An edited version of this article appears in The New Daily, here.
If we want to defeat extremism then we need to play a very careful and long game. We must not inadvertently play into the hands of extremists by giving them false credibility for fighting a supposed holy cause.
Has Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt fallen into the extremist’s trap in his column in this paper a few days ago?
Bolt has called for the denial about Islam to end (see here). He criticises the authorities for down playing Sydney hostage murderer Haron Monis’ religion.
Andrew Bolt may be tactically right but he is strategically wrong. Inadvertently he may be playing into the hands of the Islamic extremists and unintentionally becoming an agent for the extremists horrible, murderous objectives.
One of the most dangerous changes in radical causes recently has been IS’ calls for small scale, lone wolf operations. Lone wolf attacks are hard to detect, hard to predict and hard to prevent. Lone wolf operators gain their motivation publicly and plan in private.
This is what makes them so dangerous.
In the 2 ½ years I spent working for the UN in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran I gained a detailed insight into the cultures of those countries and a finer understanding of the thinking of both radical Islam and moderate Islam.
I gained a greater understanding of what motivates the minority of extremists to do atrocious acts like the killing of over 100 innocent school children in Peshawar Pakistan this week.
Lone wolves get their inspiration from the media repeating the calls of IS and gain their motivation by copy-catting other lone wolf attacks. They gain their motivation from notoriety and by falsely claiming they fight for a cause. Lone wolf murderers justify their actions to themselves by repeating the false rhetoric they read.
The more times the media report attacks by lone wolves and linking them to Islam, the more we encourage copy-cats to do the same thing. Reduce their notoriety and you reduce their motivation.
Let’s also not fall into the trap of believing that these murderers represent a religion. They do not. Call them for what they are – murderers and not fighters for a belief. Do not give them perceived legitimacy by attaching them to a false cause.
Like a paedophile priest may claim he is a Christian, his action show that he is not. Just because a disgusting criminal abuses children and is protected by his church’s institutions doesn’t mean his religion is to blame.
Likewise a suicide murderer (for the life of me I don’t know why we call them suicide bombers) may say he or she is a Muslim, but his or her actions show that they are not.
A duck can say it is a chicken as much as it likes, but it will not become a chicken.
Additionally, let’s think of the long-term objective of the extremists. Their objective is to attack all moderates – Christians, Jews and Muslims. So consider who should be the ‘us’ and who should be the ‘them’ if a larger culture clash were to eventuate.
Surely it is better that the ‘us’ is the moderate of what ever faith against the extremist of what ever faith, not ‘us’ all Christians against ‘them’ all Muslims?
Moderate Islam has more in common with moderate Christianity than it does with radical Islam. Both religions follow the same God.
“Allah” is nota different God. ‘Allah’ is merely the Arabic translation for ‘God’. The Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad clearly state that ‘their’ God is the God of Abraham – ie the same God ad Chrsitains and Jews.
The teachings of Moses, the Ten Commandments, the teachings of Jesus (who the Muslims venerate as the second most important prophet in Islam behind only Mohammed) and the Gospels, are all religious texts and teachings respected by Islam.
So shouldn’t we partner with moderate Islam to fight the radical scourge?
The Sydney murders raise many questions that are legitimate to ask, like how did this man get a gun, or why he was out on bail? Bolt is right to ask these questions.
People may even be right, at other times, to raise the issue of the false teachings of radical Islam – but not when doing so increases the notoriety of a murderer and inadvertently encourages others to follow the same path.
This now becomes difficult for the media and perhaps we have to recognise that at times it is right for the media to not report all the facts. This is a difficult line to pursue, but in a PR battle it is the media that are the foot soldiers.
When reporting violence we should leave religion out of it. We should call the murderers for what they are – butcherous, depraved and sick human beings.
If we report the religion then we are in danger of giving them increased credibility and motivate other’s to follow suit.
Melbourne based Andrew MacLeod is a former high level official at the United Nations and non resident Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the globe’s leading think tank on international affairs in Washington DC (see here). He is Managing Director of Good Super in Australia.