Tony Abbott yesterday accused Labor of “rolling out the red carpet for terrorists” because the opposition is attracted, like much of cabinet apparently, to the idea that the Minister for Immigration shouldn’t be given an unfettered, unreviewable power to strip a person of their citizenship.
Let’s examine Abbott’s performance on terrorism.
Tony Abbott has returned Australian military forces to Iraq, first via RAAF bombing raids on Islamic State and then via army personnel travelling to Iraq to provide yet more training for the Iraqi Army. He has said he’s willing to consider requests for greater military intervention, and indeed according to The Australian considered a unilateral military expedition (aka invasion) in Iraq. It is understood Abbott is keen for a greater military role in Iraq but is hamstrung by the reluctance of the Obama administration to wade back into the quagmire.
The outcome of Australia’s attacks on Islamic State, in combination with those of the United States and other allies, has been militarily unclear: Islamic State has had both major battlefield successes and some losses since Western intervention began, but even enthusiastic neoconservative supporters of military intervention in Australia like Jim Molan now admit the war with Islamic State is at best a stalemate.
A clearer outcome of the Western military campaign has been a surge in foreign fighters joining Islamic State, which has been at least enough to offset battlefield losses and probably outstrips them. Indeed, there has been an “incredible eruption in terms of foreign fighter flow into the Middle East”, according to U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, the head of US Special Operations Command.
This is because, as the head of the CIA John Brennan has acknowledged, Western actions “stimulate” terrorist recruitment. The Brennan thesis is that we are killing more than we create, but in Iraq/Syria, currently, that appears not to be the case. We are creating as many as we kill, and probably a lot more.
The third outcome has been to make Australia a target of Islamic State and to radicalise some Western Muslims to the point of violence. We know this both because it’s what Islamic State says and what history tells us. Western attacks on Islamic State were exactly what that group wanted, and it used them to call for terrorist attacks in Western countries. “It is very important that attacks take place in every country that has entered into the alliance against the Islamic State, especially the US, UK, France, Australia and Germany,” warned an IS publication last October. Because Western governments only ask us to believe what terrorists say when it fits with their preferred narrative, and ignore them when it doesn’t, let’s refer to experts: Baroness Manningham-Buller was the head of MI5 at the time of the London bombings in 2005 and, in her evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq War, said that Britain’s participation in that conflict had increased the terrorist threat to the UK.
“If tragedy strikes in the form of another terrorist attack, both Abbott and Shorten will bear some responsibility.”
“By 2003/2004 we were receiving an increasing number of leads to terrorist activity from within the UK and the — our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people, some British citizens — not a whole generation, a few among a generation — who were — saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam.” Manningham-Buller evidently agrees with Brennan that we cause terrorism with our military interventions supposedly intended to stop terrorism.
Abbott has tried to portray himself as seeking to be as inclusive as possible toward the Muslim community at this moment of intense stress, to bring Australia together in the face of the threat of radicalisation. But he has also, for political purposes, attacked the Muslim community. “I’ve often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it,” Abbott said in February, at the nadir of his political fortunes when he was looking at anything that would help him recover. Those kinds of statements (which are simply factually untrue, as a quick Google would show) are exactly what alienates the community that police and intelligence agencies acknowledge are the key source of information about possible domestic terrorists.
Abbott’s proposal to strip Australians of their citizenship — and his apparently temporary interest in applying that even to people who don’t have any other citizenship — will further alienate the Islamic community, against whom it is primarily aimed. While there are no statistics on dual citizens in Australia, Britain and New Zealand are by far the two largest sources of foreign-born Australian citizens, and the proposal certainly isn’t aimed at them. Moreover, the citizenship-stripping proposal would in effect dump Australia’s terrorists on the rest of the world for others to deal with, rather than us dealing with them by successfully prosecuting them and jailing them. Indeed, perversely, it appears to be a point of partisan point-scoring for Abbott and the Murdoch press that Labor’s shadow attorney-general wants Australian terrorists prosecuted and jailed here in Australia, rather than recklessly dumping them on the rest of the world, as the government wants.
And it will reduce the incentives for disillusioned jihadis who want to leave outfits like Islamic State to try to return home and resume a normal life, instead encouraging them to remain in a conflict zone (which, last year, we passed laws trying to discourage them from going to).
None of these things are perverse or unexpected outcomes. We’ve been through this before: we know Western military intervention creates more terrorists both at home and in conflict zones. We know alienating minority communities makes it more difficult to secure their cooperation in dealing with violent extremists. And we know Western military interventions simply pave the way for even worse outcomes than the ones we were responding to initially.
If anyone is “rolling out the red carpet for terrorists”, it’s the Abbott government. The Abbott government has deliberately taken actions it knows will create more terrorists both in Iraq and Syria and here in Australia and reduce the chances of our police forces and intelligence agencies learning of their activities and preventing attacks.
And all that’s before we touch on the specific issue of how a violent extremist, Man Haron Monis (allowed into Australia by the Howard government), just weeks from carrying out a deadly siege in Sydney, sent the Attorney-General a letter that should have raised red flags all around the government, but was ignored. Indeed, the government didn’t give the letter to its own in-house inquiry, and misled Parliament about doing so. Who knows if history would have been different if AGD had done the job properly?
The only thing to say in its defence is that, every step of the way, Abbott has been supported by Bill Shorten, who has enthusiastically supported every action he has taken. If tragedy strikes in the form of another terrorist attack, both Abbott and Shorten will bear some responsibility.