Public dissatisfaction is continuing, indeed increasing, in many countries with the weak response by governments to the terrorist attacks by extremist Muslims in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. and by the responses to continued similar, less reported terrorist groups in other countries too. There is now quite widespread recognition that these attacks are “not just by a few extremists”…“who sully the reputation of an otherwise peace-loving and tolerant Muslim faith. In reality, the truth is far more troubling — that jihadists represent the natural and inevitable outgrowth of a faith that is given over to hate on a massive scale, with hundreds of millions of believers holding views that Americans would rightly find revolting” (see article published in the US journal “Nation Review”).
This recognition has quickly been reflected in political developments. In France the National Front, described as “far right” in the media but difficult to continue to attach that label to now that it has won a quarter of the population’s vote in regional elections, and that Ms Le Pen is now a serious candidate for the President of France in next year’s election. In the US, Donald Trump has maintained his lead position amongst Republican Presidential candidates for much longer than “reasonable” people would have expected.
Why have both these developments occurred? The short answer is that neither of the political leaders have tackled the extremist problem philosophically. I have recently reported that, apart from increasing police powers domestically, Hollande’s response has been on destroying ISIS, but only by air strikes and not more widely, and he has continued to refrain from drawing attention to the extremist threat domestically. Le Pen’s party reflects the growing anti-EU and anti-immigrant view in Europe.
Obama’s national security response on 6 December was in similar vein to Hollande’s and, in those circumstances, it is not altogether surprising that Trump has advocated extreme action by banning the admission of Muslims to the US (in considering this advocacy account must also be taken of the appointment by Obama of senior advisers more than sympathetic to Islam and the Cairo address he made soon after his first election). Whether or not Trump actually believes Muslims should not be admitted to the US, he has drawn attention to the most serious problem faced by the US both domestically and externally.
In short, while the political critics in France and the US will be regarded by many as extreme, their response can be regarded as justified by the failure of their existing political leaders to respond to what is seen as a threat to the western values and lives. This has created an, to say the least, unstable political situation – and not only in the two countries concerned.
In particular, we in Australia now have former PM Abbott publicly expressing a different view to Turnbull’s on responding to Islam and supporting the view expressed by Frydenberg (see this article). Abbott also draws attention to Obama’s decision to allow troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq, albeit limited to special forces, a view downplayed by Turnbull. Unfortunately, the longer version of Abbott’s remarks in my printed edition is not in the digital version. In that longer version reference is made to UK PM Cameron’s description of the Islamic state as “this evil death cult”, a view not adopted by Turnbull or his foreign minister.
Also relevant is the report in The Economist that, in the House of Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby,has made a statement to the effect that ”the just war criteria…have been met” (see this report). Indeed, Welby appears to have called for extending action against more than ISIL and with more than air strikes – “Without a far more comprehensive approach we confirm their dreadful belief that what they are doing is the will of God”. He alsocalls for Saudi Arabia to be challenged for its financing of violent forms of Salafism in other countries, including Australia. It would be helpful if church leaders at all levels were to become critics of Muslim leaders who fail to denounce violent actions and advocacy.
In the US there has also been a strong critical policy response to Obama by two leading Republican Congressmen, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. They support the quick despatch of US troops (with troops from other countries) and their retention in Syria/Iraq ie a reversal of Obama’s policy. They say in effect that the Islamic threat is one to which the US must respond wherever it occurs (see this link).
These developments call for a response from Turnbull preceded by a meeting of the National Security committee of Cabinet and by a full Cabinet discussion. It is time Australia qualified its support for the policy being pursued by the Democrat President of our American ally and addressed the reality of Islam.