: “I’ve often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a religion of peace … I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often and mean it”. These comments marked a departure from the tone and language chosen by senior politicians over most of the previous decade. And they sparked the inevitable round of hand-wringing and denunciations.
Unsparing in their hyperbole, The Guardian called them “damaging and dangerous” while The Age condemned them as “reckless”. In similar vein, Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said they were “at risk of being counterproductive”. Notwithstanding the inanity of such claims, Abbott’s foray into tough language was short-lived. His enemies hurled it onto the pile of reasons why he had to go and, sure enough, the old ways were conspicuously restored by Malcolm Turnbull.
For present purposes, let’s call Abbott-style discourse hard rhetoric and the alternative soft rhetoric. Usually in the form of a mollifying post-atrocity sermon, the soft line combines four elements:
- Terrorism has nothing to do with true Islam, which is a religion of peace.
- The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful and law abiding, and should not in any way be judged by the actions of a few.
- The Muslim community and its leaders are as horrified by terrorism as the rest of us, and do all they can to prevent it.
- Those who blame the Muslim faith and Muslims in general for terrorism have no place in our inclusive multicultural society.
However much it may represent conventional practise for progressives and the political class, as a strategy to prevent terrorism, soft rhetoric is a pretense. Its real purpose is to prop up official multiculturalism by diverting attention from a troublesome minority onto the supposedly racist mainstream. These are Australians who, we are lead to believe, will lash out at innocent Muslims on the slightest provocation. Never mind that this hardly ever happens. On the other hand, Abbott’s hard talk actually was about preventing terrorism, by making Australian Muslims and their leaders publicly accountable for developments in their community.
After all, isn’t that demanded of the mainstream on problems like domestic violence and child abuse?
Politicians and pundits who insist that it’s hard rhetoric – rather than the conventional soft line – that is “dangerous”, “reckless” and “counterproductive”, ought to subject their claims to some sort of timeline analysis. Their indignation implies that before Abbott got tough, all was fine. Of course, that’s anything but true.
The following is an unofficial timeline/list of Australian Muslims whose names are on the public record in connection with planning, attempting or executing terrorist acts on Australian soil, or participating in terrorism overseas. It’s compiled from various media sources and a table appended to Gen Y Jihadists: Preventing radicalisation in Australia, an Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report of June 2015.
|Year of activity||Planned, attempted or executed acts of Islamic terrorism on Australian soil||Participated in Islamic terrorism overseas|
|2003||Faheem Khalid Lodi, Mohammed Abderahman (Willie Brigitte), Zaky Mallah|
|2005||Khaled Cheiko, Moustafa Cheiko, Mohamed Ali Elomar, Abdul Rahib Hasan, Mohammed Omar Jamal, Omar Baladjam, Belal Khazaal|
|2006||Abdul Nacer Benbrika, Fadal Sayddi, Ahmed Raad, Amer Haddara, Abdulla Merhi, Ezzit Raad, Hany Taha, Aimen Joud, Shane Kent, Joseph Thomas (Jihad Jack)|
|2009||Saney Edow Aweys, Nayef El Sayed, Yacqub Khayre, Abdurahman Ahmed, Wissam Mahmoud Fattal|
|2012||Roger Abbas, Sammy Salma|
|2013||Tara Nettleton (Umm Zarqawi), Amira Karroum (Amira Ali), Ahmad Moussali, Caner Temel, Ahmed Succarieh (Abu Asma al Australi), Abraham Succarieh,|
