Just Don't Mention The Wars: Australian Media's Demonisation Of Muslims


I have previously noted the sheer weakness of the government’s case for the war on Iraq and possibly Syria. I was surprised that no coherent case has been made for sending troops and aircraft to Iraq, and patiently waited for some kind of substantive arguments to be made.

Now, I am starting to think this is no accident. I don’t think we will ever hear a sober, extended argument about why Australia should join the fighting against ISIS. The real case for war is being made through innuendo, fear, and cheap sloganeering.

Think Tony Abbott saying ISIS is worse than the Nazis, or calling them a death cult. Think George Brandis saying the threat we face is worse than the Cold War. Think Defence Minister David Johnston saying “I don’t want to take the risk”. There’s no real argument: ISIS is bad, we’re good. They’re out to get us, you’re not safe.

However, the threat doesn’t seem to actually come from ISIS sending its fighters to Australia. It appears to come from them encouraging or inspiring Australian Muslims to engage in their own acts of violence.

The effect of over 800 police engaging in televised counter-terrorism raids sends the message that this is very serious and alarming, and we should all be concerned about the threat from Australian Muslims.

The fact that only one person was arrested – and later a teenager was shot after allegedly stabbing police – might suggest that this threat has been overstated. If the threat was so serious, why were 800 police required for the raids, but only two police needed when dealing with a teenager who may have been an aspiring terrorist?

The government agenda of highlighting the threat from Australian Muslims has been eagerly followed by the media. Its front pages and endless coverage of the supposedly vast and serious threat from terrorists has presumably delighted ISIS, insofar as it portrays them as a serious threat to our way of life. However, there have also been more overt criticisms of Islam, by those portraying Muslims as terrorists.

The crudest version of attacking Muslims has been Jacqui Lambie. Appearing to know approximately nothing about Islam or Muslims, she claimed that “sharia law” involves terrorism, among a string of other ignorant claims.

As a general rule, anyone who talks about “sharia law” probably doesn’t know what they are talking about. As a phrase, it is akin to saying “ATM machine”.

Sharia is Islamic law. That is, Muslims interpret their religion as guiding their behaviour in most, if not all aspects of their lives. Different Muslims tend to follow different interpretations of what kind of behaviour is prescribed by Islam. It is a very diverse religion, which one would expect, given that it has 1.5 billion adherents.

Sharia is basically analogous to halacha: Judaism also has religious law which theoretically governs how Jews are supposed to live their lives and behave in general. Jews and Muslims do not necessarily adhere to all of the religious teachings of the branches of their religion that they belong to, in the same way that many Christians do not always live up to all of the teachings of Jesus, or not all Catholics follow everything the Pope says.

Yet whilst Lambie has expressed her prejudice towards Muslims in an embarrassingly ignorant manner, this is not the only way to get the public worried about Muslims. The breathless front page covers, and extensive coverage within – devoid of insight, largely devoted to uncritical repetition of the claims of people in authority – send the message that there is a major terrorist threat we should all be concerned about. The subtext is the threat that faces us is Muslim terrorism.

The Fairfax media has not covered itself in glory. The Age and Sydney Morning Herald both plastered across their front pages a picture of a “teenage terrorist”.

He happened to be a completely unrelated man. His father reported: “This morning he was crying… ‘With this now how can I go out and face people?’” On Thursday, it took a team of four Age reporters to write: “concerns of reprisal attacks against the Muslim community were inflamed when Islamic Council of Victoria secretary Ghaith Krayem refused to condemn the actions of the Endeavour Hills teenager until a police investigation had been completed.”

That is: they thought a Muslim organisation waiting for a police investigation before commenting on a teenager being shot to death raised concerns of reprisal attacks. From whom?

Notice how such reporting legitimises as reasonable such “reprisal attacks against the Muslim community” when Muslim organisations are treacherous enough to wait for evidence before expressing opinions on legal matters.

