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Federal police escorted a Melbourne man off a Tiger flight yesterday, not because he was armed, not because he triggered a security concern, not because he had some affiliation with a known suspect organisation, not because he’d been under surveillance, but because his doodles included words about terrorism.
This is what fearmongery is turning us in to.
On Thursday, 800 police raided 25 homes in Sydney and Brisbane (that’s 24 officers per building) – fortunately there was a lot of spectacle and movement, including helicopters, search lights and shouting, for the omnipresent media, who did their part with a lot of largely uncritical coverage.
The impetus for the raid was apparently a tapped phone conversation that has been construed as an intention to behead a random victim in a public place, and in no way coordinated with Prime Minister Abbott’s photo op sending Australian armed forces back to the Middle East, or a bill to extend the ‘sunset’ clause of Howard-era anti-terrorism legislation due to apply next year, used last week for the first time in nine years. Nope, just coincidental timing.
It’s unfortunate, then, that while a number of people were detained and released without charge, so far only two men have been charged, and one of those with illegal possession of ammunition. Of course, Dr Mohamed Haneef was also charged…
It may well be that some or all of these men were indeed going to behead someone, to fan an atmosphere of terror.
After all, the definition of terrorism is

1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.


And what does it mean to terrorize?

1. to coerce or control by violence, fear, threats, etc
2. to inspire with dread; terrify


Terrorism is a real thing – it’s been used for millennia to cow populations. One of the most infamous examples is The Troubles, the three decades of sectarian violence in and about Northern Ireland that included a series of IRA terrorist attacks in London during the early 1970’s – a time I don’t remember, but when my parents and I lived there. My father’s office was in the city, and he quickly got used to bomb warnings. He tells me that, after the first alarm (not an experience a boy from Brisbane was used to) they worked around it, often not even downing tools.
My father’s response is not atypical of those in the UK, – after the July 7 bombings on 2005, there was a determined attitude of unity and perseverance with everyday life; in terms of attitude and behavioural change, the effect on everyday Londoners not directly affected by the bombs (which was almost all of them) lasted less than a fortnight.
America’s response to the biggest terrorist attack in their history was more in line with the perpetrators’ intent, in that coverage blanketed the news for weeks and, over a decade on, it’s still an emotive, divisive, distressing topic for many. But it didn’t see a de-escalation in US intervention in the Middle East, or a change in Western behaviour.
What’s my point?
While there have been plots for terrorism on Australian soil (including the Sydney Five, the Benbrika group, and the Holsworthy Barracks plotters), the last act of terrorism here was by Peter James Knight in 2001. What we’re doing works.
And yet, from the media and the attitude of our politicians, you could be forgiven for thinking that terrorists lurk around every corner, that our lives and liberty under constant threat.
People who are afraid lash out, and Australia’s been subject to the better part of a decade of orchestrated, ramping fear that plays on underlying xenophobia. We’ve seen it with every wave of immigration – from China during the Gold Rush, from Greece and Italy after the Second World War, from Vietnam in the 1970’s . And the concerns are always around difference, lack of assimilation, and changing our culture, as though what Australia is, is static.
Every other group of migrants has made us richer – cuisine, in the first instance, but also music, literature, perspective, diversity, culture, fashion, talent. Why do we think this will be different, instead of learning from the blind, misplaced prejudice of our past?
Resist the hysteria, focus on facts, reason, what’s actually happening.
Look back up at those definitions of terrorism.
And ask yourselves – in whose interest is an atmosphere of anxiety, fear and dissent? Who benefits from our focus being on defence, war, and restriction of expression and rights?
Here’s a hint – it’s not the man or woman in the street.