|2014||Numan Haider, Man Haron Monis, Sevdet Besim, Harun Causevic, Maywand Osman, Omar Succarieh, Agim Kruezi, Omarjan Azari, Sulayman Khalid (Abu Bakr), Ahmad Rahmany, Hamdi Alqudsi, Ahmad Saiyer Naizmand, Wassim Fayad, Ali Al-Talebi, Abdullah Salihy, Jibryl Almaouie, Mohamed Almouie, Ibrahim Ghazzawy, Mohammed Salihy, Ahmed Dudu, Milad Atai, Musa Cerantonio||Mostafa Mahamed Farag (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir), Khaled Sharrouf (Abu Zarqawi al Australi), Zaynab Sharrouf, Mohamed Elomar (Abu Hafs al Australi), Abdullah Elmir (Abu Zubayr Al Muhajir), Yusuf Yusuf (Abu Affan Alsomalee), Zehra Duman (Umm Abdullatif), Mounir Raad, Neil Prakash (Abu Khalid al Cambodi), Hodan Abby, Hafsa Mohamed, Taha El Baf, Hamza El Baf, Omar El Baf, Bilal El Baf, Tyler Casey (Yusuf Ali), Sharky Jama (Abu Tawba Alsomalee), Abdul Salam Mahmoud (Abu Hamza al-Sudani and Yassin Ali), Jake Bilardi (Abu Abdullah al Australi), Mohammad Ali Baryalei (Abu Omar), Suhan Rahman (Abu Jihadi al Australi), Mahmoud Abdullatif, Zakarayah Raad (Abu Yayha ash Shami), Adam Dahman, Yusuf Toprakkaya, Mustapha al-Majzoub, Zia Abdul Haq (Abu Yusseph), Ahmad Mohamad Al-Ghaz’zaoui, George Khamis, Tareq Kamleh, Abu Nour al-Iraqi, Housam Abdul Razzak, Hassan El Sabsabi, Adam Brookman, Ahmed Merhi, Mohamed Zuhbi, Dullel Kassab|
|2015||Omar Kutobi, Mohammad Kiad, Khalil Mohammad Jabar, Talal Alameddine, Raban Alou, Mustafa Dirani, Jalal Suleman, Sameh Bayda, Alo-Bridget Namoa||Irfaan Hussein (Abu Sufyan), Muhammed Sheglabo|
The list is in no way complete or exhaustive. There would be peripheral figures who weren’t swept up in intelligence agency or police actions, and some whose identities were suppressed for legal or security reasons. Over the years, more would have travelled to terrorist hot spots under the radar, concealing their ultimate destinations. Some 30 locals are believed to have gone to Afghanistan between 1990 and 2010, for instance. Forward to 2014, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that the number of Australians who were or had been fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was 150, which she described as “extraordinary”. Others were stopped on the way, as the ASPI report points out:
Many aspiring fighters are stopped at airports; in addition to the 284 people taken off flights, 116 passports have been cancelled since September 2012 and a further nine passports suspended since December 2014 (emphasis added).
Totting up the 58 mentioned in connection with attacks on Australian soil, around 180 who (since 1990) travelled overseas, 125 whose passports were cancelled or suspended, and 284 taken off flights, the total number of Australian Muslims radicalised to the point of violent extremism could be at least 650. That’s over six times more than appear on the timeline/list. On a related note, Protecting Australia, a 2015 Budget Paper, says “the number of high-risk terrorist threats being monitored by security agencies has doubled in the last year and is now around 400”.
The pronounced wave of activity in and after 2014 was certainly triggered by a particular event, just not Abbott’s switch to hard rhetoric. His “Team Australia” statement was preceded by the long series of military advances across Syria and Iraq which culminated in Islamic State chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s proclamation of a caliphate on 29 June 2014. Al-Baghdadi’s associated call for jihad unleashed most of what followed, including the misnamed “lone wolf” attacks by Numan Haider, Man Horan Monis and Khalil Mohammad Jabar, foiled plots to stab or behead people at random and attack police and military installations, and the rush to enlist as Islamic State foreign fighters.
Nor did these Jihadists answer the call out of some overnight conversion. By this time they would have been culturally and psychologically predisposed to this reaction. Most would have become susceptible to radicalisation in that identity-forming period of adolescence and early adulthood. Since the ASPI report says their average age is “just under 25 years”, there’s every chance it would have happened in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era, when soft rhetoric reigned supreme. Labor was in office for most of the period covered by the timeline/list, from November 2007 until nine months before Al-Baghdadi’s proclamation.
Behind the outrage and bluster, Abbott’s critics are suggesting the extent of Muslim radicalisation would have been far worse if our leaders used hard rhetoric over the last decade. But don’t expect any of them to make such an implausible claim up front.