The fog of war descends

On 7.30 last night, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison gave the government’s most coherent justification for a range of measures including increasing the estimate of the terrorist in Australia. Here are some of the things he said: (If you’re interested in flummery you may want to read through this, if you’re not I have provided a succinct summary at the end)

LEIGH SALES: But shouldn’t the emphasis be on stopping them coming back?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well of course. It should be both, and that’s what we are doing. And what I announced today was two things. One was an expansion of our airline liaison officer network and that means expanding our reach and effectiveness for those people who are right across the globe in various ports and so on, walking (sic) with airlines and others. Then there is the outward advance passage of processing. Now we’ve always done that on the way in and this will mean we do it on the way out as well, and this will give us more time, more information to make better decisions in the way we protect, both on the way in, on the way out.

LEIGH SALES: So, specifically, what – so what’s building then? Is it the radicalisation of people? Is it the threats or intelligence pointing to possible terror attacks in Australia? What is it specifically that’s building?

SCOTT MORRISON: What we’re seeing is more and more people go and more and more people being energised to go and the contacts between those overseas and those back here in Australia. Now, the risk here – ’cause we saw this after other previous conflicts – when people had gone overseas and been radicalised and came back, two-thirds of them, two-thirds of them got up to things when they came back. Now that’s why this whole issue is not imagined, it is very, very real and I think David made that point very well last night and he is the one who sets the threat level.

LEIGH SALES: Are there specific threats against Australia or are you talking about a general threat against Western ideology and Western interests?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, the threat level, as you know, goes from – to likely and then imminent and what the Inspector-General – the Director-General, I should say, is looking at is whether we’re going to that likely phase and that is a judgement for him to make.

LEIGH SALES: That doesn’t quite answer the question about whether the threats specifically target and name Australia or whether IS and associated terror groups simply have an anti-Western agenda.

SCOTT MORRISON: No, well, I think these things do get specific to Australia and I’m not at liberty to go beyond a statement such as that. The fact that there are Australians involved and links to people in Australia and there is ambitions that go well beyond just the establishment of the state, and as I said, there are many others terrorist organisations that fit under this umbrella of what is occurring in the Middle East. ISIL may be the one that is receiving much of the attention presently, but there is a web of these terrorist organisation operating there in very loose alliances and many of them have any number of objectives and the fact that they can establish networks and people and other things back in Australia is something that obviously has us concerned. Now, I think it’s important to be just aware at the present. The Government is responding appropriately – $630 million in the package to counter what we believe the threat is. And there’s a legislative package that will follow which enhances these operational measures we’ve put in place. Australians, we simply are asking to understand why this is happening and that’s why it is happening.

Summary: A number of Australians are going to train and fight in the Middle East. We are spending $630 million to ensure they don’t come back and cause trouble.

The difficulty with what the Minister said is that it is all shrouded in obfuscation, generalisations and half-truths. If this were an undergraduate exercise and clear thinking it would receive a F grade. Morrison clearly hasn’t done his homework. He clearly doesn’t understand the classification of levels of terrorist threat in Australia:

low—terrorist attack is not expected
medium—terrorist attack could occur
high—terrorist attack is likely
extreme—terrorist attack is imminent or has occurred.

describing them as “likely and then imminent “. Not that this is really important but it does show a level of ignorance about what is going on, compounded by the fact that he got David Irving’s title wrong.

The level at which the terrorist threat is ranked does not, per say, affect the actual level of threat. It reflects the perception, by albeit well-qualified people, of the nature of the threat. But we would be justified in thinking that the appearance of the Director General of ASIO and the Ministry of Immigration reciting the same version of Jabberwocky on two successive nights may be an attempt by the government to jawbone the issue.

What we need to be concerned about is that the government is using this particular threat to introduce legislation or to let policies that will isolate and demonise the Muslim community in Australia. There is no doubt that within this community there is a small group of people who are “radicalised and energised” by the nature of the conflict in the Middle East. There is also no doubt that this small group has the potential to be a significant threat to the safety of Australians. But we must be very careful not to exacerbate the situation. The riots at Cronulla and subsequent feeding frenzy of the redneck media in Sydney indicates that there is significant anti-Muslim sentiment in a community and this can surface was frightening results.

We may have as much to fear from internal conflict between various political and ethnic groups in Australia as we have from returning jihadists.

At present, there is not much evidence to suggest that the people going overseas to fight are necessarily alienated from or disenfranchisedBy their life in Australia and that they will necessarily turn their zealotry back onto their country of birth. However, it may be that as a community we need to think carefully about the extent to which radicalisation occurs within Australia and whether we need to be making a significant effort to stop this process of tracks.

As we continue into another decade of the “war on terror”, we need to remember how successful and expensive the “war on drugs” has been.

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