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What separates us from IS


The mass murder of unarmed civilians carried out by terrorists in Paris last weekend was appalling. Whether considered as an act of war or of terror, it was indefensible. It left over 100 people dead, many more injured, and families devastated. It embedded terror into French urban life. It needs a response.

Liberte, egalite, fraterniteThe initial response of Malcolm Turnbull, like that of many other international leaders, did all that was possible. He expressed horror at the killings, sympathy with the victims, solidarity with the French people in their grief and outrage, and defiance in the face of terror.

In this he echoed the football fans who sang the Marseillaise as they left the imperilled football stadium. It was a song of battle undertaken and of commitment to victory against terrorism.

The themes of war against terrorism and victory have dominated commentary on the killings. In light of the fact that the war against terror was the seedbed in which IS grew, they demand serious reflection. We should ask precisely what our enemy is attacking, what therefore must be defended, and what will be the signs of victory or defeat in the struggle.

These questions take us beyond military actions and political alliances to values. In the soundbites from his initial response, Turnbull made freedom the touchstone of the conflict. IS terrorists wish to destroy freedom, and particularly freedom of worship. Freedom is the value that defines France and its allies, and must be defended at all costs.

That account merits broader reflection. The three values that came to define the French Revolution, and so modern France, are Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. The history of Europe has subsequently been shaped by the tension between freedom and equality.

Communist regimes invoked equality in order to justify tyranny. Other states invoked freedom to justify the gross unfairness embedded in their institutions in order to allow the wealthy to maintain and amass wealth. In this case freedom signifies the unrestrained economic freedom of the competitive individual, often dignified by association with religious freedom and democratic forms of government.

In both visions of the world the forgotten triplet is fraternity: the idea that people of different faiths, convictions and racial origins can live harmoniously together, responsible to each other, and free to shape a society for the benefit of all. The challenge to Western politics since the French Revolution has been how to make space for fraternity when resolving the tension between liberty and equality.

Fraternity, the amicable relationship between brothers and sisters, is rooted in relationships of gift. We can only make a gift to others if there is equality between us based on our shared humanity, and where we give freely. Without equality and freedom, what is given becomes an exaction, a demand or an expectation. Alienation and disengagement follow.

Totalitarian regimes usually adopt a high rhetoric of fraternity that masks the iron handed impositions of the state. Where the economic freedom of the individual is canonised, the rhetoric of fraternity is advertising puff to mask sectional self-interest. In both cases cynicism about political processes results.

Against this background it is not helpful to define freedom as the defining issue in responding to IS terrorism. In our culture freedom is freighted with ideological connotations and unresolved tensions.

The point of difference is more accurately defined as fraternity. The use of terror by IS flows out of its demand for allegiance to a single version of faith that trumps all other allegiances. It leaves no room for gift or fraternity.

From this ideological perspective terrorist acts can be effective in drawing unengaged Muslims to the cause, and also in proving that in Western societies fraternity is an illusion.

In the calculus of terror, states responding to terrorism will respond more punitively and indiscriminately in the Middle East, will nurture suspicion of their own Muslim minorities, and will introduce repressive and discriminatory laws in the name of security.

The anticipated result of the increased use of force in the Middle East and of repression in the West will be growing resentment and alienation among Muslims in both arenas, and consequently stronger support for the ideology of IS and its lookalikes. Since the West is seen to be driven by self-interest, it can be expected to lack the stamina for a sustained struggle.

If this analysis of IS terror has merit, the defining value to be protected in our response is fraternity. It will be expressed in solidarity not only with the victims of terror and with the French people in their trial, but also with the Muslim communities both in France and in Australia.

They are also our brothers and sisters with whom we are called to build an open and respectful society that exposes the meanness of the IS ideal.

The risk is that we shall turn on our Muslim brothers and sisters in our own lands and abroad, and treat them in repressive and discriminatory ways. Turnbull's refusal to link what is done in Paris to immigration or to authentic Islam is encouraging.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Image: Elliot Brown, Flickr CC

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Paris, ISIS, Muslims, Islam, terrorism



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Existing comments

A number of times in recent days, when pondering the terrible events in Paris and other places, I've been drawn back to Margaret Atwood's novel "The Handmaid's Tale". It's a story shadowed by terror and repression of both women and men. The protagonist, Offred (of Fred), exercises freedom by small acts. She examines her small room, section by section, in a very meticulous manner - a sort of freedom. But equality and fraternity are not possible for her because her freedom is so constrained. Islam is in a fight for its life and countries like France and Australia need to recognise and aid Islam's struggle towards freedom, equality and fraternity (good word that).

