How Should We Respond To Paris?

by on 16 November, 2015

Yesterday’s attacks in Paris were horrific, but things will only get worse as the growth of Islamists in the West outstrips the capacity of intelligence agencies writes Jack Baker.

The scale of yesterday’s attacks in Paris showed a sophisticated level of planning and complexity. Eight men attacked six locations, leaving 129 people dead. The terrorists attacked with Kalashnikovs, grenades and suicide bombs. They took hostages and slaughtered civilians in front of each other. French President Hollande declared it “an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army”.

The problem of radical Islam is now too big for our intelligence agencies to handle. On 11 September 2001, the United States was caught off guard. This led to a significant growth in the size and remit of intelligence agencies across the Western world. The Bali bombings in 2002 killed 88 Australians and should have made us realise we weren’t immune from jihadism. The Madrid bombings in 2004 and the London bombings in 2005 hit Europe and demonstrated that locally-born Muslims were prepared to perpetrate mass murder on their own societies to further their religious and political beliefs.

Only the effectiveness of Australia’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to-date has prevented mass casualties on Australian soil. This was demonstrated through foiling terrorist attacks through Operation Pendennis in 2005 and 2006 and Operation Neath in 2009. But the problem has since grown exponentially. Deadly attacks on free speech and criticism of Islam are now standard fare. The Danish Muhammad cartoons resulted in hundreds of deaths around the world and the French Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoons resulted in the murder of defenceless writers and artists earlier this year.

The problem is going to get a lot worse, but this should be no surprise. The Australian Government’s 2010 Counter-Terrorism White Paper was unequivocal about the threat facing us. It stated that “the continuing resonance of the violent jihadist message within sections of Muslim communities in the Western world (including Australia) will lead to the creation and activity of new violent cells”.

The White Paper declared that “the scale of the problem will continue to depend on factors such as the size and make-up of local Muslim populations, including their ethnic and/or migrant origins, their geographical distribution and the success or otherwise of their integration into their host society”. Simply put, the more Muslims in our society, the greater the scale of the radical and violent Islamist problem.

In Australia, the Muslim population is over 2% and growing rapidly. In France, the Muslim population is 7.5% and we are seeing the results of this. Policy levels are the appropriate response to this, and never violence. Of course this is also where we pause to say that not all Muslims believe in propagating violence to promote their religion. But clearly plenty do. A 2007 Pew Research study found that 35% of Muslims in France believed suicide bombings are justified. 35% of young Muslims in Britain believe suicide bombings are justified. Does anyone seriously think we are immune?

In Australia, failures in intelligence resulted in Monis being analysed as falling “well outside the threshold to be included in the 400 highest priority counter-terrorism investigations”. This was despite the National Security Hotline receiving 18 calls about him the week before he took hostages in a café in Sydney in December 2014.This attack was perpetrated by a man without any military training or experience, and there were believed to be 400 higher priority investigations!

The problem is getting worse as the number of threats expands and foreign fighters return radicalised from war zones with military experience and with extensive radical networks. This increases their ability to commit a terrorist attack in their home country and the scale of such attacks. Just monitoring these individuals to assess whether or not they pose a threat requires significant intelligence resources. Placing one individual under physical surveillance can require 25 intelligence officials (Benhold 2015). Intelligence capabilities are finite, and resources must be prioritised to focus on what is considered the most pressing threat at the time.

Consider it this way. Australia is one of the biggest per capita contributors to foreign fighters in the Middle East. An estimated 300 people from Australia have now travelled to the Middle East to fight in Iraq and Syria. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has about 1,800 staff. Even if only a fraction of these foreign fighters return, how on earth are intelligence agencies meant to keep up with all these people who return home? The spooks can’t follow everyone. The government isn’t omniscient. It’s made up of fallible humans.

So what should the response be?

One, we stay true to our allies. We continue to believe in and fight for liberal democracy and freedom of speech. We continue to back France, the United States, Denmark, Israel and every other country which is subject to Islamist attacks. We continue to fight for our values. Part of this involves subjecting Islam to criticism and open discussion in a way that every other religion is.

Second, governments need to clearly acknowledging the role that Islam is playing in this. John Howard did this. He declared that “there is within some sections of the Islamic community an attitude towards women which is out of line with mainstream Australian society… there is really not much point in pretending it doesn’t exist”. Most government leaders now don’t have the strength of will to declare that parts of Islam are incompatible with our way of life. They know that making such statements will result in mass violence as segments of the Muslim population yet again take offence. But failing to do this has resulted in the problem festering.

Those who repeat ad nauseam that this has nothing to do with Islam are either lying or bereft of ideas on how to address this problem. Worse, they are so caught up in their own little worlds and way of thinking that they are unable to recognise that for these people, they are following their own view of Islam.

Whether or not you or I think this had something to do with Islam or not isn’t what’s relevant. It’s that those who perpetrated the attacks clearly believed that they were following the teachings of Islam, which they believe endorses violence. Whether or not we believe these attacks were supported by the Quran and Hadiths are irrelevant in this context because clearly, the terrorists believed they were. They are the ones who used their religious texts as justification for mass murder.

Thirdly, Muslim leaders need to speak out against all forms of Islamist-inspired violence every single time they occur. Yes it’s repetitive. But it’s needed. Hopefully they can dissuade others from following the parts of Quran which agitate for violence.

Fourthly, we should actually listen to the experts. If “the scale of the problem will continue to depend on factors such as the size and make-up of local Muslim populations, including their ethnic and/or migrant origins”, then adjust immigration accordingly! I commend Tony Abbott who declared this morning that there were persecuted minorities in Syria including Christians, Kurds, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Yazidis, and Jews, but that:

“what we want to do as a general matter of principle, is bring people to Australia who are prepared to join our team. That’s always been at the heart of our immigration policy Andrew. We want people who come to this country to feel absolutely welcome but we want them to join our team”. As John Howard said, this “is not a problem that we have ever faced with other immigrant communities who become easily absorbed by Australia’s mainstream”.

Peter Costello said, “if you don’t want to take your shoes off, don’t go into a mosque. If you want to come into Australia, you will be asked respect for its values… If you don’t have respect for those values, don’t ask to come into Australia”. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who would love to make Australia home and tens of millions of refugees. Why should we bring in those most likely to harm us?

Leave a Reply