Monday, August 03, 2015

OPINION: Why should Muslims speak about terrorism?



It’s a common refrain. Muslims in Australia rarely have anything useful to say about terrorism. Each time the Federal Government decides it wants to add yet another layer to the already bulging layers of terrorism law, Muslims (with a few notable exceptions) seem almost disinterested or incapable of making a sensible contribution beyond boycotting meetings with the PM or complaining about racism. It’s as if they cannot address the changing law itself.
Then again, few other Australians, including our political leaders, have much sensible to say. Perhaps the only sensible thing our Prime Minister has said on the subject was soon after the Martin Place Siege in which three persons (including the gunman) lost their lives.
Andrew Lynch, Nicola McGarrity and George Williams, in their recently published Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials, state that 
... we should be wary of letting those who wish us harm determine how we live as members of a free and democratic society. Abbott acknowledged the limits upon security in a liberal society when he said, in the aftermath of the Sydney siege, that even if Monis had been on agency watchlists and monitored 24 hours a day ‘it’s quite likely, certainly possible, that this incident could have taken place, because the level of control that would have been necessary to prevent people from going about their daily life, would be very, very high indeed..
This makes far more sense than hysterical references to the “Death Cult” or insulting remarks that Muslims need to say their faith is one of peace as if they really mean it. It also underscores just how important the efforts of ordinary Muslims are when they report suspicious persons and activities to their authorities, and when their testimony is crucial to the small number of successful terrorism convictions.
You can’t eliminate risk by throwing legislation at it. The law cannot solve everything. The above mentioned authors note: 
By the end of 2014, 64 separate pieces of anti-terrorism legislation had become law. 
These additional laws and the current raft of citizenship stripping laws would have been unlikely to stop Man Monis from murdering two innocent Australians.
The growing complexity of anti-terror law is such that the average Islamic society or council or federation committee would have little hope of understanding how it all fits together. We can’t expect religious bodies to have much useful to say on terrorism law reform. At best they can (and should) defer this to experts within their communities – lawyers, public policy experts and lobbyists.
And that assumes they all have the same approach to this issue. National security is tied up with other areas of government policy, including foreign policy. It is naïve to imagine that all Muslims in Australia have the same views on, say, the Syrian or Iraqi conflict. Opinions on the Syrian government have been divided within Lebanese Muslim circles since before the Lebanese civil war started in the 1970’s. For many in downtown Punchbowl and Preston, Hezbollah is the enemy when they were once heroes.
Sectarian divisions have turned political. How are these divisions to be managed? How much dialogue is there between Sunni and Shia? Has this translated into a common approach to addressing the issues raised by proposed laws?
Absolute unity isn’t what’s required. We don’t stop celebrating Eid just because we cannot agree on which day to celebrate it on. We shouldn’t have a base approach to civil liberties, democracy, citizenship, national security and foreign fighters just because some of us despise Assad more than others. Even if Muslim bodies don’t feel comfortable talking to the media or the politicians about terrorism, they can still talk to each other and to their members about the issue. And if they then decide to contact their local MP or even a Minister, they can at least honestly say that they have consulted with community members.
First published in the Australasian Muslim Times on 31 July 2015.

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