Pam | 18 November 2015  

"The risk is that we shall turn on our Muslim brothers and sisters in our own lands and abroad, and treat them in repressive and discriminatory ways" - Andrew Hamilton. That's a risk that ISIS is not only well aware of, but tactically relying on. They have already explicitly outlined as their end goal the elimination of what they call ‘The Grayzone’, i.e. the (figurative) area between ISIS and the non Muslim West, currently occupied by the world’s Muslims. “The grayzone is critically endangered, rather on the brink of extinction...as Shaykh Usamah Ibn Ladin (rahimahullah) said, “The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam”... Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the Khilafah (caliphate), as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands so as to force them into a tolerable sect of apostasy in the name of “Islam” before forcing them into blatant Christianity and democracy. Eventually, the grayzone will become extinct and there will be no place for grayish calls and movements. There will only be the camp of iman (faith) versus the camp of kufr (disbelief)” - Islamic State DABIQ magazine, Issue 7, p 54, 66.

Rashid.M | 19 November 2015  

Great article Andrew, especially on living a "giving" mode of life. But make not the mistake that Isis isn't anything but authentic Islam (albeit in a fundamentalist version). They are very well versed in Koran and Hadith tradition and hence jihad and strict sharia are indelibly part of their modus operandi.

Rein Zeilstra | 19 November 2015  

Responding to the recent terrorism requires a grasp of the world and of human nature that is beyond most of the regular Fairfax and News Limited hacks. Having well connected sources in Canberra or rigid left wing prejudices that can be paraded in defence of unions and secularism will not cut it when dealing with values, morals and philosophy.. That is why so much of both the printed and electronic media of the last four or five days has been big on superficiality and emotion. Father Hamilton;s piece is rational, logical and practical; four qualities in short supply since last week end.

grebo | 19 November 2015  

Pam: ". Islam is in a fight for its life ..".... Islam is in a fight, not for its life, but for its illusion that it represents the one and only response to the call of God. Other religions have exhibited this same illusion at times. The Catholic Church illustrated this when it (at one time) proclaimed; "The Catholic Church is the one true church, and outside the Church there is no salvation." BUT God's Call is Constant and Universal. AND: All religions are simply INTERPRETATIONS of that Call, that are distorted by the culture and degree of development of the communities involved. Only when this is recognised and accepted can there be peace and harmony among all God's Children.

Robert Liddy | 19 November 2015  

I believe the first person to use the phrase 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité' was Maximilien Robespierre in 1790. That, like the manifestos originating from Isis/Daesh, quite chills me. The French Revolution, like the fighting in Iraq and Syria, was totally ruthless and thousands were killed during the Reign of Terror, the War in the Vendee and other actions. Rashid M. is quite correct about the Isis grand strategy. So far the barbarities of the Lindt Cafe, London 2005 and Paris recently have not caused complete alienation between Muslim citizens and the Western societies they reside in. Isis is ultimately hoping they will. A war of terror - which is what Isis is waging at home and abroad - cannot be resisted with weapons alone although they are sadly necessary. I think both Western and Muslim societies need to look to their deepest roots which go far deeper than the ideologies of the French Revolution or the appalling distortion of the Saudi Wahhabi version of Islam which is the same creed Isis believe. We also need to be aware that the future has to be one of religious pluralism and mutual tolerance. It is a daunting but not impossible task.

Edward Fido | 19 November 2015  

I understand this response, and a large part of me agrees. But with it goes permitting the extinction of all who disagree with Daesh in their region of control. Without a military response it also makes their expansion ongoing. Their regional success will still attract people. So Deash wins with or without a military response.

Wayne McHugh | 19 November 2015  

Hi Robert, firstly, I always enjoy reading your contributions. The contributors frequently 'make my day'. I agree that followers of particular religions can think "what I believe is right, the others have their beliefs but they are wrong". IS does not speak for Islam. I could hope to be as articulate as Waleed Aly on this issue - he's certainly worth listening to.

Pam | 19 November 2015  

Brilliant, Andrew. Thank you for your time and effort in providing this analysis. I think you have pointed to the way ahead, which is both challenging and hopeful.

Patrick Kempton | 19 November 2015  

"Since the West is seen to be driven by self-interest, it can be expected to lack the stamina for a sustained struggle." Andrew, have you forgotten the wisdom of Paul Keating? "In a two horse race always back self-interest because at least you know it’s trying". The hard thing to do at a time like this is to remember what 'the West' has been doing in the middle east for the last century. The current word here is 'blowback'. The War on Terror has been about as effective as the War on Drugs. Rather than reach for the clichés, our leaders need to look for new explanations of how all this came about, and then new ways of setting it right.

