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Will we ever learn from the war on terror?

  • 22 September 2020
It’s a typical suburban Australian story. A person born overseas arrives in Australia at age five. She lives with her 'ethnic' parents in the outer suburbs. She has a surname most find hard to pronounce correctly. She doesn’t quite fit into either parent’s culture. By age 21, she just don’t feel Australian. To find herself, she heads overseas.  

In the eyes of some politicians and pundits, this young person is a possible threat to national security. She needs to be watched, deradicalized. She might just blow herself up one day. She is an explosive cultural cocktail who may end up with a criminal record. Who knows what her intentions are when she heads overseas.

If she had at least one Muslim parent or was a convert, we all know what we’d be expected to think. If her mum was born in Dunfermline and her dad in Warsaw, it wouldn’t matter. But if she turned out not to be deemed Muslim but an hilarious Australian comic legend named Magda Szubansky, she’d be fine.

During the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’, we were force-fed headlines such as the one splashed on the cover of The Australian: ‘We’ll fight Islam 100 years’. (Which was later reported to be misquoted.)

We were taught the battle had nothing to do with Muslims. The war was against terrorism. ‘Not all Muslims are terrorists, but heck, how many terrorists aren’t Muslims?’ was the typical refrain. And there was something supposedly inherent in this tradition that lends itself to violence, terrorism, misogyny, extremism and lots of other nasty stuff.

The strange thing is that those chest-beating about terrorism rarely made an issue of when terrorists of the modernist Islamist variety (such as al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah and ISIL) attacked mosques, Muslim shrines and Muslim congregations. Nor do they report of just how fringe and hated these groups are in their own countries where the bulk of their attacks take place.


'I have a great familiarity with the victims of terrorism, whether they be the Muslim and non-Muslim family members of Kiwi victims or the Indonesian and other victims of various faiths of the Bali bombings. This is what happens when you find yourself sitting on the cultural fence.'  

At times, even quietist Sufi practices are described in terms of terrorism and violence. In an article in The Australian dated 18 September 2008, the simple act of declaring allegiance to a Sufi teacher (known as bay’ah) was described as