Clearly they have not yet gotten aboard team Australia with their medieval beliefs in quaint and outdated doctrines like the rule of law and empirical evidence.

As for columnists, Paul Sheehan has returned to his usual style. On Thursday, he wrote that “most of the hatred, thuggery and racism at Cronulla in December, 2005, came from Muslims.”

On Monday, his argument for worrying about Muslims was based on arithmetic: “The Muslim world has about 1.5 billion adherents. If just one hundredth of one per cent interpret the Koran as a command to perform unforgiving jihad, then 150,000 people will engage in violent war. That is what we are seeing. One per cent of one per cent. It is a statistic we must not forget.”

Moving on to other Australian deep thinkers, we find Miranda Devine. In September, she came up with the remarkable insight that “Every day another Labor or Greens MP comes out with another kooky pronouncement downplaying the barbarity of Islamic State and pretending that if we’re all just nice to each other, and stop worshipping God, then terrorism will disappear.” I’m sure there’s a factual basis for her claim that they think we should stop worshipping God to abolish the threat of terrorism.

In August, Devine warned that we should not be “intimidated into ignoring the contradictions and extreme violence at the foundation of Islam.” The “extreme violence at the foundation of Islam”. Clearly, the problem is Islam – yet unlike Lambie's, this claim has passed by largely unnoticed.

On another day, Devine also claimed “It is not mythical bigots but leftist troublemakers who try to divide Australians and sow distrust as they downplay the seriousness of the terror threat and imagine grand conspiracies.” Imagine the depravity of those dreaded leftist troublemakers who dare to sow distrust and divide Australians at a time like this.

At such times, we expect the usual sensitivity from Andrew Bolt, whose breach of the Racial Discrimination Act is probably the most famous such breach in the history of the law.

Bolt has preached three major principles in relation to the threat of Islamist terrorists, unconcerned by their apparent inconsistency. Firstly, that Islam is the root cause of such terrorism, with the related thesis that we should stop letting in Muslim immigrants. Secondly, that there are no root causes for terrorism, they’re simply the acts of depraved individuals, and anyone who claims there are root causes is behaving sinisterly, if not treacherously. Thirdly, that those who criticise Western foreign policy threaten to cause jihadi terrorism.

So one day, Bolt asserts that “one of the root causes of this extremism is Islam itself, preaching a hatred of nonbelievers and the legitimacy of killing to defend the faith.”

Another time, Bolt warned about “Mass immigration from the Middle East”, because a dozen Iraqis got into a fight. As is well known, white Australians would know better than to engage in such group violence.

On Thursday, Bolt decided to show his encyclopaedic knowledge of Islam, quoting the Qur’an thusly: “as the Koran puts it: ‘Slay the idolaters wherever you find them’ and ‘fight them until there is no more fitnah (disbelief) and worship is for Allah alone.’”

Strangely, for Muslim leaders “the root cause of Islamic terrorism is never Islam and always the West”. Yet when the Grand Mufti of Australia condemned ISIS, Bolt complained that he didn’t do so in the right languages. We may presume that the point made by Bolt previously still stands: “The time is fast approaching – or here already – when we must conclude it is futile to keep urging Muslim leaders to make a stand against jihadism. The truth may well be that that Islam – or these leaders’ constituents – give them no freedom to condemn what threatens the rest of us.”

That is, Islam is the cause of terrorism – if the problem isn’t the Muslim population (“constituents”) itself. Which presumably means that about 500,000 Muslims who presently live in Australia cannot be trusted, when their religion supposedly causes terrorism, and commands them to slaughter disbelievers. If Bolt were correct, it would be truly strange how few of them have bothered to attack non-Muslims in Australia.

Does Western foreign policy play any role at all in causing Islamist terrorism? In response to such claims, Bolt declared: “But shifting blame on to the police? On to Australia? The ICV has betrayed us, like too many Islamic leaders before.” Clearly, it would be foolish to trust these treacherous Muslim leaders. In early September, Bolt wrote: “Blaming the West for jihadist terrorism is deceitful. Criticising the West more than the terrorists is alarming. And the repeated warnings that we must change our policies in the Middle East or face more terrorism at home are deeply sinister.”

