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How Tony Abbott made Australia more dangerous

Tony Abbott
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Tony Abbott knew perfectly well when he re-entered the conflicts in Iraq and Syria that it would further radicalise Australia’s Muslim minority and increase the domestic terror threat.

The military adventure in Iraq was sold to the public as making the nation safer. It did not.

Nobody expects the tragic death of police worker Curtis Chang, 58, and the death of the boy who killed him, Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar, 15, to be the last terror incident.

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• What motivated a 15-year-old schoolboy to kill?

Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis.

The government’s 2015 Review of Counter Terrorism Machinery declared further terrorist attacks almost inevitable.

As the authorities know, there are now numerous radical preachers teaching in Australia’s mosques and Islamic prayer halls.

Sometimes it seemed Abbott was waging a one-man war against Islam. The Jesuit-trained PM referred literally hundreds of times in press conferences to Islamic State as a “death cult”.

Terror messaging experts warned that labelling Islamic State a death cult aroused interest and attracted recruits. The Prime Minister refused to listen.

Both Jabar and Lindt Cafe gunman Man Haron Monis were responding to the call for “lone wolf” attacks by Islamic State, but their radicalisation does not come in isolation.

One of the strangest things about the escalating jihad threat within Australia in 2015 is that it has all been known and written about before.

There has been ample warning that radical Islamic preachers have been stirring up jihad in the Australian suburbs.

In 2006, Middle East expert Martin Chulov wrote the most comprehensive record ever compiled on the development of the jihadism within Australia.

With legal suppression orders following Operation Pendennis and the 2005 planned attacks on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australian Jihad: The battle against terrorism from within and without, was withdrawn. Copies are almost impossible to find.

Chulov wrote:

We have been far more central to radical Islamists’ priorities than we ever recognised – and the radicalism they are peddling took root in Australian society more than a decade ago. The lightning rod of Afghanistan has to a large extent been replaced by Iraq, which continues to have a profound impact on radicalised Muslims in Australia and Southeast Asia. Home-grown radicals are drawing strength from what they see as the anger and suffering of their brethren abroad.

Hizb ut-Tahrir

Both Farhad Jabar and Man Haron Monis were said to have been radicalised by the prominent Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which advocates the end of democracy and the introduction of the caliphate.

Hizb ut-Tahrir protesters in London.

Throughout 2014 and 2015 the Australian government ramped up its rhetoric against the group. In one of his repeated denunciations Tony Abbott declared: “Hizb ut-Tahrir is an organisation with an ideology which justifies terrorism and that’s why I say it’s un-Australian. There is no doubt they are an organisation that campaigns against Australian values.”

Telling the Muslims of Australia what to think got Abbott precisely nowhere. The Hizb are not some outlying group. They are regularly asked on to campuses by Muslim Student Associations, their meetings are well publicised, and they have the support of the Grand Mufti of Australia.

I first encountered the Hizb in 2002, while working as a news reporter for The Australian. I was only vaguely hopeful that we might get a story out of a town hall meeting held by the then obscure group.

I got more than a story, I got an instant sense of dislocation, that the Australia I knew was not it at all. That all the cosy stories about refugees and new immigrants settling into a welcoming multicultural country were leading straight to hell.

With pad in hand I sat in that Hizb meeting listening to attacks on Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, capitalists, communists, socialists, homosexuals and those who dressed immodestly on Australia’s beaches.

That included just about everybody I knew.

Action is needed

Malcolm Turnbull faces a difficult task.

There needs to be a radical rethink. Many believe it is already too late. Maintained in Islamic schools, in Islamic communities and Islamic prayer halls, the sense of grievance is growing.

The government’s mishandling of relations with the Muslim community is only part of the story.

The killing of Muslims by Australian bombs is directly inflaming the situation.

While new PM Malcolm Turnbull has flagged a softening of the rhetoric against the Muslim organisations in an attempt to improve relations, how to tackle the confirmed sense of difference is an altogether more vexed question.


John Stapleton has worked as a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. His most recent book, Terror in Australia: Workers’ Paradise Lost became available on Amazon Kindle this week and will be available in paperback later in the year.


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