Struggling with the I-word


2013-04-24 04.49.50 amNICK CATER

The Australian, 22 December, 2014


SEVEN and a half hours after the shahada flag was pressed against the window of the Lindt cafe, ABC radio’s PM team was still struggling with the I-word. Presenter David Mark managed to get through the entire show without uttering the words Islam, Islamism or Islamist. PM’sman on the spot, Michael Edwards, didn’t mention it either in his report.

Justin Hastings, who teaches terrorism and international security at the University of Sydney, chose not to broach the subject; his interviewer Emily Bourke didn’t see fit to prompt him. Peter Lloyd almost gave the game away as he filibustered his way through one of those interminable journo-talks-to-journo interviews by letting slip the phrase Islamic State.

Whether terrorism had anything to do with the Martin Place siege, however, was in Lloyd’s judgment merely “an interesting question”.

“Certainly no one’s waving swords around there … It does make it very interesting to know more about what the precise and clear motives of this person are because without that declaration of intent today we really can’t build a clear picture of what this is about.”

Less circumspect journalists arrived at a definitive answer to Lloyd’s “interesting question” somewhat earlier in the day. The Daily Telegraph had put two and two together by lunchtime when it splashed with “Death cult CBD attack” in a special edition. Naturally it offended the sensitivities of the twittering class, which served only to reinforce what a damn good headline it was.

In due course the death cultist in question was revealed as Man Haron Monis, whose Facebook page should have settled the issue for even for the most ardent cultural relativist. “I pledge allegiance to Allah and His Messenger … and the pledge of allegiance is with Allah, His Messenger and the Commander of the Faithful, the Caliph of Muslims,” Monis had written on November 17.

This was no overnight conversion. “It’s clear where his sympathies lie,” the ABC’s Rachael Kohn wrote in 2009, after Monis had written to journalists and politicians promoting glorious jihad against the West and celebrating the deaths of Australians in bushfires and in war.

Yet by Tuesday afternoon, a full 31 hours after the siege began and 15 hours after it ended, Monis’s sympathies were still not apparent to those behind the PMmicrophone. “His lawyer believes he was damaged, others that he was possibly mentally ill,” said Mark. “What are we to call this? Was this an act of terrorism or was this just the act of a disgruntled and bitter man, possibly with mental health issues?”

By describing Monis as a man with “issues” rather than a foaming, frenzied lunatic, Mark was clearly treading carefully. Not carefully enough, however, for the mental health sector, which by Thursday was up in arms. “The caricatures about this man as having a mental illness is actually having an impact upon people in our community,” Hunter Institute of Mental Health director Jaelea Skehan complained to PM’sLexi Metherell. “People are trying to demonise not only the person but many other people in the community through their use of language and the assumptions that are being made.”

Demonisation, and the avoidance thereof, has become a trap for young players in the political correctness caper. To avoid offending one minority group — Muslims, for example — we risk offending another; say, the mentally ill. Since the hierarchy of victimhood is such a fraught and complicated business we’re inclined to say nothing at all.

If only PM’sreporting had been honest from the start, by acknowledging the obvious link to radical Islam.

So what leads intelligent journalists and commentators to take this convoluted semantic path of jihad denialism in the first place? That is what Lloyd would call “an interesting question” and one that must be answered before they drive us all completely nuts, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Progressives are confronted by the extraordinary sense of entitlement that allows a man granted asylum in this country to turn on those who gave him shelter and murder them in pursuit of a demonic utopia.

They, too, must be concerned that this thoroughly evil man was able to lie and cheat his way into this country by falsely claiming persecution in Iran when he appears to have fled the country as a common criminal.

They too must be concerned about the insidious ideology that has driven scores of Australian citizens to wage jihad in Iraq and Syria and is fuelling hatred within our community.

Indeed, for those who believe in what David Goodhart describes as the “cruise liner” view of citizenship — in which people merely join together for the voyage instead of being bound by shared ties of culture, loyalty and tradition — this incident must be especially confronting. Why was Monis not content to play nicely in the multicultural garden, to avoid “inappropriate behaviour”, to delight us with his exotic customs, tempt us with his spicy cuisine and fulfil the ideal of the noble savage?

The death cult of radical Islamism is a repudiation of multicultural romanticism and the principles of liberty and the rule of law.

Fierce arguments over the correct response to the carnage in the Lindt cafe have served to exaggerate differences when we should be proclaiming the fundamental principles that unite a democratic, fair-minded people, regardless of race or heritage.