French Premier Hollande has responded to the killings and/or serious wounding of seemingly over 200 people in Paris (perhaps 450 killed or wounded in total) by declaring war on IS and closing French borders (presumably to migrants from other European countries). Just what this means in practice remains to be seen: with about 6mn Muslims in France the government seems unlikely to change its “philosophy” that terrorism does not have religious motives and that what “we” are dealing with are extremists operating contrary to the Islamic religion. IS is said to be doing that.
This is of course incorrect: not only IS but other extremist Islamic groups too draw on the Koran to justify their activities. In short, while France is continuing its “war” in the form of air strikes on IS in Iraq/Syria, it is likely to remain described as no more than an attack on extremism. Similarly, while UK PM Cameron is reported as telling the Conservative Party conference that he is determined to “tear up the narrative that says Muslims are persecuted and the West deserves what it gets”, the question remains whether he will address the problem posed by the adherence to a religion which supports violent action.
Coincident with the Paris attacks The Australian published an excellent article by political scientist David Martin-Jones which correctly argues that de-radicalisation programs are not the required response. As he says in the article (attached), “No matter how deluded their actions appear to modern secular sensibilities, in their minds they are directly engaged in a divine mission to re-create the caliphate”. Western leaders need to recognise that a critique of Islamic religion, as promulgated by the advocates of extremist action and by the activists themselves, must be an essential part of any policy responding to the problem.
As seen from his interview with ABC Insiders this morning, PM Turnbull also takes the view that IS is not saying it is driven by the Islamic religion. According to him, IS “defames Islam” (see transcript). This view demands correction and is not consistent with the view taken by former PM Abbott. He was interviewed on today’s Bolt report and, while careful to avoid any direct criticism of Turnbull, his observations indicated that he recognizes the influence of religion on many terrorists and would have adopted a more aggressive response to the Paris attacks.
Note though that Turnbull used the phrase “Daesh” to describe IS and emphasized the importance of defeating that group militarily. But he gave no indication of any additional Australian involvement (“Australia is playing a very significant part”) and argued that our existing intelligence agencies give us “every reason to be assured that our nation is safe”. However, the failure of the French agencies to pick up any network “chattering” before the attacks despite more than one group being involved, suggests that there may be too much reliance on existing detection methods both here and overseas. This may require a resort to the use of detention of suspected terrorists and of those who publicly advocate the use of violence to achieve Islamic objectives. Australia has experienced a considerable amount of such advocacy that has not led to prosecutions. Whether detention/ prosecution is now feasible in countries such as France may be doubted, and the fact that our ASIO says it is tracking 457 suspects suggests it is already difficult here. But such deterrent action could scarcely have a higher priority.
Another important implication from Paris is that at least one of the attackers carried a Syrian passport and appears to have entered Europe as a “refugee”. The flood of “refugees” into Europe included many Muslims and it will not have been feasible to check claims of their authenticity as peaceful migrants. The picture of Europe that now exists is of a population which would include a significant addition of Muslims who support violent activity.
Australia has agreed to take 12,000 Syrian refugees and the original idea mooted under Abbott was that they should be limited to avowed Christians. However that is not the case and, according to Bolt, the first batch includes Muslims: presumably carefully checked. Then there is the question of checking of “normal” immigrants (over 200,000 a year now) : has any action been taken to step up the checking of them?
The group of interviewees on the ABC’s Insider program this morning agreed that the “tone” of the government under Turnbull is much better than it was under Abbott and that this helps explain the improvement in Coalition polling. Whether the tone has sufficient substance will be tested on the debate on terrorism and a number of other policy issues.