From David Hardaker’s Opinion Page 24 Sep 2014

25 Sep’s not enough to simply be ‘tough on terror’

Updated yesterday at 4:00pmWed 24 Sep 2014, 4:00pm

A military and security response might win the battle against terrorism, but not the war. Western powers also need to address the pervasive sense of victimhood, whether it’s justified or not, giving rise to Islamic State, writes David Hardaker.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has a way with words. It’s his great strength but at the same time his great weakness. Slogans like “debt and deficit disaster” and “budget emergency” have the power to cut through the political white noise, but they undermine his credibility when they are revealed for the hyperbole they are.

What applies domestically is now being played out on the international stage with Mr Abbott’s description of the so-called Islamic State movement as a “death cult”. It’s a memorable slogan and the author himself seems impressed with it. But like its domestic cousins, it is ultimately worthless.

There’s no doubt that the rise of the so-called “Islamic State” represents one of the most serious issues to confront Middle Eastern countries and Western policy makers. It is true that the movement is prepared to use extreme violence to achieve its aims and that there is little alternative – in the short term – to a tough military response to stop the movement killing anyone it defines as its enemy.

But as they used to say about the leader of Al Qaeda: you can kill Bin Laden, but not Bin Ladenism. Similarly, the current military action might “degrade” (to use the term du jour) the Islamic State. But what of the longer term future and the conditions which keep giving rise to fundamentalist movements which are prepared to call for and use violence against the West?

A security response alone is not enough. It might win the battle but not the war. If anything, it serves to ramp up fundamentalist action and enlist more recruits.

And what applies in Iraq and Syria also applies domestically: by all means strengthen anti-terrorism laws and deploy 800 police to detain 15 people or so. But what of the causes and motivations?

It is tempting for politicians (of all stripes) to rush to a security response, whether by military action internationally or a stiffened local policing initiative such as Operation Hammerhead. Indeed, proving the old adage that every cloud has a silver lining, the Islamic State “death cult” has become something of a popularity lifeline for a Prime Minister who has threatened to sink in his first term.

But there is a certain circularity about being “tough on terror” as your sole response: it almost guarantees there will be more terror to be tough on in the future, and more popularity to be gained by being tough on terror. And so on, ad infinitum.

The most dangerous aspect of the “Islamic State” movement (and Al Qaeda, for that matter) is the hard-core sense of victimhood that it represents in the Middle East region, especially among the young. It is beside the point whether this sense of victimhood is justified or not. The serious issue confronting Western powers – and indeed the Australian Government and Muslim community locally – is how to deal with it and defeat it.

About 50 per cent of Arab populations are under the age of 25. Many of them are poor and without opportunity. Many feel a sense of helplessness and alienation from their governments who they have seen as corrupt and self-interested – and, most importantly, as clients of the United States.

The Arab Spring appeared to offer a way out, to a future of (possibly religious) self-determination, if not democracy. Yet that promise has unravelled and in its place there has been an increasingly ferocious crackdown on movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood – again at the seeming behest of the United States or at least regional governments with close relations with the USA.

This sense of victimhood is reflected in the common view in the Middle East that the attacks of September 11, 2001, were orchestrated not by Al Qaeda but by the CIA (and Israel’s security agency, Mossad, depending on the version you get). When you challenge this view, some will tell you that only the United States has the ability to organise such an attack.

These are but some of the grievances, real and/or imagined. The issue is not whether they are justified or not – but how to turn a sense of victimhood into something else which does not involve violent action.

So we can talk about “death cults” and send troops to “degrade” the Islamic State movement. As a short-term fix, it may work. And it will certainly lead to a jump in the polls.

But when we hear the murderous words of the “Islamic State” and its call to kill the “unbelievers” wherever they are and by whatever means possible, we need to pay attention to more than just the rhetoric. And in Australia the last thing we want is for those words to resonate with a young Muslim.

What we desperately need to hear now is a new plan, couched in new language. This applies not only internationally but also locally.

Yes, it’s a tall order with such a complex set of problems besetting the Middle East, but it will demand a new form of leadership, new alliances and new “de-victimising” actions.

David Hardaker is a television producer and a Walkley award winning journalist. He is a former ABC Middle East correspondent and has lived and worked in Egypt. View his full profile here.

Topics: terrorism, islam, world-politics, unrest-conflict-and-war

First posted yesterday at 3:52pmWed 24 Sep 2014, 3:52pm

4 Responses to “From David Hardaker’s Opinion Page 24 Sep 2014”

  1. Three Well Beings September 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    What a well-written and brilliant article, Uta. I don’t know David Hardaker, but I think I might try to follow him on-line. I think our leaders have incredibly difficult decisions to make in the very near future relative to terrorism. I am really interested in what is being said outside of the United States and I’m doing what I can to be alert to other perspectives. Thank you for posting this article.

    • auntyuta September 25, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

      Debra, you might want to try the above link that has /the drum/ in it.
      I hope it is going to work.
      You say: I think our leaders have incredibly difficult decisions to make in the very near future relative to terrorism
      Yes, I think so too. I am sure a lot depends on good leadership.
      Thanks for commenting, Debra.
      The URL for the above article (not enough to simply be ‘tough on terror’)
      does not seem to work at present.

  2. stuartbramhall September 26, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    Here’s a short but brilliant letter to the Daily Mail explaining why the US and its allies are bombing Iraq and Syria to smithereens:

    • auntyuta September 26, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      It is indeed very confusing, at least I am still confused, Stuart. Nothing is clear to me.

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