Features Australia

Grounding jihadists

Our approach to de-radicalising would-be terrorists is worthy of Monty Python

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

‘JIHADIS GROUNDED’ the headline said, ‘Gang of five would-be terrorists stopped at Sydney Airport.’ I’m sure I wasn’t the only Tele reader to enthusiastically keep reading in the hope of a blow-by-blow account of how these five death cult members were intercepted at gunpoint by heavily armed tactical officers, questioned by ASIO agents, charged with multiple serious offences, and denied bail with a first court mention date set down for some time in the next fortnight.

Instead, we got a Pythonesque parody of contemporary counter-terrorism. The five young Sydney men had ‘triggered an alert’ as they tried to board a flight for, not Iraq or Syria, but Malaysia. They had been ‘red flagged’ with the ‘new counterterrorism units called to intercept them.’ About $10,000 cash was found on each of them and – in what reads like pure cut-and-paste from an incompetent departmental media release – ‘they were prevented from flying. At least some of the men were known to government authorities.’ A job well done by our security and border protection apparatus! Except that it wasn’t.


The elite warriors of our ‘new counterterrorism units’ arrested precisely none of the ‘would-be IS terrorists.’ But surely, you will say, such swift and decisive action will deter others from joining that dastardly group. And isn’t that the point? Well, not quite. Two of the five men tried to leave again the very next day. ‘Authorities,’ we are told, are upset and ‘alarmed’ by these and other ‘young radicalised men’ that, ‘despite repeated warnings…are still attempting to join the Islamic State terrorist army in the Middle East.’

This tells us everything we need to know about our government’s approach; the misplaced paternalism of its response to terrorism, and why we shouldn’t be forcing terrorists to stay, but rather encouraging them to leave. The way to destroy IS, Western wisdom tells us, is to cut off their recruiting pipelines by de-radicalising young men. Of course, most officials avoid specifying exactly which kind of young radicals need this treatment but let’s just say their efforts are more likely to be concentrated around mosques in Lakemba than Baptist Tabernacles in Toowoomba. And what excites the politicians the most is that the religious communities themselves are onside and taking the lead in the fight against extremism. By that, the government means that it has not the slightest idea what de-radicalisation looks like, so perhaps it’s best to simply throw some cash at rent-seeking ‘moderate’ Islamic groups and hope for the best. Of course, some of these groups will be well intentioned but given the horror and sadness we frequently see from Australian Muslim mums of Isis fighters and jihadi brides, I’m not convinced that the Muslim community knows what to do either. If we are serious about destroying Isis, then we need to concentrate on destroying them with soldiers, guns, planes, and bombs.

But even a proper military strategy will require a rethink of the group’s philosophy and theology. Counter-terrorism chiefs are scratching their heads wondering why radical, extremist, religious zealots who hate the West are not listening to government warnings. But to beat the enemy, you need to understand the enemy, and to understand a religiously motivated enemy, understanding their religion must surely be the first step. The very existence of ‘repeated warnings’ and government-funded after school basketball programs shows that we have a long way to go.

Even if the ‘gang of five would-be IS terrorists’ did make it to Iraq or Syria or wherever it is that we are not sure they were going, the five untrained Aussies would make no difference to Isis’s military capability. However, let loose in Sydney – as they have been – and even more determined and angry – as they no doubt are – they could do real damage here. If someone’s that keen to join the evil carnival of throwing gays off buildings, beheading Christians, immolating Arabs, and raping Yazidi women, why do we want them here again? The government warns that if you go and fight with Isis your freedoms will be curtailed. No doubt that is true, but perhaps if our government was really concerned about freedoms – and national security – it wouldn’t stop adults – who have not been charged with anything let alone convicted – flying to Malaysia!

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