My letter published in today’s Financial Review speculates that Abbott may be playing a leading role in international discussions on possible responses to extremist Islamists. This appears to be confirmed by developments overseas relating to humanitarian relief in northern Iraq as well as to possible action by some western countries in combating extremists and in strengthening the ability of southern Iraq and Kurdistan to handle the situation.
Cleverly, Abbott and some other leaders are using the humanitarian problem and the accompanying barbaric threats and action to justify the need for other possible counter-terrorist activity, with Abbott not ruling out the use of troops despite the rejection of that course by the US. It is not inconceivable that, particularly if the foreshadowed UN resolution condemns extremist activity, the US will change its mind on this as it has on many other defence policy issues. But the electoral problems posed by Muslim populations in some countries, including the UK, will likely limit their counter-terrorist activity and statements.
On the domestic front, the public statements by ASIO head Irvine (including an address to the AIIA) and the suspicion that ASIO may have released some relevant material are an important development, possibly unique for that organisation, in securing public support for measures to combat extremists in Australia, including the increased counter-terrorist powers propose by Abbott. Note, in particular, that Irvine’s reference to “a new generation of Islamist extremists” implies the need for new powers.
As to the media, The Age seems to have decided to give as little coverage as possible to both international and domestic developments involving Muslim communities. Today, its first mention of Abbott’s role in its first editorial on the Iraq situation is limited to one phrase. As to Iraq itself, “the threat lies within” Iraq and this is primarily a matter for the likely new Iraqi PM, Abadi. Clearly, The Age is dodging the domestic threat from Islamic extremists.
Other press –and even the ABC – has, however, given good coverage and include Muslim community spokesmen attempting to distance themselves from association with the extremists. But The Australian’s publication of a photo of the child-holding-severed-head has spread world-wide and the heading of today’s Talking Point – “The Silence from Islamic leaders is Chilling” – rightly indicates scepticism about such statements. The Financial Review has (for it) extensive coverage, including a report on the extent of US airstrikes (see below). It seems likely that, perhaps with the exception of readers of The Age only, there is now a widespread realisation in Australia that we have some who interpret the Koran to include violence.