Sinister to suggest that the West should change its foreign policy in order to lessen the risk of Islamist terrorism? Even if we just consider the explicit threat made by ISIS to Australians, it reads: “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be.”

Clearly, ISIS doesn’t like disbelievers, and hates French people. But any literate person can see that they are targeting those waging war against them. One can and should support the successful crushing of ISIS, but that does not mean that the West should be responsible for doing so. Given the barbaric record of ISIS, it should not be a surprise that they would seek to resist those who attack them using whatever means they have available.

Next, we get to the really incoherent part of Bolt’s case. On Q&A on Monday, one of the panellists was Randa Abdel-Fattah, who spoke terrifically on the various issues under consideration, urging us to pay attention to the role of Western foreign policy in relation to the threat from Islamist terrorists.

Bolt responded:

Muslim extremists watching would feel more justified than ever in their rage at the alleged crimes Australia and Israel commit against Muslims. They would feel that Australia must change to accommodate them … or else.
The ABC is out of control. And this kind of stuff actually puts us in more danger.

Now try to think about this logically. Either Muslims are angry about Western foreign policy, or they aren’t. If the cause of terrorism is Islam, why would Muslim extremists care if a Muslim went on ABC and criticised Western foreign policy? And if Western foreign policy does anger Muslims, would ISIS really be oblivious to criticisms of that policy until a Muslim made those criticisms on Australian television?

Nevertheless, Bolt was incandescent. Forgetting that Western foreign policy has no connection to Islamist terrorism, he wrote: “How can the ABC board possibly justify this? This is not just biased, but dangerously inflammatory… these incitements to dangerous and ill-founded hatreds, resentments and paranoia”.

He further observed that “peddling inflammatory conspiracy theories favoured by jihadists, is actually putting lives at risk”. Er, I thought the jihadis hated us for our freedom? Or because of Islam. Are jihadis concerned about things like Western foreign policy and how Muslims are treated here?

He later made this into a column, concluding “every jihadist would have thought their anger at this wicked country was righteous. What is the ABC up to? This is no time to vilify Australia. People could die.”

That’s right. Criticising Australian foreign policy could result in dead Australians, so we shouldn’t criticise Australian foreign policy. Which – we should be reminded, is not the root cause of jihadi terrorism, except when Muslims publicly criticise our foreign policy, which could cause jihadi terrorism.

Amazingly, there are Coalition MPs who agree with Bolt. Alex Hawke expressed outrage at the views expressed on Q&A, with the support of that famous advocate for freedom of speech – including for bigots – George Brandis.

Hawke wanted more “balanced” views from the Muslim community. Meanwhile, Craig Kelly claimed that the critical comments made by the two Muslim women on Q&A about the counter-terrorism raids would “encourage the radicalisation of young people”, and be welcomed by a “terrorist recruiter”.

I think all Australians should watch Randa Abdel-Fattah’s outstanding performance on Q&A and judge for themselves.

For those interested in listening to what Muslim leaders actually have to say, this statement was released by the Australian National Imams Council at the start of September. It observes that:

one of the main causative factors for local radicalisation in the west has been the western governments' military involvement in the Middle East. The support of unjust, dictatorial regimes as well as unilateral military aggression based on duplicitous foreign policy positions has only aggravated the state of global fear and violence.

If the Australian government is serious about reducing the terror threat locally, then it must review its foreign policy decisions with regard to this region.

Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East should find this statement unsurprising – even banal. One suspects even Andrew Bolt secretly understands this statement.

For those Australians who are genuinely concerned about the threat of terrorism, it may be worth considering seriously whether or not our foreign policy is as unjust as described. As crazy and sinister as it might sound to some, now might be a good time for Australian foreign policy to start embracing such exotic concepts as human rights.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.