Dr Hussein Tahiri and Dr Gaetano Ilardi
Counter Terrorism Unit
P.O. Box 415
MELBOURNE VIC 3005
Dear Dr Tahiri and Dr Ilardi
I write on behalf of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), the peak body of Victorian Jewry, regarding Victoria Police's ‘Lexicon of Terror' project. You already are acquainted with our correspondence on this issue with then Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon (6 November 2008 and 23 December 2008) and with Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana (20 July 2009). You also conducted an interview with JCCV executive director Geoffrey Zygier on 12 June 2009. I thank you for the opportunity to provide further material.
The tragic reality of modern life is that almost no day passes without a terrorist attack somewhere in the world. Recent terrorist events, particularly last month's bombings of Jakarta hotels which killed Australians as well as persons of other nationalities, and last week's allegations of a plot to attack the Holsworthy Army Base, bring danger closer to home and make the need for action even more pressing.
The JCCV is far from alone in regarding contemporary terrorism as the greatest immediate danger facing the Western world and its values today. While some are reluctant to say so - and Muslim theology and the directives of its religious leaders are sometimes contradictory - it is an inescapable fact that this terrorism is almost entirely carried out by persons purporting to act in the name of Islam.
That the Australian Government recognises this is apparent. To take one proof, as of May 2009 it had proscribed seventeen terrorist organisations. All except one are Islamist in nature (and even the secular exception, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), has utilised Sunni Islamic beliefs to mobilise support).
As part of a strategy to combat extremism, Victoria Police with the support of the Federal Government, has undertaken this project looking at the ‘Lexicon of Terror'. While this project is still in progress, comments made by Assistant Commissioner Fontana and Australia's Attorney General Robert McClelland, suggest that the ‘Lexicon of Terror' project will likely recommend that the language around terror be sanitised, avoiding all possible reference to Muslims in the belief that this will reduce their alienation and hence their radicalisation.
In the JCCV's opinion - and that of many learned experts on terror - this would be an ill-considered and likely counter-productive outcome. There is widespread disagreement on what makes a terrorist. Mooted causes include indoctrination, alienation, poverty, anger at the West for its military action against Islamic countries, hatred of the West for its values, doctrinal differences, individual pathology, personal tragedy and
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more. For every theory there are both exceptions to the rule and countering views, hence making both proactive and reactive approaches all the more difficult.
However one fact almost always emerges from the uncertainty about what motivates terrorist behaviour. Whatever the true reason may be, it is invariably couched in theological language, at its simplest "I commit this act because it is Allah's will".
Western governments and other institutions cannot counter this belief, certainly not in Islamic countries, nor in the West where faith-based schools and home teaching can facilitate hatred of the host society.
Only Muslims themselves with the requisite will and inclination can turn the tide in the war against terror. However they can not and will not do so if they do not acknowledge that they have this power. And a ‘Lexicon of Terror' that infantilises and absolves Muslims of responsibility by creating a generic, overly careful and politically correct language will doom us all to failure.
The various elements that constitute the terrorist movement proudly proclaim Islamism as their motivator. If Government, its institutions, the media and other moulders of opinion, and most importantly, the mainstream Muslim community do not take them at their word and clearly state that a particular interpretation of Islam lies at the root of terror (and that there are alternatives), then it will be impossible to move followers of Islam to a more moderate view of the world.
The Victorian Jewish community believes that the real clash in today's world is not between civilisations as some contend, but within each civilisation or religion, a clash between the forces of extremism and those of moderation and acceptance of diversity. We must give the moderates the tools to fight the former. While this means clearly recognising that moderate and mainstream Muslims are both in the majority and are allies of democrats in this war, this must be done without denying the motivation and actions of the minority who give Islam and Muslims a bad name. In short, the application of a form of censorship to the way in which terrorist acts are reported or referred, so that the underlying motivation for such acts is in effect denied, will not achieve the desired outcomes. It is far more important that we all work together to empower the moderate Muslim community to speak out against the perpetrators of these acts.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Please note that I would be very pleased to discuss this with you in person; feel free to contact me via the JCCV office if you wish to do so. Finally I have attached for your information a recent article, ‘Muslims must tackle theology of hate' by Professor Abdullah Saeed (The Australian, 7 August 2009) which both eloquently states the case for the Muslim majority assuming responsibility for its own situation and nominates practical ways to do so.
Jewish Community Council of Victoria