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The Threat from Islamic Extremism

by Des Moore

November 2, 2010

The implications for Australia of the latest terrorist attempt by Islamic extremists in Yemen has received surprisingly little attention in our media (apart from The Australian) despite evidence that some Australians have close connections with Yemen and travel there supposedly to undertake “religious studies” and the decision by ASIO to cancel the passport of an Australian woman who was living in Yemen. This is all the more surprising given that, in an article in today’s Australian newspaper by Sally Neighbour, Attorney General McClelland is reported as acknowledging that Australia “has been very slow to get involved” in counter-terrorist activity.

Coincidentally, however, the current edition of Quadrant has published an article under my authorship on “The Threat from Islamic Extremism”. Available here is a slightly longer version that includes 20 footnotes. 

The article argues there are two major implications for policy that flow from this extremism:

First, by contrast with the history of wars between countries, the Western world now also faces a new major threat to life from groups or individuals who have extremist beliefs. Second, the world has moved into a new environment in which sections of Islam are seeking to overthrow Western dominance by, if necessary, violent action.

A major focus of the article is on the threat from home-grown terrorism and the marked reluctance of governments  and other community leaders to publicly identify that the basic underlying problem derives from Islamic extremism. While President Obama, for instance, has acknowledged that “we are at war with al Qaeda”, he has also stated that “America is not and never will be at war with Islam”.  Leaders of many other governments are similarly reluctant to publicly criticise extremist individuals or organisations as being in the Islamic extremist category.

I argue in the article that the response needs to extend beyond military or police action, important as that is. It is also vital that a much more active cultural  policy is developed that emphasises the virtues of our own culture and denigrates activity that runs counter to that. Our culture is under serious threat and we need to reject any suggestion that freedom of religion allows preachers to be free to endorse or advocate violent action.

This response needs to be led by governments  but should also be taken up by other major organisations.

Various courses of actions are suggested. These include the creation of a position of Minister for Security or Counter-Terrorism (whose job would include commentary on extremist views and actions)  , a major upgrading of the checking of applicant   immigrants ( including refugees) and the establishment of a system that allows deportation of extremists.

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