We need to talk about radicalisation

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Tony Abbott, the "death cult" man (Image via theshovel.com.au)

PM Tony Abbott blames the Muslim community for not doing enough to curb radicalisation, but until the West confronts its role in the process nothing will change, writes Tim Robertson.

POLITICALSPEAK has brought an early demise to many a good word and valued phrase, but the decade long onslaught against "radicals" should give us particular pause for mourning.

It was once a badge of honour to be labeled a radical. Something for those on the Left to aspire to, a label one hoped to be worthy of, but never feeling entirely comfortable about claiming it for oneself for fear of being accused of vanity.

It’s a word steeped in history. It evokes the great achievements of the Romantic period – the poetry of Lord Byron and Wordsworth or the art of Delacroix – when artists pushed back against rationalism of the Enlightenment and the rationalisation of nature.  

But Prime Minister Abbott and other Western leaders have enlisted the word in their "fight against terrorism" (along with "death-cult", which is having vomit-inducing consequences for those of us who like to turn the prime minister’s press conferences into drinking games).

But all this talk of tackling "radicalisation" is white noise. Western governments have long known the best ways to prevent young Muslims joining organisations like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda — they have just chosen not to apply them. 

It may be too late to rewrite the wrongs of the disaster that was and continues to be the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but Western governments would be well served to stop meddling in the affairs of Middle Eastern nations.

That means bringing an end to flying drones and running extra-judicial assassination campaigns in other sovereign nations. If anyone still doubts that these drones are being used as weapons of terror – a violation of international law, by the way – then one should look at how the French Government reacted when they spotted a few commercially available drones in the skies above Paris. They raised their terror alert, arrested those suspected of flying them and announced they were developing new technologies to protect themselves from future drone attacks. Viva la france!

But the drones flown by the United States are infinitely more destructive and their bombs have a habit of falling on wedding parties mistakenly identified as terrorist gatherings. Although the data is variable – in part because the U.S. classifies all adult males as enemy combatants – the British human rights group, Reprieve, calculates that for every terrorist killed, 28 innocent people are murdered.

In Pakistan, an American ally, people have repeatedly taken to the streets to protest these drone strikes. That people, with the constant buzz of drones overhead, feel threatened is entirely rational and understandable. It’s a unique kind of helplessness and it is unarguable that people turn to terrorism as a means of empowerment. One doesn’t have to agree with this to understand that people who’ve had innocent friends or family killed by American drones, or who’ve lived under the never-ending threat of attack, would want to take the fight to those subjecting them to this terror.

Although the data is again variable – not to mention that access to it is reliant on the benevolence of the U.S. Government – there’s strong evidence to suggest that these drone strikes, rather than eradicating terrorist cells, drive many more people into their arms.

As David Rohde explained in a 2013 Reuters piece:

'An amorphous and endless American “war on terror” plays into our enemy’s conspiracy theories. Washington wantonly kills innocent Muslims across the globe, jihadists argue. Carrying our secret drone strikes worldwide with no explanation bolsters their claim.'

Then there’s the West’s continued support of Israel, which is only too happy to present its various conflicts in the region as religious wars. This alliance means that whatever they do, the U.S. (and, by extension, the West more broadly) will never have any credibility with majority Muslim countries when they claim that they hope and want to bring peace to the region.

How can such claims be taken seriously when Israel continues to run an apartheid state and periodically wages war against its Muslim population? The most recent Israeli offensive last year killed around 2,200 Gazans, 513 of whom were children. And the weapons that inflicted this destruction were paid for and supplied by the United States.

And it’s another American ally, Saudi Arabia, the most fundamentalist absolute monarchy in the world, that’s done the most to ensure its brand of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism, has spread throughout the globe. It’s a doctrine very similar to that espoused by the Islamic State.

The House of Saud has long played a dangerous game of encouraging Sunni-led jihadism outside its borders, while prosecuting suspected terrorist mercilessly within the kingdom.

Wahhabism holds that Shia Muslims are apostates and has shown a willingness to exacerbate sectarian divisions within the region. This is one of the bedrocks of the Islamic State’s ideology; countless Shia have been forced to convert, flee or have been murdered en masse. Once cosmopolitan cities of Iraq and Syria are now divided on sectarian lines.

Most Muslims look upon Saudi Arabia as the most backward, tyrannical and puritanical regime in the region. Those living in the Middle East who support the rule of law, democratic reforms, the separation of Church and State and racial and sectarian equality certainly don’t look to emulate Saudi Arabia.

Yet this is regime the United States is most chummy with. So, on the one hand, the U.S. criticises the fanatical ideology of the Islamic State, but supports it when practiced in the kingdom. The U.S. criticises, persecutes and bombs individuals who offer support to the Islamic State, but turns a blind eye when Saudi Arabia does it.

The hypocrisy of the West and the lack of consistency in their message makes any effort to curb "radicalisation"’ futile. Tony Abbott’s attempt to pin the blame on Muslim leaders – he’s not even dogwhistling anymore – may have the rightwing pundits of the Murdochcracy nodding in agreement, but it does nothing to address the fundamental reasons why seemingly normal Muslim men and women are attracted to the vile, murderous ideology of the Islamic State.  

Tony Abbott, by marginalising a part of the community that already feels unfairly targeted, will only perpetuate the very cycle of "radicalisation" upon which he’s so fond of declaring war.

Tim Robertson is an independent journalist and writer. You can follow him on twitter @timrobertson12.

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