Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 | 17:41 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 | 17:41 | SYDNEY

The Interpreter's best of 2015: ISIS, terrorism and democracy


30 December 2015 08:00

Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2015. More to come between now and January 4 when The Interpreter will be back for 2016.

How should a democracy fight terrorism?, by Anthony Bubalo, 27 January.

On the one hand, the proponents of liberty will focus on the rights and the freedoms they argue are being undermined in the fight against terrorism. Too often, however, this group will tend to minimize or downplay the threat. Terrorism, they say, is hyped; more people, they argue, will die falling off ladders than will die at the hands of terrorists.

On the other hand, the proponents of security will argue for significant new resources and powers for the agencies fighting terrorism and new limits placed on those parts of the community from which the threat is seen to come. But too few in this camp ask whether, in taking these measures, we are doing more damage to our society and principles than the terrorists are.

I would like to see a debate in which the proponents of liberty acknowledge the threat, understand that it provokes genuine fear in much of our society (even if more people die falling off ladders or in car accidents) and then ask themselves which of our liberties we should compromise for the sake of security. As the Charlie Hebdo case underlined, we don't even seem to be clear about the liberties we are defending.

I would like to see a debate where the proponents of security recognise that the threat to our societies comes not just from terrorism but from the way in which we fight terrorism, and that we should be prepared to accept certain levels of risks for the sake of preserving our rights and principles.

What to do with a returning jihadi, by Rodger Shanhan, 20 May.

A fundamental precept of the international system is that the state retains a monopoly on the use of force, and anyone who seeks to circumvent that principle through joining or supporting violent non-state actors should expect the state to punish them for doing so. People who seek to return may be disillusioned, misguided or naïve but we are not talking about returning tax evaders or vulnerable people who were duped into being drug mules. We are talking about people who support the violent imposition of religious rule and who believe that God not only condones violence but in some instances is pleased by it. The concept is abhorrent and people must be held responsible for their actions.

This article in The Australian advocates a 'triage' system to separate hard-core fighters from the merely disillusioned. But such a triage system already exists insofar as the court is able to exercise discretion in the punishment it imposes on people convicted of supporting the jihadist cause. Those more peripheral are given appropriately lighter punishments, but they are punished nevertheless. 

That does not mean such people shouldn't be part of any CVE program – indeed the opposite is true. There will always be a suspicion that someone who negotiates a return to Australia and is willing to take part in CVE program has only done so to avoid punishment or have it reduced. Someone who is serving a prison term but who still wants to dissuade people from becoming jihadis is more likely to be motivated by a genuine desire to stop others from repeating their mistakes, while the targets of their message will be able to see that there is a cost to going down the extremist path.

Stripping citizenship: Information gaps and unforseen consequences, by David Wells, 16 July.

However, the legislation states that the individuals who engage in terrorism-related conduct 'automatically' lose their Australian citizenship. If this is the case, when do the intelligence agencies inform the minister that they have detected such conduct? Do you 'double-dip' if the court doesn't deliver the desired result? Alternatively, why bother with the criminal justice system at all? Surely it's common sense to go straight to the minister if you have reliable intelligence indicating that your target has met the requirement for automatically losing their citizenship? 

How this process works will evolve as internal policy is developed. And in doing so, the intelligence agencies may develop an appetite to use the powers against the full range of permitted targets, not just those highlighted by government rhetoric.

Used sparingly against the most serious targets and threats, preferably post-conviction, citizenship-stripping of dual nationals could deliver operational outcomes and free up resources to focus on emerging threats. But it's vital that these short-term benefits are explained and weighed against the potential long-term impact of widespread use of these powers. What effect will they have on community cohesion or counter-radicalisation efforts? How do we ensure that Australia doesn't 'pass the buck' onto countries less able to cope with the extremist threat?

The debate so far has focused on whether citizenship-stripping is an appropriate punishment for those committing the most extreme terrorist offences. But this does not appear to be the intent behind the legislation, or the only consequence of applying these powers. With limited time for scrutiny and uncertainty over when the powers will be used, it is surely too soon to make them law.

ISIS's war inside the West, by Hussain Nadim, 21 July.

It's not the end goal of ISIS to simply invite foreign fighters to join the war in Syria and Iraq to create an Islamic Caliphate. The grand goal is much more calculated and inspired by Syed Qutb's ideology of the 'near' and 'far' enemy – the notion that it's not only the West (far) that is an enemy but also the Muslims (near) who have adopted Western lifestyles and ideology. These should be the first to be guided in the right direction.

The major purpose of radicalising young Muslims in the West is to inspire attacks on Western soil. But the real target is not Western society or its people. Attacks in Western cities may on the surface appear to be targeted against Western culture and ideology, but in reality these attacks are directed at the Muslim communities living in the Western world. ISIS understands that such attacks will spur a backlash against Muslims, thus alienating and isolating them in Western societies. If Muslims living in the West are alienated by both Western governments and their people, radical anti-Western discourse will start making sense to them.

The ultimate goal of Islamist radicals has been to unify the Muslim world against a common enemy (the West). This goal is at the core of ISIS's strategy, which is camouflaged under the rhetoric of ruling Iraq and Syria, something ISIS knows it can't manage for more than a few months. 

Western governments must realise that the real conflict ISIS wants to trigger is inside major Western cities through lone terrorist attacks and social tension between Muslim and other communities such as those we saw in Melbourne and Sydney last weekend. Understanding this strategy is essential to ensuring that Western governments do not end up alienating and thus radicalising Muslims communities.

Photo by Cole Bennetts/Getty Images

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