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 supposedly holy cause.
Has columnist Andrew Bolt fallen into the extremists’ trap in his recent column?
Writing for Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Bolt called for an end to the supposed “denial of Islamic fundamentalism” and criticised the authorities for playing down Sydney hostage murderer Man Haron Monis’ religion.
Inadvertently, he may be playing into the hands of the Islamic extremists and unintentionally contributing to their objectives.
One of the most dangerous changes in radical causes has been Islamic State’s calls for small scale, so-called “lone wolf” operations. These attacks are hard to detect, hard to predict and hard to prevent. Lone operators gain their motivation publicly and plan in private.
This is what makes them so dangerous.
During the two-and-a-half 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 commit atrocious acts like the killing of more than 100 innocent school children in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Lone wolves get their inspiration from the media repeating the calls of ISIL 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.
The more frequently the media link these attacks 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.
A paedophile priest may claim he is a Christian, but his actions show that he is not. 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.
It seems, though, some of the attackers may not even be Islamic. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls pointed out: “Unbalanced Individuals can act. They can be receptive to or influenced by propaganda messages and powerful messages.”
French prosecutors have found that at least one of the murderers who ploughed his car into pedestrians had a sudden “outburst of empathy” for a cause that there was little evidence he had previously supported. The Dijon attacker had been to hospital on 157 occasions.
He was crazy, not a Muslim, and had just responded to publicity in a crazy, murderous way by saying ‘me too’.
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 whatever faith, against the extremist of whatever faith – not ‘us’ being all Christians and ‘them’ being 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 not a 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 as Christians and Jews.
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 who 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 others to follow suit.