Russell | 19 November 2015  

I think you rather miss the main point Andrew, though I think some very good articles in the foreign press in last coupe of days are much nearer to the mark. The unprovoked murderous attacks of Wahabi-inspired Islamist extremist fundamentalists came before and precipitated the Western reaction and the whole vicious cycle of violence since; it has not been the other way round. This is NOT the fault of the West. So what has been going on in Islam? They are undergoing a huge culture war about "ownership" of the nature of their God; those that believe He is a hater of everyone that is not like them (a strict Wahabi/Salafist), have gone at war with everyone else. Chrisianity has had its phases a bit like that and indeed there are still some among us who hang on to some rather similar sentiments. The best thing we can do for Islam is support those among them, perhaps the majority, who share our (Franscis-esque) view of God as radically loving, merciful and longing for justice. This is all about religious and not secular concepts.

Eugene | 19 November 2015  

@Rein Zeilstra, ISIS is authentic Islam? The vast population of the world's observant Muslims who abhor IS's perverted ideology disagree with you. Because to claim that IS are "well versed in Koran and Hadith", necessarily means that those of us (Muslims) who stand opposed to them are either not, or are 'deliberately' dishonest in our practices - the Geert Wilders proposition. But IS offer absolutely nothing in the way of Quranic reasoning to disprove/invalidate the Islam I follow. On the other hand, articulate refutation of IS propaganda is readily accessible to anyone who seeks it. The fact that the Islamic State describe themselves as 'Islamic', holds about as much legitimacy as equating the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea with democracy.

Rashid.M | 19 November 2015  

@Rashid. Sorry I didn't imply other Koran following Muslims are deluded. I simply point out that strict jihadist and sharia law, as practised by this so called caliphate, are consequent to following one particular hadith tradition. Read Ayan Hirsi Ali for her conclusions and start adjusting yourself. Analogically put: I am a Christian of a liberal Protestant persuasion, but am aware of fundamentalist streams of my faith I cannot condone or stomach but in so doing must allow a good dose of rationality to effect my reading and adherence of our faith's Holy script.

Rein | 20 November 2015  

@Rashid. Sorry to offend but I did not imply the rest of Islam is on the wrong end of only one set of Koran/ Hadith interpretation. You did that. All I say is that any too literalist interpretation is at fault and that the Islamic trend of the so called caliphate is more defined and intent on pure jihad and sharia law to be part of their religious rationale. That rationale has without question Islamist (if not Islamic) historic foundations. Read Ayaan Hirsi Ali and adjust yourself if so needed.

Rein Zeilstra | 20 November 2015  

@Rein, I accept that you didn't mean to offend, but I question the assertion that IS are "authentic Islam". By implication that means that they are confirmedly not false in their beliefs and interpretation of the Quran, the primary source for discerning what is and isn't authentic Islam. I would disagree with such an assessment, since it ignores the clear and unresolvable contradictions (with the Quran) of IS's position. And whichever Hadith tradition they follow is surely secondary, and ultimately irrelevant if it's inconsistent with the primary authoritative text. If religious authenticity hinges simply on a follower self declaring that they do, and being able to offer any (rational or irrational) interpretation they want of religious text(s) and history, then that's a pretty low measure for being considered so.

Rashid.M | 20 November 2015  

We could perhaps stop the pretence that we are the civilised ones when we are the ones who have been bombing and killing in muslim nations since WW1 and take the blame on ourselves where it belongs. Everything else is frankly western superiority drivel.

Marilyn | 22 November 2015  

'...authentic Islam...' Surely such a state is in the eye of the beholder, and given the multiplicity of interpretations may be impossible to clearly identify?

Phillip | 22 November 2015  

Well put. Fraternity, the missing triplet to put some sense into the other two. Fraud it may be but it seems IS & co are all too good at offering fraternity to the alienated and angry young people who seek to go and join them or do their bidding here. The history of radicalism is studded with examples of idealists being turned into useful tools.

Jillian | 27 November 2015  

Robespierre started out as a perfectly rational high minded generous idealist. Whether he became a villain drunk with power or was knocked off by the hard men, the albos and pynes, of his world is a matter open to discussion. Therefore I dont think there's any reason to be chilled if Liberty Equality and Fraternity was his phrase. The ideas had been around long long before that.

Jillian | 27 November 2015  

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