Politicians are well aware of the way in which language can be used to shape public perceptions, particularly of themselves. They are also aware at times of national crisis such as the terrorist attacks in Paris are times when politicians can transform themselves from run-of-the-mill politicians into national leaders.
Malcolm Turnbull is no exception. To date, he has proved to be a master of the electronic media. His soaring popularity, and that of his party, is more due to his media presence than significant policy initiatives.
And he is handling himself particularly well in Europe. So far Turnbull has resisted being drawn into the fear mongering that typified Tony Abbott’s prime ministership “So I have every confidence that our security environment, while challenged of course, in this context of terrorism, is nonetheless being well managed by the best security agencies in the world.”
But there was a disquieting element to his early statements.The terrorist attacks in Paris provided Turnbull with an opportunity to send a very strong message to Australia’s allies and to the Australian public. But he made a little bit of a mess of it.
“It’s the work of the devil.” is the way he described the attacks in Paris. Why he would want to frame this atrocity in strictly religious terms is difficult to understand. It smacks of the approach of the recently deposed prime minister whose religious views, while often not overtly on display, shaped many of his utterances.
There were a large number of ways that Turnbull could have positioned his opposition and abhorrence to this act but he chose to use religious imagery.
The first disadvantage of this is that is massive oversimplification and one that is not helpful in leading to some kind of solution. The second disadvantage is that it continues to frame the debate as a religious phenomenon rather than a social and political one.
A thoughtful discussion of the problem of ISIS appeared in The Atlantic: Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned.
This article is a far more nuanced discussion of the nature of the problem in the Middle East.
Turnbull continued by saying that he would continue to pray for the victims of the attacks. Praying is not going to fix the problem. And if all the Prime Minister can do is fall to his knees and raise his eyes to Heaven, then we’re in a lot of trouble.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is taking a far more diplomatic and thoughtful approach.
The Age reports that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has left the door open to committing Australian ground forces to military efforts in Syria and Iraq if the government received a request from the US-led coalition.
But Ms Bishop stressed that efforts to end the Syrian crisis should be focused on finding a political solution as the United States and Russia resumed talks that the government hopes will lead to a “single coalition” of countries taking on Islamic State.
Advocating that part of the solution to the problem of the Middle East is stopping the civil war in Syria and that this may be possible with a coalition of Western allies, Russia and some of the Middle Eastern states is a long shot but it is ultimately the only way to begins solving the problem.
Writing in The Age David Wroe says there is no point in going in with guns blazing
In the meantime there will be calls for more intense bombing and “boots on the ground”, both of which may play well to domestic audiences, particularly in France, but will actually do very little to solve the problem.
Certainly the call by A senior member of the NSW Coalition government to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to “close our borders” to refugees from the Middle East in response to the terrorism attacks in Paris is going to do nothing to help the situation.
To make things worse US President Barack Obama is facing an insurrection from state governors who are declaring they will refuse to accept refugees from Syria in the wake of the Paris attacks by Islamic State militants.
At least 15 state governors have declared they are unwilling to accept any of the 10,000 Syrian refugees that Mr Obama had said the US would accept over the coming 12 months.
The problem with complex international situations, particularly when they produce highly emotional responses, is that local politicians always seek to make political mileage. Almost inevitably by being exceptionally unhelpful.
There is an onus on the nations that created the problem of ISIS in the first place to help solve the problem ISIS was a direct result of the allied intervention in Iraq Australia and America must bear some of the burden of resetting the refugee.
While it seemed like a bad idea at the time, the Australian decision to resettle Christian Syrians may be a useful way of allaying fears at home and dealing with the humanitarian problem in the Middle East.
It’s unlikely that Christian Syrians are going to be ISIS sympathisers.